For years the MAC had gone with a sixteen game schedule where teams would play each team in their division twice and then play all of the schools in the other division once. Last year, that changed. Now all teams play 18 conference games, with the extra two games coming from cross-division schools. That certainly makes for an interesting scheduling quirk, as some teams may be blessed with playing bad teams from the other division twice or vice versa.
So that you don't have to pour through schedules, here is each team's respective crossover games:
|Team||Home-and-home||Road Only||Home Only|
|Akron||Western Michigan, Toledo||Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan||Ball State, Central Michigan|
|Ball State||Bowling Green, Kent State||Miami, Akron||Ohio, Buffalo|
|Bowling Green||Ball State, Northern Illinois||Central Michigan, Toledo||Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan|
|Buffalo||Western Michigan, Central Michigan||Eastern Michigan, Ball State||Toledo, Northern Illinois|
|Central Michigan||Ohio, Buffalo||Akron, Kent State||Bowling Green, Miami|
|Eastern Michigan||Miami, Ohio||Bowling Green, Kent State||Akron, Buffalo|
|Kent State||Ball State, Toledo||Western Michigan, Northern Illinois||Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan|
|Miami||Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois||Toledo, Central Michigan||Ball State, Western Michigan|
|Northern Illinois||Bowling Green, Miami||Ohio, Buffalo||Akron, Kent State|
|Ohio||Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan||Ball State, Western Michigan||Toledo, Northern Illinois|
|Toledo||Akron, Kent State||Ohio, Buffalo||Bowling Green, Miami|
|Western Michigan||Akron, Buffalo||Miami, Bowling Green||Kent State, Ohio|
So, that's a lot of info. Let's break it down a little.
We love this 18-game schedule!
Look at Bowling Green's crossover schedule. Think they're happy with how things turned out? They get the two worst teams in the West twice, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan at home, and only travel to Toledo. The jury is still out on how Central Michigan will end up being, but the Falcons get two of the three best in the West at home. They obviously still have to win those games, but the schedule sets up nice for a potential run.
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Another team with a relatively manageable schedule is Eastern Michigan. The get (currently) the two worst teams in the East twice. Akron and Buffalo, the two teams most likely to win the East, have to travel to Ypsilanti. The road games aren't impossible but will be tough seeing how both Kent State and Bowling Green are playing this year. Of all the teams in the West, Eastern Michigan probably has the easiest road to a division title.
Yeah this schedule is not fun
On the flip side, Akron will really have to earn their way to the MAC title. The Zips drew the two best teams in the West last year twice. They have to travel to Eastern and Northern Illinois, which aren't easy places to win: the Eagles and Huskies are a combined 14-0 at home this year. Unfortunately for the Zips, they only get Ball State and Central Michigan at home; Akron would have loved for those to be the road games instead of the home games for crossover play.
Toledo is in the same boat as Akron. The Rockets get Akron and Kent State twice, and it seems that the Flashes are becoming more and more of a contender with their play of late. They host Bowling Green and Miami, which is nice that they just have to play BG once but would have loved to get Miami on the road instead of a home-and-home. Ohio and Buffalo are the road trips they'll have to make, which are two of the toughest places to play in the MAC right now.
Why is this important you ask?
Well, if you look at the current standings, the divisions look incredibly similar. There are three sub-.500 teams and Ohio is better than their record (4-6) suggests. Akron, Toledo, and Western Michigan sit at 7-4 while Bowling Green, Buffalo and Kent State all have just three losses. Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan lead the way at 9-1 and 11-2 respectively, but those records are pumped up by multiple wins over non-Division 1 competition.
That means that the cross-division schedule will probably be a bigger factor than it has ever been. If everyone beats each other up within the division, the cross-division games will be huge in order to try and gain separation between two teams in the same division.
This is probably the deepest I've seen the MAC in the past five or six years. There are only really two bad teams - Ball State and Miami - and you can make a case for each of the other ten teams to win their respective division. In our most recent power rankings, Ohio came in ninth even after picking up a win over Big East member DePaul. Bowling Green is seventh and just beat South Florida. Those both seem really low, but there are so many good teams in the conference that they probably are the seventh and ninth-best teams right now.
One thing's for sure: it's going to be a fun time following the proceedings as MAC play begins next week.