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MAC Football: Ranking the Non-Conference Schedules

Which MAC teams have the easiest, and toughest, match ups this season?

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With #MACtion drawing ever closer (just a few more weeks now!), it’s time to take a look at each school’s non-conference schedule.

But why just look at them when you can rank them based on difficulty?

However, instead of just going based on what I personally feel (obviously NIU has the toughest schedule), I wanted to get a solid formula for my rankings to prevent any bias.

Below is my guide for the rankings:

*Note: with the exception of Notre Dame, all FBS Independent members were counted as G5 schools*

So with that criteria in mind, let’s get to ranking!

Tier 1 - Should Win 2+ Games:

#12 - Buffalo Bulls


vs Robert Morris Colonials - 3
@ Penn State Nittany Lions - 10
@ Liberty Flames - 4
vs Temple Owls - 5
Total: 22

The Buffalo Bulls have the easiest schedule here. They play just one P5 team, two G5 squads - Temple (say “Hi” to Rod Carey for us!) and Liberty - and open with FCS team Robert Morris, who went 2-9 last season.

#11 - Ball State Cardinals


vs Indiana Hoosiers - 6
vs Fordham Rams - 3
vs FAU Owls - 4
@ NC State Wolfpack - 10
Total: 23

The Cardinals are the only MAC team to have three home games this year. And on top of that, they only play one team that made a bowl game last year - NC State. The Hoosiers, Owls, and Rams combined for just 12 wins last year.

#10 - Toledo Rockets


@ Kentucky Wildcats - 10 + 1
vs Murray State Racers - 3
@ Colorado State Rams - 4
vs BYU Cougars - 5 + 1
Total: 24

The Rockets were saved from last place by Kentucky and BYU winning their bowl games. Had they lost, Toledo would have been tied with Buffalo for the easiest schedule as both teams only take on a single P5 program.

#9 - Eastern Michigan Eagles


@ Coastal Carolina Chanticleers - 4
@ Kentucky Wildcats - 10 + 1
@ Illinois Fighting Illini - 7
vs Central Connecticut Blue Devils - 3
Total: 25

The Eagles sneak past Toledo by just a single point for ninth on this list. They face one of the FBS’s newest members, Coastal Carolina, and an FCS team that lost 45-6 to Ball State last season. However, two P5 games on the road really boosted their ranking.

Tier 2 - Two Wins Doable

All three teams in this tier actually finished with 28 points each. But I didn’t want any ties so I added some tiebreakers before ranking them accordingly.

The first tiebreaker was the number of P5 teams they’ll be facing this year. If it was still tied, the second tiebreaker compares the overall record of all four opponents from last season.

#8 - Akron Zips


@ Illinois Fighting Illini - 7
vs UAB Blazers - 5 + 5 + 1
vs Troy Trojans - 5 + 1
@ UMass Minutemen - 4
Total: 28 (lost tiebreaker)

Even though the Zips play just one P5 team, the Fighting Illini - who didn’t make a bowl game last year - Akron was able to top EMU with the help of UAB’s post-season play. The Blazers won their conference championship game AND beat NIU in the Boca Raton Bowl last season, giving them extra points and putting Akron in eighth place.

*Akron only plays one P5 team and lost the first tiebreaker*

#7 - Central Michigan Chippewas

Schedule (2018 Record):

vs Albany Great Danes (3-8) - 3
@ Wisconsin Badgers (8-5) - 10 + 1
@ Miami Hurricanes (7-6) - 10
vs New Mexico State (3-9) - 4
Total: 28 (lost tiebreaker #2, opponents’ combined 2018 record: 21-28)

#6 - Western Michigan Broncos

Schedule (2018 Record):

vs Monmouth Hawks (8-3) - 3
@ Michigan State Spartans (7-6) - 10
vs Georgia State Panthers (2-10) - 4
@ Syracuse Orange (10-3) - 10 + 1
Total: 28 (won tiebreaker #2, opponents’ combined 2018 record: 27-22)

Central and Western Michigan play very similar schedules this year; both schools play two P5 teams on the road (one of which won a bowl game), one G5 team that didn’t make a bowl game, and one FCS foe.

