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, #10 - #1:
#10: Toledo Rockets vs Tulsa Golden Hurricane (9/16)
Rockets fans and MAC fans believe this is the Year of Toledo in the Mid-American Conference. The difference between it being a MAC Championship year and one that makes a splash on the national stage is victories in games like this one. Tulsa comes to the Glass Bowl with a much different roster than the one that led them to 10-3 last season, losing several key skill players, but the talent is there to continue the high-powered attack. Whatever the over/under is, bet the over. And hang on to your scoreboards, Rockets fans.
#9: Miami-Ohio Redhawks vs Cincinnati Bearcats (9/16)
Can you say rivalry game? This is for the Victory Bell, the longest running non-conference series in college football. Miami has lost eleven straight to the Bearcats, but after a strong close to 2016, a hopeful outlook for 2017, 17 returning starters and a roster filled almost entirely with Chuck Martin’s recruits who buy into his system, there is a distinct possibility that the streak ends at eleven. New UC head coach Luke Fickell hopes that isn’t the case.
#8: Akron Zips @ Troy Trojans (9/23)
Throughout our countdown we’ve talked about statement games. This is most assuredly that for the Akron Zips. A road contest against a Sun Belt contender, one that went 10-3 last season and earned a trip to the Dollar General Bowl in the process is a victory that would set a successful 2017 in motion for Terry Bowden and company. Troy is 9-3 hosting non-conference FBS teams since joining the Sun Belt, so it’s a tall order for Akron.
#7: Western Michigan Broncos @ Michigan State Spartans (9/9)
Most B1G-MAC matchups end up with MAC schools nursing the wounds and limping home with a healthy check. In this matchup, the disparity between the rosters isn’t as big as it usually is. Michigan State will be slightly down this year and Western Michigan, despite losing skill players and their head coach, has an immense amount of talent, a level that far exceeds the usual MAC team. It’s a tall order on the road in East Lansing, and this would be more upset-prone if it was Week 1, but it’s still worth keeping a close eye on.
#6: Buffalo Bulls @ Minnesota Golden Gophers (8/31)
Do we really need to mention why this game is must-watch for MAC fans? It’s a Thursday night, it’s the first game batch of games of the season, and it’s the unveiling of He Who Must Not Be Named’s first Minnesota game. The why behind this game is far more global and long-term than just whether or not Buffalo can upset Minnesota or keep it close, thus putting their 2017 path on a positive trajectory. Rather, this will speak volumes as to what kind of season Minnesota is going to have and what kind of team Fleck is rolling out. With a high level of success, it benefits the MAC and their coaches when they all look for that next opportunity.
#5: Bowling Green Falcons @ Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (9/23)
When CUSA and MAC teams square off, highlights usually ensue. This looks to be no different. The Blue Raiders are coming off an 8-5 season last year that saw them beat BG after falling behind 21-14 at the close of the first half. The main reason this game ranks so highly is the fun factor. Most expect BG to be much improved from last season, and MTSU has put up a school record on offense the past two seasons. Buckle up and hang on, because this is sure to be an absolute shootout.
#4: Miami RedHawks @ Marshall Thundering Herd (9/2)
Miami is the trendy pick for the MAC behind a strong close to 2016, but for the RedHawks to have a legitimate shot at a MAC title, this season-opener against Marshall should provide a good idea of what they are capable of. Like the RedHawks, the Thundering Herd have high expectations but last season was the opposite of Miami’s strong finish as the Herd clocked in a 3-9 record and were embarrassed 60-6 by WKU in their finale. If Miami has the horses to make a run to Detroit, this game needs to be a signature win for them.
#3: Toledo Rockets vs Nevada Wolf Pack (9/16)
For the Rockets, this is one of two games that has the potential to springboard them into national attention. Already receiving votes in the Coaches’ Poll, Toledo needs their out of conference wins to generate headlines and respect. A win over Nevada would do just that. A darkhorse contender for the Mountain West Conference, this game is Nevada’s home opener after a season opening trip east to Northwestern the week prior. It’s head coach’s Jay Norvell’s first year at the helm and joining him and his Air Raid offense at QB is Alabama transfer David Cornwell. Toledo may have a few games this year where they simply have to hang on and outgun. This is one of those games.
#2: Miami RedHawks @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9/30)
It’s the second time these opponents have met, but the first since the name change for the RedHawks. Hopefully that results in good mojo, as the first time was a 46-point loss in 1909. Notre Dame, if you ask Notre Dame fans, are national title contenders. Ask the rest of the college football universe and you’re likely to hear a far different story. For Miami, they are one of the biggest unknowns of the 2017 season. If they start how they ended 2016, then you’re looking at a MAC contender with an outside shot at national prominence. A win in South Bend against arguably the most storied program in college football history would do well to cement that path.
#1: Toledo Rockets @ Miami-Florida Hurricanes (9/23)
A MAC squad on the road against a ranked opponent is usually a recipe for disaster, but if this Toledo squad is going to fulfill its destiny and rise to something resembling a national power this season, this is the sort of game that has to go in the W column. It’s definitely a tall order, and Toledo has struggled in situations similar to this, losing twelve of their last fourteen against ranked opponents on the road. Preseason, the Canes come in 18th but after a likely 3-0 start they may be in the low teens or single digits. It’s an opportunity, and like Herb Brooks said in Miracle, great moments are born from great opportunity.