College GameDay has visited a MAC campus just twice in the show’s 26-year history.
Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and the gang traveled to Northern Ohio on October 25, 2002 to prepare for a duel between No. 12 Northern Illinois and No. 23 Bowling Green. In a rare matchup between ranked MAC squads, the home Falcons prevailed over the Huskies in 34-18 fashion and finished the season ranked No. 23 in the AP Poll.
The crew made its inaugural visit to Kalamazoo on November 19, 2016. No. 14 Western Michigan stood with Alabama as one of two undefeated teams in the FBS at that point in the season. The GameDay visit was more of a celebration for Western Michigan’s season than an emphasis on a compelling matchup, as Buffalo only won two games in Lance Leipold’s second season. After Corso put on the Buster Bronco head, Western Michigan left no question of its dominance, shutting out the Bulls 38-0 in the light snow.
Since the kickoff of the 2017 season, the MAC hasn’t been able to jump into the AP Poll. In fact, the conference received no preseason AP Poll votes for the third-straight season. But the conference still offers an enticing matchup each week of the season. Here’s where Corso, Herbstreit, Rece, Pollack, Desmond, Maria, and the gang would travel each week of 2019 if required to go to a game involving a MAC team:
Week 1 — Toledo @ Kentucky
Saturday, August 31, SEC Network
Week 1 is an easy choice. The crew is live from Lexington, KY, a site which hosted its lone GameDay appearance in college football’s wackiest year — 2007. After suffering nearly a decade as mediocre-at-best, the Wildcats enjoyed a resurgent 2018 with a 10-3 record and Citrus Bowl win. Kentucky posted its best season since 1977 and finished the year ranked No. 12, but the team loses stars Benny Snell and Josh Allen heading into 2019.
Toledo won’t be a simple non-conference game for a Wildcat team who actually struggled with 1-11 Central Michigan for a half in last year’s opener. The Rockets return some offensive firepower with quarterback Mitchell Guadagni back from injury and running back Bryant Koback. Jason Candle usually boasts impressive offenses and will attempt to thwart off the SEC foe in Lexington. Along with Ole Miss-Memphis, this game is also the most compelling matchup in Week 1’s noon slot on Saturday.
Week 2 — Northern Illinois @ Utah
Saturday, September 7, Pac-12 Network
Week 2’s slate is stacked. Also considered was Western Michigan-Michigan State, Eastern Michigan-Kentucky, Buffalo-Penn State, and Ohio-Pitt. But factoring in Utah’s lofty ranking and status as Pac-12 favorites, the Utes might be the strongest opponent the MAC faces in Week 2. Just 63 yards away from glory with under three minutes to go, Northern Illinois threw a game-sealing interception in last year’s matchup in DeKalb to seal a 17-6 Utes victory.
This year, the matchup moves to the mountains, but Northern Illinois already proved it can pull off road upsets in the Beehive State. This should be another low-scoring defensive bout, and if the Huskies’ offense improves under former Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois could challenge Utah on both sides of the ball. This game is a must-watch... if you can find Pac-12 Network anywhere.
Week 3 — Miami (OH) @ Cincinnati
Saturday, September 14, ESPNU
It’s rivalry week! The battle for the Victory Bell has been a college football staple since 1945. Miami surprisingly leads the series 59-57-7 despite Cincinnati claiming 13-straight wins in the rivalry. The Bearcats finished 2018 ranked No. 24 thanks to a quick turnaround from second-year head coach Luke Fickell. With one of the top defenses in the country, they shut out their foe from Oxford 21-0 after winning a down-to-the-wire matchup the previous season.
Miami is desperate to end the drought and the RedHawks will be working with a new quarterback in A.J. Mayer or Jackson Williamson. But they say anything can happen in a rivalry game, and considering this Cincinnati team may be ranked by the time Week 3 rolls around, the RedHawks will have a shot at a quality victory and a rivalry trophy when they enter Nippert Stadium.
Another game considered was Northern Illinois-Nebraska, a matchup which the Huskies won in Lincoln just two seasons ago. But the rivalry aspect of Miami (OH)-Cincinnati and the fact that Cincinnati is a tougher opponent than Nebraska shifts this GameDay to the home of the Bearcats.
