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Full breakdown of MAC Championship and bowl eligibility scenarios

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Five teams can still win the MAC West, nine teams can attain bowl eligibility. The possibilities are endless in this year’s MAC.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 MAC Championship Game - NIU v Buffalo

#MACtion has been chaos this season. Since midweek #MACtion kicked off on Tuesday, November 12, six of eight weeknight games have been decided by four points or fewer. We’ve seen Western Michigan defeat Ohio on a walk-off touchdown in overtime, we’ve seen Kent State come back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win on a game-winning field goal, and we’ve even seen offensive linemen do cartwheels in the middle of a play.

As the season winds to a close, there is so much uncertainty in this conference due to the extreme level of parity this season. It’s possible no MAC team finishes the regular season with more than seven wins. It’s also possible that more than half the teams in the conference finish with six wins or more than half the teams in the conference finish with five wins. With so many possibilities for MAC Championship Games and bowl eligibility, here are scenarios to look for heading into the home stretch of the season.


MAC East scenarios

Congratulations to the Miami RedHawks. For the first time in the Chuck Martin era, the RedHawks are making a December trip to Detroit to compete for the conference crown. Miami last won the MAC East in 2010, when it won six-straight to conclude the season and upset a ranked Northern Illinois team in the MAC Championship.

Miami’s spot was sealed upon its Wednesday night blowout victory over Bowling Green combined with Buffalo’s brutal Thursday night loss to Kent State. The RedHawks are red hot and winners of four straight, with Akron and Ball State still remaining on the schedule.

MAC West scenarios

The easy scenario

Starting out simple, Western Michigan wins the MAC West if it defeats Northern Illinois in the Broncos’ only remaining game on November 26. Toledo’s Wednesday night loss to the Huskies gave Western Michigan control of its own destiny.

Chaos scenario — NIU wins the West at 6-6

Let’s continue with chaos. Northern Illinois always seems to find a way. The Huskies are often the gold standard of the MAC West, and somehow found a way to win the conference at 8-6 last season. Of the nine MAC Championship Games this decade, Northern Illinois has appeared in seven of them including every one from 2010-15. Here’s how NIU makes that eight in a decade:

  • Northern Illinois defeats Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan
  • Toledo defeats Central Michigan
  • Ball State beats Central Michigan, loses to Kent State and Miami (OH)

Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, and Toledo all, at best, have 5-3 MAC records at that point, and the Huskies benefit by holding head-to-head tiebreakers over the Broncos and Rockets. Ball State and Central Michigan must finish 4-4 due to holding tiebreakers over NIU.

A Toledo scenario

Toledo squandered a golden opportunity at winning the West for the second time in three seasons with its latest loss to Northern Illinois, but the Rockets are still alive with some help from the Huskies.

  • Toledo defeats Buffalo and Central Michigan
  • Western Michigan loses to Northern Illinois
  • Northern Illinois loses to Eastern Michigan, defeats Western Michigan
  • Ball State loses one of the following: Central Michigan, Kent State, Miami (OH)

Toledo’s tiebreaker over Western Michigan comes into play with a Broncos loss, and the Rockets must hope Northern Illinois and Ball State lose certain games so those disadvantageous tiebreakers don’t factor in.

A Central Michigan scenario

Central Michigan rose from 1-11 to bowl eligible in year one under Jim McElwain. Here’s how the Chippewas can accelerate their progress and punch a ticket to Detroit.

  • Central Michigan defeats Ball State and Toledo
  • Western Michigan loses to Northern Illinois

Out of the five contenders, Central Michigan only needs to worry about Western Michigan losing, as the Broncos won the rivalry over the Chippewas in late September. Otherwise, Central Michigan benefits by controlling its destiny over fellow MAC West hopefuls Ball State and Toledo.

A Ball State scenario

Ball State looked like the surefire pick for Detroit when it started 3-0 in MAC play with road wins at Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois and a 52-14 thrashing of Toledo. But consecutive losses, including a crucial heartbreaker to Western Michigan, have set the Cardinals back in the standings. Ball State needs several dominos to follow to win a MAC division for the first time since 2008, but Mike Neu’s team still benefits from having a quarter of its schedule pending.

  • Ball State defeats Central Michigan, Kent State, and Miami (OH)
  • Western Michigan loses to Northern Illinois

Ball State owns tiebreakers over every MAC West team except for Western Michigan, so the Cardinals just need Northern Illinois to pull through and take down the Broncos on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

What happens if multiple teams finish 5-3 in MAC play and tiebreakers can’t settle it?

