- These are the best 10 non-conference games involving MAC teams. The games on this list are the ones college football fans should be most likely to search on YouTube when looking for the best matchups of the 2019 season.
- Bowl games count and are weighted more due to the higher stakes and nature of the game.
- This is an objective ranking. The participating MAC team’s result — whether it be a win or a loss — is not factored into the ranking as much as the actual result of the game.
- All games are between FBS teams. Eastern Michigan defeating Central Connecticut on a game-winning blocked punt return was a very thrilling finish, but it does not qualify for the list.
And thus, we begin.
Honorable Mention: Buffalo 38, Temple 22
September 21 — Buffalo, NY
This game deserves an honorable mention because Buffalo’s dominant win over Temple is the MAC’s most impressive non-conference win of the year — the conference’s lone victory over an 8+ win team in 2019. Buffalo shocked Temple in Philadelphia in September 2018, but not many college football fans expected it to sweep the home-and-home after a 1-2 start to the year. The Bulls didn’t just beat the Owls; they demolished them. Buffalo scored 24 unanswered in the second quarter to lead 24-7 at halftime and led by a maximum of 28 points on a Joey Banks pick-six with 9:43 remaining in the game. Thanks to collecting four turnovers and 133 rushing yards by All-MAC halfback Jaret Patterson, Buffalo defended its home turf with a 38-22 victory.
10. Miami (FL) 17, Central Michigan 12
September 21 — Miami Gardens, FL
Before losing to FIU in November or scoring zero points against Louisiana Tech, this was the game which set the Miami (FL) message boards on fire. In hindsight, the result wasn’t a surprise and if it were replayed, Central Michigan’s offense probably performs at a higher caliber and holds a decent shot at a victory. The game itself wasn’t thrilling, but the first half seemed like a low-scoring playoff hockey game. Miami led 7-2 and the teams traded many scoreless possessions, leaving viewers in great anticipation of the second half. Central Michigan scored a touchdown with 3:16 left to cut the deficit to five, but its final possession from its own 5 was a long-shot, but the hope was there. Hurricanes won on an interception in the final seconds.
9. Ohio 30, Nevada 21
January 3 — Boise ID (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)
This game will be remembered by Frank Solich getting doused by a bucket of french fries to commence the postgame celebration. Even though it never looked like Ohio was going to lose the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the fourth quarter was a roller coaster of emotions. The Bobcats (50 attempts, 285 rushing yards overall) ran Nevada into the ground in the first three quarters and led the Wolf Pack 30-9 heading into their final stand of the season. In fact, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Ohio was on track for its third-straight bowl game of not allowing a touchdown. Then, Nevada scored back-to-back touchdowns off Ohio fumbles and was driving for a third-straight score with under four minutes to go. The usually-unstoppable “Philly Special” was finally stopped. Bobcat defensive end Austin Conrad broke through to the backfield and batted the ball away mid-pitch. Ohio recovered the loose ball and secured its third-straight bowl win to finish the decade.
8. Vanderbilt 24, Northern Illinois 18
September 28 — Nashville, TN
Northern Illinois frequently sneaks up on teams in non-conference play. Did you know the Huskies have a winning record against the Big Ten since 2013 (4-3)? Northern Illinois snuck up on BYU last year in Provo, and it provided quite the scare to Vanderbilt in Nashville this September. Trailing 14-0 at halftime, NIU rattled off 10 unanswered points to start the third quarter. Vanderbilt reclaimed a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the Huskies swarmed back with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the Music City. Northern Illinois had one late-game opportunity to claim its first lead of the day, but its possession stalled around midfield. Former Ball State quarterback Riley Neal finally beat the Huskies after falling short the prior three years.
7. Eastern Michigan 30, Coastal Carolina 23
August 31 — Conway, SC
Week 1 is always a fun time of the college football season because all 130 teams earn a fresh start. Still, Eastern Michigan remained on brand by providing us a close game that went down to the wire. The Eagles trailed 10-0 early but entered a groove in the third quarter with 17 unanswered points. Mike Glass III’s 32-yard pass to Quian Williams with 5:46 left put the Eagles up 30-20, but Coastal Carolina kicked a field goal and recovered an onside kick in Eastern Michigan territory. But Chris Creighton’s defense saved the day as cornerback Kevin McGill sealed the game’s fate with a clutch interception.
6. Marshall 33, Ohio 31
September 14 — Huntington, WV
Old MAC rivals gathered near the coal mines in Huntington, WV, and the matchup didn’t fail to deliver. Marshall remained a step ahead the entire game, clinging on to a 27-17 lead at halftime. And then, Nathan Rourke was unleashed. The senior quarterback threw a 7-yard touchdown to tight end Ryan Luehrman and then he took it himself for a go-ahead 72-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Marshall answered with a 43-yard pass from Isaiah Green to utility player Xavier Gaines, but the Thundering Herd missed an extra point. Trailing by two with a potential win on the table, Ohio couldn’t break through Marshall’s defense. The Thundering Herd racked up four first downs on their final drive and hoarded 5:42 of clock to escape on top.