Week 4 — Western Michigan @ Syracuse
Saturday, September 21
Anybody who remembers opening week of the 2018 season remembers how great of an offensive matchup this was. Syracuse led 34-7 at halftime, but Western Michigan nearly came back in the third quarter behind the brilliance of quarterback Jon Wassink (379 passing yards) and wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge (240 receiving yards). The teams combined for 97 points, 1,181 yards of offense, and 50 first downs in a thriller at Waldo Stadium.
Syracuse begins a season ranked for the first time since the Donovan McNabb era after a 10-3 finish in 2018. Dino Babers’ Orange will operate without Eric Dungey (184 passing yards, 200 rushing yards vs. WMU) under center, turning to sophomore Tommy DeVito at the position. Western Michigan counters with the Wassink-Eskridge connection as well as Maxwell Award Watch List running back LeVante Bellamy, who rushed for 120 yards on 10.9 yards per carry when the two squared off in Kalamazoo last August.
Week 5 — BYU @ Toledo
Saturday, September 28
Week 5 wasn’t an easy week to pick a destination for the College GameDay crew. One of the MAC’s biggest rivalries, Central Michigan-Western Michigan, was on the schedule along with Vanderbilt hosting Northern Illinois in Nashville. But for the first time this season, the best matchup of the week occurs at a MAC campus.
After a slump in year two of the Kalani Sitake era, BYU returned to bowl season and defeated Western Michigan to finish 2018 with a 7-6 record. But most importantly, Toledo-BYU is a dream matchup just because of what the programs provided us on a Friday night in October two years ago.
The Cougars downed the Rockets in Provo, 55-53, in 2016 on a 19-yard field goal as time expired. The teams traded touchdowns all night long, combining for 66 second half points. With 1:11 left, Toledo risked a two-point try for the lead, and despite a fumbled snap, Logan Woodside converted the attempt on a pass to Michael Roberts. Woodside threw for 505 yards and five touchdown passes, BYU running back Jamaal Williams ran for 286 yards and five touchdowns, and Mack Brown left the broadcast booth in the middle of the game because he was tired. So Adam Amin ended up announcing an instant classic without a color commentator. Can we start a petition to let Adam Amin call BYU-Toledo, Round II by himself this year because Round I was his Michael Jordan flu game performance?
Week 6 — Ohio @ Buffalo
Saturday, October 5
No game has more bearing on the MAC East race than the contest which takes place in Upstate New York the first week of October. Ohio stampeded the Bulls, 52-17, in Athens in 2018, preventing Buffalo from making a leap into the AP Poll. The series moves back to Buffalo and Lance Leipold’s squad is looking for some revenge at home.
Ohio enters this game with Nathan Rourke at quarterback, but Buffalo will have a new face as its signal caller. Tickets to Detroit are likely on the line that night, so Ohio will have to pull off a road win in order to return to the MAC Championship for the first time since 2016. Also, College GameDay in Buffalo sounds like a fantastic idea, and if Lee Corso still enjoys crowd surfing, perhaps he’d enjoy #BillsMafia’ing a folding table at the morning tailgate?
Week 7 — Northern Illinois @ Ohio
Saturday, October 12
It’s the 2019 MAC Preseason Champion vs. the 2018 MAC Actual Champion. Will we see a passing of the torch in Athens? Northern Illinois won the previous matchup 24-21 thanks to posting 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. The quality win in DeKalb was the Huskies’ turnaround point in the 2018 season after an 0-3 non-conference start.
Although this year’s NIU-Ohio game loses stars such as A.J. Ouellette and Sutton Smith, there is still plenty of talent left on the respective campuses. But the matchup in Athens will be between the MAC’s most seasoned coach Frank Solich and the rookie Thomas Hammock. It should be a good one.
Week 8 — Western Michigan @ Eastern Michigan
Saturday, October 19
Unless Central Michigan bounces back from 1-11 under Jim McElwain, this is the game that likely decides which team can display the Michigan MAC Trophy for the next year. Although the Eagles have soared up from the gutter under Chris Creighton, they haven’t beaten the Broncos since 2013 — losing the last two editions by a combined six points.
Eastern Michigan has one of the more stout defensive units in the country led by cornerback Kevin McGill and with the development of quarterback quarterback Mike Glass, the gang from Ypsilanti is poised for a dark-horse run at a MAC West title. They’ll have to get through a veteran Western Michigan team hoping to maintain its health and avoid another November collapse.
