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Ranking the best non-conference MAC matchups: #20 - #11

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Road games galore against high value opponents

Bowling Green v Ohio State Photo by Kirk Irwin/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, #20-#11:

#20: Northern Illinois Huskies vs Boston College Eagles (9/1)
It’s a home date against a P5 opponent that isn’t an upper echelon squad. Several years ago, this was the sort of game that MAC fans would point to as the best opportunity for the MAC to nab another P5 win. This year? It’s sort of a litmus test to see where NIU is at. It’s not a secret that the natives in Dekalb have grown a bit restless, but with a victory over this ACC squad, NIU can establish itself as a MAC contender right out of the gate in 2017.

#19: Akron Zips @ Iowa St. Cyclones (9/16)
This is a massive game for Terry Bowden and the Zips. It’s a chance to land a non-conference FBS win at InfoCision Stadium, which would be their first since the stadium opened. It’s also the chance for Bowden and crew to show to the college football that they are a potential conference contender. Akron has always had a bit of a reputation of underperforming given facilities, talent, and coaching experience. Winning games like this would go a long way to silencing those sorts of narratives.

#18: Bowling Green Falcons @ Michigan State Spartans (9/2)
Surprisingly enough, Bowling Green actually has a winning record the last three years against B1G opponents (3-2) with wins over Maryland, Purdue, and Indiana. Michigan State is expected to have a bit of a down year and this would most certainly be a marquee win for Mike Jinks at BG. Last season’s 4-8 record caught most Falcons fans by surprise. A blow out in East Lansing, like what occurred last season in Columbus, may be the beginning of the end for Jinks in Bowling Green, but a win would quiet the critics immediately.

#17: Central Michigan Chippewas @ Syracuse Orange (9/16)
Normally, road trips to P5 teams aren’t an enjoyable endeavor for MAC squads, but in Syracuse, the Chips get a Cuse squad that is expected to finish last in their division and coming off a 4-8 2016. This will be the fourth meeting between Syracuse and CMU, with the Orange undefeated to date. It’s also the week before a road trip to LSU for Syracuse, so there is a potential for a trap game situation.

#16: Northern Illinois Huskies @ San Diego State Aztecs (9/30)
San Diego State is the near universal pick to win their division in the Mountain West. They’ll do so with defense, and this game will be a good opportunity for MAC fans to see how talented NIU is on the offensive side of the ball. If NIU moves the ball and with ease, then look out, as a trip to Detroit is a very real possibility. Win this game and NIU is in tremendous position to not only win the MAC, but make some noise on the national stage.

#15: Kent State Golden Flashes @ Clemson Tigers (9/2)
Talk about your tall order season openers and this is the kind of game you point to. Clemson comes in the defending national champion and an ACC title frontrunner and subsequent playoff participant for this year. Expect a significant disadvantage in crowd, depth, talent, and attention when Kent State heads to Death Valley but this is the truest definition of a house money game. Play loose with no expectations and hope for a miracle. And imagine what it would mean for the MAC if the impossible happens.

#14: Western Michigan Broncos @ USC Trojans (9/2)
National champion contender, Hesiman hopeful, and a cross-country road trip to open the season normally means doom for a MAC program. Sure, it’s a tall order and the Broncos will be significant underdogs and overmatched. But thanks to He Who Shall Not Be Named, WMU’s roster isn’t as different from USC as a normal MAC squad would ordinarily be.

#13: Bowling Green Falcons @ Northwestern Wildcats (9/16)
Northwestern is a darkhorse contender for their B1G division, which makes this road contest for the Falcons not a must win, but a sure-would-be-nice win. Surprisingly enough, Northwestern is 0-2 against the Falcons, but it’s been 14 years since their last meeting and much has changed. If you’re a fan of offense and points, this is the game to watch.

#12: Northern Illinois Huskies @ Nebraska Cornhuskers (9/16)
I’ll hand it to NIU for a tremendous non-conference schedule in 2017. This is a house money game in which they’ll likely be a significant underdog and with a possibility of it getting away from them early. However, a victory on the road against a B1G contender would be yet another program defining win for the Huskies. For NIU to get back to where they were, a consistent top-level G5 team, these are the games that are at minimum down to the wire if not NIU wins.

#11: Kent State Golden Flashes @ Marshall Thundering Herd (9/16)
Marshall is the trendy pick by those in the know to win CUSA, despite a 3-9 2016, including a 65-38 loss to Akron. As a CUSA frontrunner, Kent State can do quite a bit to raise their national profile and get a much needed win toward bowl eligibility with this win on the road. I doubt that it’s another 27-point home loss for the Thundering Herd, but who knows. Maybe there’s some weird curse on them against their former conference foes.