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Ranking the best non-conference MAC matchups: #30 - #21

Several P5 road match ups could make 2017 the year of the upset

The Nittany Lion excites the crowd Photo by Craig Melvin/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, #30-#21:

#30: Western Michigan Broncos vs Idaho Vandals (9/16)
This may be the first true barometer of how the Broncos’ 2017 is going to go. With the prior two weeks being road dates with USC and Michigan State, welcoming the Vandals to Waldo will give the fans an idea of what to expect for the rest of the year. Winning 7 of their final 8 in 2016, Idaho was a bowl team and finished third in the Sun Belt. A win and it should set Western Michigan up well. A loss and it’s hard to see how the Broncos contend for the MAC West.

#29: Buffalo Bulls vs Florida Atlantic Owls (9/23)
In only the second meeting of the schools (UB beat FAU in 2015), new head coach Lane Kiffin brings the Owls north to take on the Bulls in the final non-conference game for Buffalo. It’s more possible than not that the Bulls will need this game to finish their out of conference slate at 2-2. FAU is picked middle of the pack in CUSA, and has only won 7 of their last 42 road games.

#28: Ball State Cardinals @ Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (9/23)
Some are calling for Western Kentucky to win CUSA this year and an equal number are calling for Ball State to finish last in the MAC West. It’s a road game for the Cardinals, on the hill in Bowling Green, and it will be a tall order for the Cards. If you like offense, this will be a game to check out. Unfortunately, in an offensive battle, WKU has a bit more firepower. A win for the Cardinals means they have the capability to be a darkhorse MAC West contender.

#27: Eastern Michigan Eagles @ Kentucky Wildcats (9/30)
On paper, this game shouldn’t be close and from a watchability standpoint, an SEC vs. MAC tilt doesn’t necessarily make it to appointment viewing. However, you have a Kentucky program getting more press and expectations than ever before, an EMU team on the rise, and this game scheduled right between Florida and Mizzou. Trap game, indeed. On a personal note, I’ve followed Kentucky for over 30 years. It would be so Kentucky to drop a game to EMU.

#26: Ohio University Bobcats @ Purdue Boilermakers (9/8)
It’s a Friday night tilt which isn’t all that strange for a MAC squad, but very much not the norm for a B1G team. Of course, it’s Purdue, so it’s a borderline B1G squad. For Ohio, this is a great opportunity to hang a P5 scalp from their wall. The Boilers are hosting, the crowd should be more festive than usual, but Ohio presents some unique challenges for Purdue. Not quite ready to guarantee an upset, but keep your eye on this one.

#25: Central Michigan Chippewas @ Kansas Jayhawks (9/9)
Central Michigan’s trip to the Big 12 last year created mass chaos as they upset Oklahoma State on a final play that existed because of an official’s mistake and an untimed down. If you ask Cowboys coach Mike Gundy, that win didn’t happen, but CMU is looking to make it two straight years with a Big 12 victory. Kansas is on the upswing, but with two wins over the last two seasons, this is another chance for the Chips to land a P5 victory.

#24: Kent State Golden Flashes @ Louisville Cardinals (9/23)
It says something about your out of conference slate when your road contest against an ACC darkhorse with a defending Heisman Trophy winner is not the most notable contest on your schedule. For Kent State, this trip to Louisville will be a difficult one, but it is their last chance to make a splash on the national stage. Currently, the Flashes are on a 19-game road losing streak to P5 squads, but will likely be at 20 win this game rolls around.

#23: Central Michigan Chippewas @ Boston College Eagles (9/30)
For CMU, this is the game that will separate the Chips into either a national contender or a MAC contender. A victory over an ACC squad on the road and the coronation of Toledo that seems to be underway from the major media outlets may need to be put on pause. BC has one of the toughest defenses CMU will see this year, but should the offense find enough success to crack the code, the rest of the MAC should be concerned. . . very concerned.

#22: Ohio University Bobcats vs Kansas Jayhawks (9/16)
Ohio welcomes into Athens the rare P5 squad with visiting Kansas, a team that is struggling to get back to prominence. A 2-10 2016 preceded by an 0-12 2015 demonstrates the amount of work that journey is going to be. is looking for a P5 victory, and may very well be favorites when this game’s line is released. Ohio fans should definitely watch and MAC fans in general can check out the elusive P5 win.

#21: Akron Zips @ Penn State Nittany Lions (9/2)
Penn State returns 16 starters from a championship team last year, so suffice to say this season opener for the Zips is a mismatch on paper. Throw in the 100,000 fans on hand in Happy Valley, and it’s a tall order. Penn State is 5-0 versus the Zips and 23-3 in home openers but struggled early against Akron in 2014. It’s the first game of the year for both, so if there ever was upset potential, this might be it.