Week 9 — Eastern Michigan @ Toledo
Saturday, October 26
We’re giving Eastern Michigan some more love as Halloween and midweek #MACtion approach. The Eagles upset Toledo at The Factory last fall thanks to Mike Glass’ 125 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Eastern Michigan didn’t even have to score in the second half of that mid-October showdown, as Toledo’s 23 unanswered points weren’t enough to chalk up a victory for the Rockets.
With two of college football’s most underrated coaches going head-to-head at the Glass Bowl and the MAC West race heating up, Eastern Michigan’s visit to Toledo should be quality television during the busiest sports month of the year.
Week 10 — Buffalo @ Eastern Michigan
Saturday, November 2
This week offers the final multi-game slate of Saturday MAC games of the year before we turn on the tube Tuesday and Wednesday nights for some nationally televised contests. There are only three games and the other two are Akron-Bowling Green and Northern Illinois-Central Michigan.
That allows the GameDay crew to bring out their Home Depot hard hats as they pay another visit to The Factory in Ypsilanti. Buffalo poses a lot of question marks heading into 2019 due to sparse returning talent but the Bulls will likely be in the upper tier of the MAC East. Last season, this was a Week 3 matchup between the conference’s final two undefeated teams. Buffalo won by a touchdown but the Bulls will have to thrive without the comfort of UB Stadium this time around.
Week 11 — Miami (OH) @ Ohio
Wednesday, November 6
Let’s petition to get College GameDay to visit MACtion on Wednesday nights.
It’s the Battle of the Bricks. Enough said. Before last season, Ohio won 11 out of 12 over the RedHawks. But if the Bobcats stifled their rival last November, a MAC Championship appearance would have landed in Ohio’s hands.
A slow defensive start for Ohio allowed Miami to jump to a 28-7 lead and the Bobcats ran out of time during their comeback bid to fall 30-28. This is a revenge game for Ohio and Nathan Rourke’s penultimate appearance at Peden Stadium, a venue in which he has dazzled onlookers over the past two seasons. Ohio and Miami were picked first and second in the MAC East preseason media poll, respectively, so there are also conference championship implications on the line in this crosstown rivalry.
Week 12 — Northern Illinois @ Toledo
Wednesday, November 13
Northern Illinois dominated Toledo in DeKalb last November and the perennial frontrunners meet again in college football’s all-important month. Two Doak Walker Award candidates are pitted head-to-head in his Wednesday night game, runnings backs Tre Harbison and Bryant Koback.
In recent years, Toledo has fielded the better offenses while Northern Illinois has boasted some relentless defenses. This clash of contrasting styles should be interesting and will more than satisfy your football hunger, just one day after debating why (insert great G5 team) was ripped off by the committee in favor of (insert 6-4 SEC team) in the latest CFP poll.
Week 13 — Toledo @ Buffalo
Wednesday, November 20
College football’s regular season is nearing its closure, but we’re gifted with another captivating matchup on a Wednesday night. Once again, it’s another star running back matchup, but this time reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Jaret Patterson is on the opposite sideline of Bryant Koback. A common theme in these games, a trip to Detroit should be on the mind of both opponents as they take the field at UB Stadium.
And I guarantee a weeknight College GameDay broadcast in Buffalo would draw a magnificent crowd, so if there’s ever a week to test this theory, November 20 would be the time.
Week 14 — Western Michigan @ Northern Illinois
Tuesday, November 26
In the words of Joan Jett/Carrie Underwood, “I’ve been waiting all day for Tuesday night,” or something of that nature. It’s one of two FBS games in the time slot and anyone who calls himself/herself a college football fan should tune in to what could be a de facto MAC West championship game. Northern Illinois has been notorious for rising out of the ashes to clinch the division in November and this year could be no exception.
Western Michigan has one final run with Jon Wassink, LeVante Bellamy, D’Wayne Eskridge, Justin Tranquill, and a whole load of senior talent. Battling an elite Huskies defense in a potential high stakes game, what reason do Corso, Herbstreit, Rece, and the crew have to not set up the broadcast in DeKalb that night?
And then, College GameDay will be live from Detroit for the MAC Championship Game the first weekend of December. It’s a long shot (as are all of these matchups), but we can always hope.