The Mid-American Conference out of conference scheduling model is a tricky one. On the one hand, you need to play the payday games to fund the athletics budget. On the other hand, you want to hit that magic six win mark to give yourself the opportunity for a postseason appearance (though seven or eight takes you off the bubble). Then there’s the unicorns: the FBS P5 schools that you have the opportunity of upsetting. If you’re lucky, they’ll venture into MAC territory. More likely than not, you’re doing it on the road.
This season there are 48 out of conference football games ranging from the biggest of the big to the smallest of the small. We rank them all, and tell you why you should care. Perhaps most importantly, we give each contest a (Jeremy) Guy Factor. The Guy Factor is an extremely scientific, very precise, exceptionally accurate measurement of the amount of MACtion each game is set to produce. If we anticipate a blowout game against an FCS bottom-feeder? One Guy. An expected shootout that is primed for overtime or other tomfoolery? Five Guys. Let the countdown continue...
36. Western Illinois @ Northern Illinois (9/24)
Western Illinois made the FCS playoffs last year and ended the season ranked 21st. This is an in-state rivalry game so all bets are off. It’s also the last contest before the MAC season starts for NIU, so expect final kinks to be worked out and a rather pedestrian gameplan en route to a likely W.
35. Eastern Michigan @ Charlotte (9/17)
Last year’s road win at Wyoming was the first victory away from Ypsilanti in nearly 20 years for the Eagles. If there was ever a team to bolster those numbers, Charlotte is it. Just four years since program creation, Charlotte is a beatable foe for Eagles, but expect both teams to go for broke as both are likely counting this in the likely W column.
34. North Dakota @ Bowling Green (9/10)
If you thought this was FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, you’d be wrong. Though not the Bison, the Fighting Hawks are still a solid team, 7-6 last season. It’s the home opener for Bowling Green, and the Doyt Perry Stadium premier of new head coach Mike Jenks. The Falcons are also coming off a season opening game at Ohio State, so health may be a concern.
33. Northern Illinois @ Wyoming (9/3)
Don’t let the 2-10 2015 record for Wyoming fool you. This is an experienced team and playing at over 7,000 feet above sea level for the first game of the year is going to be a challenge for NIU. If the anti-Rod Carey establishment is looking for evidence of an NIU slip, they may not have to wait long.
32. Eastern Kentucky @ Ball State (9/17)
Apparently when you take a school’s athletic director, they throw you a bone and schedule you, as is the case with Ball State, who wrestled away EKU’s Mark Sandy for their new AD. On the field, it’s the Cardinals’ home opener and they could easily be facing an 0-2 record with the natives restless and attendance to match. Win one or both of the first two, especially the prior week’s contest at Indiana, and it’s a much different story.
31. Wyoming @ Eastern Michigan (9/24)
If you’ll recall, Eastern Michigan defeated Wyoming on the road last year after knocking out their QB. This Friday night contest is shaping up to be a good opportunity for Eastern to announce a shift in culture and expect the gameplan and outcome to reflect that.
30. Appalachian State @ Akron (9/24)
With an Akron win, it will be the first victory in Infocision Stadium over an FBS out of conference opponent. That will not be easy, but it will be needed for Akron to live up to the hype that I (and others) have placed on them. App State isn’t your typical new FBS program (transitioning in 2014), having already been to (and won) a bowl game after years of FCS dominance. The talent is there, the coaching is there, and this one is going to be good. The Mountaineers’ coach Scott Satterfield, has MAC experience to boot, serving as Toledo’s QB coach in 2009.
29. San Diego St @ Northern Illinois (9/17)
The Huskie Stadium opener where NIU will be looking for their 10th straight home opening win. This comes after two road games, at Wyoming and at USF, and any record from 0-2 to 2-0 is possible. For some, this is a critical year for Rod Carey and winning this game is vital to quieting some of the vocal minority.
28. Ball State @ Georgia State (9/2)
A Friday night game that’s a rematch of a 2015 contest in the Georgia Dome? Sign me up. Last year, en route to 6-7, the Panthers rolled into Muncie and rolled out with a 31-19 victory. Head Coach Trent Miles has Hoosier state experience, formerly coaching and playing at Indiana State, so it’s important to him. It’s critically important to Mike Neu as well, as this is the opener for the Neu Day at Ball State. In all truthfulness, no one knows what to expect.
27. Buffalo @ Nevada (9/17)
Buffalo leaves a bit to be desired in their road openers, going 2-16 in their last 18 contests. Not great, Bob. The great news is with a home opener two weeks prior against Albany and an open week before the trip west, the Bulls should be in good shape and well rested. Nevada has a shaky defense but the offense is strong and potent. Buffalo’s only hope is a MACtion style shoot out and just hang on until the final gun.
26. Middle Tennessee @ Bowling Green (9/17)
Middle Tennessee is one of the premier programs in the CUSA when it comes to their in-conference performance, going 23-9 over the last few years. Their out of conference leaves a bit to be desired, thanks largely to scheduling. Thy also lost to Western Michigan last year, but were a bowl team. Bowling Green does not have an easy out. With Middle Tennessee, sophomore QB Brent Stockstill can flat light it up. Throw that in with BG and their offense, and it’s going to be a barn burner, y’all.
25. Northern Illinois @ South Florida (9/10)
If NIU wants to make any sort of noise on a national stage, this is a must win game. 8-5 last year with an exceptionally strong finish for the Bulls with 14 returning starters puts this squarely in the toss up category if not a slight lean to home standing USF. Expect a shootout, and plenty of MACtion.
Stay tuned tomorrow for our Top 25 Out of Conference Games as our Countdown continues.