Head-to-head tiebreakers reign supreme, but if there’s a scenario where Team A beat Team B which beat Team C, but Team C beat Team A, then it gets more complicated. Let’s say Western Michigan loses to Northern Illinois to finish 5-3 in the MAC. Toledo wins out and Ball State wins two of three — both 5-3 MAC records. Western Michigan holds tiebreaker over Ball State, Ball State holds it over Toledo, Toledo holds it over Western Michigan.

Then, the record of tied teams within the MAC West becomes a secondary tiebreaker. Western Michigan would suffer in this scenario with two MAC West losses, while Toledo and Ball State benefit from having a conference loss to a team from the East Division. To ultimately determine the tiebreaker if it hasn’t been settled yet, the winning percentages of crossover opponents are compared.


Bowl eligibility

Who’s in? — Western Michigan (7-4), Toledo (6-4), Miami (OH) (6-4), Central Michigan (6-4)

Who’s out? — Akron (0-10), Bowling Green (3-7)

Who’s pending? — Buffalo (5-5), Eastern Michigan (5-5), Ball State (4-5), Northern Illinois (4-6), Kent State (4-6)

Ten teams are still alive for bowl eligibility, and there is potential for six MAC teams to reach the 6-win mark and receive a chance at playing in December or January. Because Eastern Michigan’s schedule still contains two teams that must win out — Northern Illinois and Kent State — it is impossible for the Eagles, Huskies, and Golden Flashes to all finish with six wins. Here are scenarios where the MAC enters bowl season with the maximum of nine bowl eligible teams:

Nine-team scenarios

The Anti-Kent State agenda

  • Ball State — defeats at least two of the following: Central Michigan, Kent State, Miami (OH) (6-6 or 7-5 finish)
  • Buffalo — defeats either Toledo or Bowling Green (6-6 or 7-5 finish)
  • Eastern Michigan — loses to Northern Illinois, defeats Kent State (6-6 finish)
  • Northern Illinois — defeats Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan (6-6 finish)
  • Ohio — defeats Bowling Green and Akron (6-6 finish)

Kent State loses its seventh game of the season to Eastern Michigan, failing to attain bowl eligibility, but Eastern Michigan claims the bid instead.

(Yes, the maximum number of MAC teams that can finish 6-6 is seven. That scenario is very unlikely, as it involves Akron beating Miami.)

The Anti-Eastern Michigan agenda involves similar occurrences except Eastern Michigan loses to both Northern Illinois and Kent State and misses out on bowl season. Then, the Huskies and Golden Flashes each win out to finish 6-6. Also, Ball State must beat both Central Michigan and Miami (OH) and lose to Kent State for the 9-team scenario to work.

The Anti-Northern Illinois agenda involves Kent State winning out to go bowling at 6-6. Thus, the Golden Flashes must defeat Eastern Michigan, so the Eagles attain bowl eligibility by beating Northern Illinois. In this scenario, since Kent State wins out, Ball State still needs to beat Central Michigan and Miami (OH) to get nine teams eligible.

Nine MAC bowl eligible teams probably means several stay home in December despite qualifying for the postseason. In 2017, Buffalo and Western Michigan were both excluded from bowl invites despite six wins while Miami was snubbed last year after a 6-6 season.

A potential nightmare scenario

  • Ball State — loses to Central Michigan and Miami (OH), beats Kent State (5-7 finish)
  • Buffalo — loses to Toledo and Bowling Green (5-7 finish)
  • Eastern Michigan — loses to Northern Illinois and Kent State (5-7 finish)
  • Kent State — loses to either Ball State, defeats Eastern Michigan (5-7 finish)
  • Northern Illinois — defeats Eastern Michigan, loses to Western Michigan (5-7 finish)
  • Ohio — loses at least one to Bowling Green or Akron (5-7 or 4-8 finish)

If Bowling Green knocks off Buffalo and Ohio, the Falcons finish 5-7. In this simulation, there are seven 5-7 MAC teams and the conference will concede at least one of its five reserved bowl slots. The only bowl eligible programs are the current ones — Western Michigan, Toledo, Central Michigan, and Miami.


Expect chaos, prepare for chaos, because so many scenarios are still on the table. When dealing with MACtion, it’s any given Tuesday, any given Wednesday, any given Thursday, any given Friday, or any given Saturday.