5. Eastern Michigan 34, Illinois 31
September 14 — Champaign, IL
Eastern Michigan is now 3-0 against the Big Ten in the last three years after never having a win over the conference prior to 2017. The Eagles didn’t just beat an ordinary Illinois team — they beat a bowl eligible Illinois team that beat Wisconsin and Michigan State. And they did it in walk-off fashion, on a game-winning Chad Ryland field goal (also how Eastern Michigan beat Purdue last year). Eastern Michigan’s 31-17 lead dissolved in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Mike Glass led his team on a 68-yard, 2-minute drill drive to set up Ryland’s kick. Glass threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns in the victory, which ended up being the MAC’s lone win over a Power Five team in 2019.
4. Toledo 28, BYU 21
September 28 — Toledo, OH
While Toledo-BYU didn’t quite live up to the 55-53 thriller in Provo from 2016, the second go-around between the programs favored the Rockets. The Cougars entered the game with impressive clutch wins over Tennessee and USC, but Toledo made the game-changing plays in crunch time in front of its home fans. Tied at 21 apiece, the Rockets were driving for the winning score after forcing a turnover on downs. A fumble seemed to thwart Toledo’s chances, but free safety Kahlil Robinson intercepted Zach Wilson’s pass and returned it 40 yards. Robinson’s long return set Shakif Seymour up for a 2-yard touchdown run with under a minute remaining, sending Toledo to a quality victory after a chaotic finish.
4. WKU 23, Western Michigan 20
December 30 — Dallas, TX (SERVPRO First Responder Bowl)
Speaking of chaotic, no bowl game in 2019 defined pure madness as much as the First Responder Bowl. Last year’s edition of the bowl was canceled due to inclement weather, but this year’s featured a wild storm of events in the final minutes. With the score deadlocked at 20, Western Michigan was driving for a game-winning score, and with an open field ahead on a zone read, quarterback Jon Wassink tripped. Facing a 4th and 2, the Broncos turned it over on downs, giving life to WKU in the final seconds of regulation. The Hilltoppers tossed a Hail Mary to the end zone, and Western Michigan batted it down? Overtime? Nope. Because of mass substitutions occurring on the field as WKU rotated between its kicking unit and offense, Western Michigan’s sideline was confused and 12 men were on the field for the Hail Mary attempt. WKU earned a redo — 5 yards closer — and freshman kicker Cory Munson drilled a career-long, walk-off 52-yard field goal to put a dagger in one of the most confusing finishes of the college football season.
3. Toledo 41, Colorado State 35
September 21 — Fort Collins, CO
This late-night finish flew well under the radar as it ran concurrently to UCLA’s 32-point comeback and 67-63 win over Washington State. But Toledo’s trip to the mountains featured bizarre stats. In a span of 17 plays and 6:21 of clock time in the third quarter, the Rockets and Rams combined for 310 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Even crazier, within the first two minutes of the third quarter, 221 rushing yards were recorded. While the teams’ rampant rushing attacks certainly were vital in this game, the prevailing storyline was the nature in which both halves ended. Colorado State attempted Hail Mary passes at the end of the first half and second half. The first one was caught, but Toledo managed to stop the receiver’s progress at the 2-yard line. Colorado State trailed by six when it attempted its second Hail Mary. Once again, the pass was caught but Toledo’s defense stepped in and halted the Rams at the 2 for the win.
2. Pittsburgh 34, Eastern Michigan 30
December 26 — Detroit, MI (Quick Lane Bowl)
Eastern Michigan packed Ford Field for the Quick Lane Bowl’s largest attendance figure since 2011. Rallying behind the hometown crowd, the Eagles nearly provided a scare to a talented Pitt team. Eastern Michigan jumped to a 10-0 lead and entered halftime with a slight advantage thanks to a bizarre tip-drill 50-yard touchdown pass to Quian Williams. The Eagles continued to remain one step in front of the Panthers after quarterback Mike Glass III connected with Arthur Jackson III with under 11 minutes to go in Detroit. But Pitt outscored the Eagles 14-3 in final 8:30 of the contest. With 47 seconds remaining and trailing by a field goal, Pitt’s Taysir Mack made a leaping grab in the end zone to escape the Quick Lane Bowl with the program’s first bowl win since 2013. Eastern Michigan was less than a minute for claiming its first postseason hardware since 1987, but the contest (ignoring the scuffle at the end) was still a thriller from start to finish.
1. Kent State 51, Utah State 41
December 20 — Frisco, TX (Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl)
On the first night of bowl season, Kent State not only won its first bowl game. The Golden Flashes emerged on top of one of the best college football games of the season. Ignore the 10-point deficit on the final scoreboard — the 2019 Frisco Bowl was special. The fourth quarter featured five touchdowns and 39 combined points. With the offenses performing at such a high level, Kent State’s defense needed to create a key stop in the fourth quarter, and the Golden Flashes delivered by forcing a fumble in Utah State territory. Matthew Trickett’s fifth field goal of the game provided Kent State a 44-34 advantage, but Utah State quickly reduced the margin back to three. Facing a 4th and 1 from the Utah State 4, Golden Flashes quarterback Dustin Crum called his own number and powered himself into the end zone to clinch the first bowl win in Kent State history. Crum finished 21/26 with 289 passing yards, 147 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns in a night which will live in posterity for Kent State faithful.