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Ranking the best non-conference MAC matchups: #40 - #31

Part Two of our out of conference countdown featuring service academies, B1G road games, and 2016 rematches

Eastern Michigan v LSU
For Chris Creighton and the Eagles, there several key nonconference matchups for 2017
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

For the Mid-American Conference, 2017 is shaping up to be another highly competitive year in the conference with at least four or five squads that have a realistic chance at a conference title. It’s the non-conference slate where we’ll be able separate the pretenders from the contenders and find out who is building on 2016’s results or backsliding back to the middle of the pack.

This year sees MAC squads take on nearly every type of non-conference opponent. From smaller FCS teams to defending national champions, the MAC has dozens of opportunities to prove that they belong in any and all conversations about college football. The conference is far more than mid-week games and high octane offenses, and these 48 tilts will demonstrate that on a national stage.

Here at Hustle Belt, we do the hard work so you don’t have to. Our crack leadership determined each and every non-conference game for the Mid-American Conference and ranked them 1-48. This is the next installment of that list.

Your rankings, #40-#31:

#40: Bowling Green Falcons vs South Dakota (9/9)
It’s safe to say that 2016 did not go the way the Falcons had it planned in their mind. A season-opening 67-point loss to Ohio State was ominous foreshadowing of what was to come, but hope springs eternal with BG in 2017. The Coyotes of South Dakota clocked in at 4-7 last season, and BG does quite well in home openers, winning 14 of their last 16. It’s worth keeping an eye on this as Week 2 happens, as a loss means the wheels are officially off the wagon in Bowling Green.

#39: Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Rhode Island (8/31)
Central Michigan has won 9 straight against FCS opponents and 9 of their last 10 home openers. Rhode Island finished 2-9 last season, but the Rams should be in for a tough day in Mt. Pleasant. In one of the first games of the season, CMU should be able to put on a show for a hungry national audience starved for football after a lengthy offseason.

#38: Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Eastern Illinois (9/9)
It’s a Land of Lincoln party as NIU hosts fellow Illinois squad Eastern Illinois in this Week 2 tilt. The Huskies hold a 26-10-1 record against EIU but have not played since 2013. This game is worth keeping at least a small bit of your attention if you’re not an NIU fan, as Eastern Illinois won at Miami last year. NIU isn’t on upset alert, but if fans are expecting a massive NIU blowout, you might be disappointed.

#37: Ball State Cardinals vs UAB (9/9)
Ball State’s second game of the season comes against a team that a little while ago had no 2017 opponents because they had ceased existence. UAB is a feel good story of a program being revived because of support and attention, but the Cardinals hope this feel good story gets an epilogue in Muncie that’s far from a happy ending. Ball State has won seven straight home openers and an 8th would do well for Mike Neu and company to set the tone for 2017.

#36: Eastern Michigan Eagles vs Charlotte (9/1)
It’s a rematch of a 2016 contest, and the season opener for EMU. A win goes a long way to setting 2017 up for more of what made 2016 so special: lots of Eagles wins. Charlotte finished last year at 4-8, with one of those eight being an 18-point home loss to EMU. For the Eagles, the outcome, the fan support, and the look of the team is going to go a long way to showing what kind of 2017 EMU fans can expect.

#35: Ohio University Bobcats @ UMass (9/30)
It’s a historical MAC matchup as Ohio travels to take on former MAC member UMass in Amherst. At 2-10 last season, UMass isn’t striking fear into the hearts of their opponents this season, but it is a road game outside the traditional non-conference season for the Bobcats. In all reality, your attention will be focused elsewhere on that weekend with national games of note and the conference schedule underway.

#34 (tie): Buffalo Bulls @ Army (9/9) & Eastern Michigan Eagles @ Army (10/14)
Games against Army are difficult for so many reasons. First and foremost, Army has an offense you’re likely to see once per year, when you play Army. Second, how can you really root against a service academy? Without people willing to fight for our country, all your favorite Belters would be unable to make smarmy jokes on the internet. EMU fans should feel good about the Eagles’ chances. Buffalo? Not so much.

#32: Ball State Cardinals @ Illinois (9/2)
For Mike Neu and the Cardinals, the easiest way to change the narrative and propel the program forward would be a road win against Illinois. B1G wins (other than Indiana) are quite elusive for the Cardinals, and throwing in a Lovie Smith defense, on the road, and a question mark on the BSU defensive side of the ball and this doesn’t scream “Hey, everyone, let’s watch a MAC upset!”

#31: Eastern Michigan Eagles @ Rutgers (9/9)
Normally a B1G matchup against the MAC is a payday game that favors the B1G squad. Rutgers, for all intents and purposes, is B1G in name only. If you’re an Eastern Michigan fan, this one is must watch. Following an unexpectedly strong 7-6 2016, EMU is trending up more than ever before, and knocking off a P5 opponent (even if it’s Rutgers) on the road is a feather in the cap that not every MAC squad can claim.