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...
24. Ball State @ Florida Atlantic (9/24)
Mike Neu heads into Ball State with a new sense of purpose and a renewed sense of optimism around the fanbase. With the Cards’ trip to Florida Atlantic, and their impressive defense, Offensive Coordinator Joey Lynch and Neu get to see just where the offense, led by Riley “The Real Deal” Neal stacks up in advance of MAC play.
23. Western Kentucky @ Miami (9/17)
The Hilltoppers, 12-2 in 2015, are likely to fall back to Earth a bit with Brandon Doughty no longer taking snaps. For Miami, that’s the good news. Western is still a talented team that returns a critical batch of experienced players. This is a winnable game for Chuck Martin and company, but will take a top level performance from the Redhawks. WKU is a CUSA title contender and there will need to be MACtion on display for the Redhawks to claim the W.
21. Bowling Green @ Memphis (9/24)
Gone are head coach Justin Fuente and QB Paxton Lynch, but the heavy losses don’t change the fact that Memphis is still a competitor for the AAC title this season. They have lost both coordinators as well and will likely be a more balanced team than the pass happy bunch from 2015, but by the time the Falcons roll into town many of the kinks should be worked out. That’s also a good thing for BG, as there will be film and history to review and gameplan for.
20. Toledo @ Arkansas State (9/3)
Road openers against a Sun Belt team should worry a MAC program, especially one in its first year under a new head coach and new QB. In a previous meeting, the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl, over 1000 yards of offense got put on the board and there is no reason not to expect a similar outcome in Jonesboro this time around. Whether or not the Rockets win it, this one will be fun to watch.
22. Akron @ Marshall (9/17)
Akron heads to wild and wonderful West Virginia for a rod date against a former MAC foe that Akron is 0-6 all-time against. Last year was supposed to be a down year for the Thundering Herd, who exploded for a 10-3 record and a St. Petersburg bowl trip. They are gunning for their 4th straight double-digit win season and head coach Doc Holliday has quietly built a consistent potent winner in Huntington. Remember all that hope and hype I’ve been lumping on Akron? This is the time to make good on it.
19. UNLV @ Central Michigan (9/17)
The Rebels are winless on the road against MAC competition overall, but what have they done for us lately? Head coach Tony Sanchez enters his second year at the helm, after a 3-9 premier. The good news for watchers of this game? Expect points. UNLV averaged 30 points per game last season and gave up 34. They are also coming off a prior week road trip to UCLA, so don’t expect the freshest bunch of Rebels rolling into Mt. Pleasant.
18. Buffalo @ Boston College (10/1)
For MACtion fans, this battle of the east coast falls out of our geographic footprint, but it’s an opportunity for our MAC brethren to claim a victory over a P5 program. Yes, it’s on the road. Yes, Buffalo will be an underdog. But let’s not forget that BC had their fair share of issues last year, like going an 0-fer in conference play. They also are breaking in a new QB this year, Kentucky transfer Patrick Towles who I’ve watched keep lesser teams in games throughout his career. It will take a special blend of MACtion, but this is winnable for the Bulls.
17. Central Michigan @ Virginia (9/24)
Virginia is no stranger to MAC teams rolling into town and walking out of Charlottesville with a win. When Ball State got the “upset”, it required a stellar QB and a solid offensive performance. CMU has that in spades this year, with Cooper Rush being front and center for the Chips. We go back-to-back with road ACC opponents, and both have the propensity for not only MACtion, but also an upset victory.
16. Army @ Buffalo (9/24)
MAC and service academies go together like peas and carrots, and this is a geographic rivalry as well from the Empire State. For many, MACtion is defined as high octane passing attacks, but for me, it’s doing something a little off the beaten path and doing it well. That’s Army in a nutshell. The triple option is hard to defend and even harder to run to perfection, but a well executed triple option attack is a thing of beauty. A different version of MACtion, sort of its distant cousin, but definitely worth a watch.
15. Ball State @ Indiana (9/10)
Admittedly, this game is more important to me than probably any other game on the schedule this season, largely because it’s a chance for Ball State to win their 4th (!!) straight against a B1G opponent, even though Indiana is borderline B1G at best. IU fans believe it’s their birthright to beat “that little old teacher’s college in Muncie”. They are wrong. Dead wrong. This series has featured throw back passes for QB touchdowns, graphic injuries that was a springboard to an undefeated season, and last second game-winning field goals. Suffice to say, this is a must watch.
14. Eastern Michigan @ Missouri (9/10)
The easy thing to do would be to write this off as a MACrifice game of the highest order. After all, this is the big bad SEC playing host to little ole Eastern Michigan. Last year the Tigers had an abysmal year, both on the field and off it, and new first-year head coach Barry Odom has his work cut out for him. Mizzou has won ten straight home openers, but eleven may be harder than they realize.
13. Central Michigan @ Oklahoma State (9/10)
What’s required for the MAC to pull an upset on the road against a P5 school? I believe there are a couple factors, most notably a P5 school with a weak defense, a P5 school overlooking their MAC opponent, and a MAC offense capable of hitting their stride and lighting it up. Check, check, and check when it comes to this contest. The Cowboys defense for the last two seasons have given up 30+ PPG, their next opponent is against Pitt, and Cooper Rush and the Chips have the offense to keep them in it. Call me crazy, but there’s a chance. Assuming enough MACtion takes place. And with a 40 PPG offense on the other side of the field, it’s going to be a good day for the fans of MACtion.
Later today we’ll conclude our countdown with the dirty dozen remaining out of conference games.