With the two playing an equal number of P5 teams, it came down to their opponents’ overall record from last season. The Broncos won the second tiebreaker as their four non-conference teams had an overall record of 27-22 last year while CMU’s adversaries went under .500, going just 21-28.

Tier 3 - Uhh...Maybe Two Wins?

Both Tier 3 teams were tied with 30 points but, as with the previous tier, the tiebreaker was used to determine which team had the harder schedule.

#5 - Ohio Bobcats


vs Rhode Island Rams - 3
@ Pittsburgh Panthers - 10 + 2
@ Marshall Thundering Herd - 6 + 1
vs Louisiana Rajin’ Cajuns - 6 + 2
Total: 30 (lost tiebreaker)

The Bobcats play two teams that made their conference championship game and another that won a bowl game, which really helped their positioning here. If not for the post-season bonus points, Ohio would have been tied with EMU for eighth.

Despite having the same amount of points as the #4 team, Ohio takes fifth place as they only play one P5 squad in 2019.

#4 - Bowling Green Falcons


vs Morgan State Bears - 3
@ Kansas State Wildcats - 6
vs Louisiana Tech Bulldogs - 5 + 1
@ Notre Dame Fighting Irish - 10 + 5
Total: 30

Bowling Green has the fourth toughest schedule this year mostly because they travel to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish, who made the playoffs last season. But BGSU also has tough matchups against K-State, out of the Big 12, and Louisiana Tech, who won their bowl game last season.

Tier 4 - Yikes!

#3 - Northern Illinois Huskies


vs Illinois State Redbirds - 3
@ Utah Utes - 10 + 2
@ Nebraska Cornhuskers - 7
@ Vanderbilt Commodores - 10
Total: 32

Despite playing three P5 teams on the road this season, NIU checks in with just the third hardest non-conference schedule.

After opening with an in-state rival, they have the daunting task of traveling to Utah - who is a dark horse to make the playoffs, Nebraska (somehow another dark horse for the CFP), and Vanderbilt, a solid SEC team.

ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) isn’t giving NIU much of a chance either, giving them a 5.4%, 8.9%, and 16.2% chance, respectively, to win their three P5 games.

Good luck, Huskies!

#2 - Kent State Golden Flashes


@ Arizona State Sun Devils - 10
vs Kennesaw State Owls - 3
@ Auburn Tigers - 10 + 1
@ Wisconsin Badgers - 10 + 1
Total: 35

Kent State has a monster schedule, facing three P5 teams on the road, all of which made a bowl game last year, which is why they topped the Huskies in this list.

Outside of their FCS opponent, Kennesaw State, the Flashes aren’t getting even less love than NIU. In their three games against P5 teams, ESPN’s FPI gives Kent State just a 4.4%, 1.6%, and 6.4% chance to win, respectively. Ouch.

And that means the toughest non-conference schedule goes to the...

#1 - Miami RedHawks


@ Iowa Hawkeyes - 8 + 1
vs Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles - 3
@ Cincinnati Bearcats - 6 + 1
@ Ohio State Buckeyes - 10 + 5 + 5 + 1
Total: 40

Miami, like the other teams in Tier 4, only has one home game. The RedHawks travel to a two B1G schools, Iowa and Ohio State, and then to Cincinnati, a very good AAC team that went 11-2 last season.

Ohio State is sole reason the RedHawks take the top spot in this list. Had the Buckeyes not made a NY6 bowl game last season (they beat Washington in the Rose Bowl, finishing the year with a 13-1 record), Miami and Kent State would have been tied for first place.

But, as it is, Miami claims this years most difficult non-conference schedule. We wish them luck!