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Beyond the Empire: Hustle Belt stops by to talk MACrifices, Money Games, Autonomy and MAC Wins

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Duane Burleson

On Tuesday, we got these 2014 Conference previews started with a chat from Pacific Takes. Today we head to a very familiar set of foes in our backyard, the MAC. While we make a lot of jokes about MACrifices, MACTION, Iowa, we also love this conference like you love a sibling. Lucky for SBNation, and for us, there is a beautiful home for all things MAC - Hustle Belt. Our friend Bryan Vance agreed to answer some questions about the matchups, the crazy autonomy stuff going on, and who we need to be watching this year.

So let's talk a little bit about the MAC to start things off. For the past few years, you've either been on the cusp of or actually broken into the BCS picture. Add to that the beauty of Thursday night MACtion, enough hype due to crazy wide-open football, and some decent talent, and you have a pretty awesome setup. Tell me how these things have changed the perception of the MAC over the past five to ten years.

Bryan: I'd actually argue that the MAC was at its strongest in the late 90s, early 2000s, when Marshall, BGSU, Toledo, Miami all had impressive high-ranking seasons. But in terms of popularity, there's no denying the MAC is at an all-time high right now. The high-profile draft picks of Eric Fisher and Khalil Mack have drawn more attention to, and given more credence to the accomplishments of MAC players.

The MAC has always had some amazing talent. There's no denying the conference's ability to produce big name coaches, including two of the games best right now (Urban Meyer and Nick Saban both spent time in the MAC). But these past five or so years have really drawn more eyeballs to MACtion, even if ratings don't reflect that. The MAC is exciting, it's goofy, it's different, and thanks to the exploits of Dan LeFevour, Chandler Harnish, Jordan Lynch, Dri Archer, and countless others, more and more people are following the conference every fall, even as power conferences steal the MAc's weeknight spotlight.

The MAC still isn't respected by the average college football fan, but I'd say the diehards have learned to appreciate it for its uniqueness and spot that while it's not quite B1G caliber, there are some truly great players in this league and some revolutionary ideas. Add in the excitement surrounding Dino Babers and the Bowling Green offense and the buzz is only going to continue building.

Okay, so there is an incredible history between the MAC and B1G, and while this is mostly due to the paychecks B1G schools have been handing out, we'd all be remiss to talk about some competitive games as of late. In other words, the MAC has been knocking off B1G teams each year lately, and with ten matchups, I can only imagine that this might happen again. Even though you only get to host one B1G team, how do you like your odds winning more than one game this year? Which ones do you think they'd be? Most importantly, of all the matchups, which do you see as must-sees?

Bryan: MACrifice games aren't always the most exciting, but I'm all for the paychecks, especially when a team like the 2013 NIU squad comes along and beats two B1G squads and gets paid to do it. There's no denying that the MAC is the forgotten little red-head step brother of the B1G, and it gets treated as such. So when we can take the hand-me-down cash and sneak out a win it's always a good time for us in the MAC.

I definitely like the MAC's odds of winning multiple B1G matchups this fall, maybe even all on the same Saturday. September 6 has at least three games that I think are must-watch games for MAC fans. Purdue seems ripe for a loss to an underrated CMU squad/ NIU at Northwestern, also on 9/6, is a must-watch as well. I really like the Huskies' chances of beating the Wildcats in this one. Akron at Penn state, on the same day, could be interesting. The Zips nearly knocked off Michigan (thanks for blowing it ref), and bring back a talented squad that seems ready to take that next step and will be hungry for a statement win. Indiana at Bowling Green (9/13) will be a fun one, if for no other reason than its a rare sighting to see a B1G team actually go to a MAC stadium Indiana trounced BG last year, but I think this game will be close (high-scoring, but close) and the Falcons have a fair shot of winning, but I'm not counting on it.

In all I think we see at least two (CMU, NIU) MAC wins over B1G squads this year, and maybe as many as four (BGSU, Akron).

Now for a bit of a move in a different direction. What do you all think about the new autonomy legislation going down in the NCAA? As a Power 5 fan, I can see mostly all the benefits, but if I was a fan of a school who gets specifically less from the deal - see almost nothing but association with the Power 5 - how do you see this affecting the bigger world? More importantly, with the advent of conferences adding more in-conference games, and decrees that Powers play Powers, do you see this affecting viability of the MAC in any way? Basically, how much do you hate Autonomy legislation?

Bryan: I actually don't hate autonomy legislation, but I do hate how the Group of 5 conferences, specifically the MAC, are just playing along with it. It bugs me that the MAC and the G5 are just falling in line with Power 5 schools push to exclude them from major college football. The fact is, we play some exciting football. Sure, it's not for everyone, but for those of us who love football, and love these schools, it's fun football. To watch our schools take a beating and ask for more is sickening.

I'd rather the MAC and the G5 be proactive and break away, before the P5 schools cut the umbilical cord. Chew through that thing and bust out on their own. It's ridiculous that we (yes, I'm saying we in reference to the G5) have no shot of playing for a championship, and it bothers me that our coaches and ADs are OK with that. To me, it says more about the little-brother nature of these programs if they stay on and play ball with the P5's move to cut them out and segregate them more, than it does to just break off and form their own thing. There could still be cross-play in non-conference play similar to how the FBS can play FCS teams now, but the late season games would mean a hell of a lot more for MAC teams if they had something more than a trip to Detroit for some Little Caesars Pizza (which we actually don't have now, thanks for that by the way) on the line.

Back to football. Who is going to be the next Jordan Lynch. More specifically, who will be the crazy video game numbers QB from the MAC that ESPN can pretend they care about even though they know that they don't have any idea what's going on?

Bryan: Man, I sure do love listening to Desmond Howard rant and rave about a player he just found out about five minutes before while wolfing down some MAC chili in the press box (yeah, our spreads are interesting). But to answer the question, it's Matt Johnson. He was an absolute stud this past fall as a sophomore, beating Jordan Lynch head-to-head in the MAC Championship to top it all off. The Falcons are loaded at wide receiver and Dino Babers is implementing Baylor's offense in BG as we speak.

He won't put up Jimmy Garoppolo numbers this fall, but 4,000+ and 40 touchdowns doesn't seem too out of reach.

Finally, give me your probably-more-educated than me guess on how the matchups play out. Feel free to just give an overall record. You don't necessarily have to show your work. I mean, you can if you want, but the B1G is playing so many games again the MAC that this answer could become cumbersome.

Bryan: Going off what I said earlier, I could see the MAC winning four games against B1G foes, but two or three is a much safer bet. Michigan State is going to destroy EMU, same with Ohio State and Kent State. Too a somewhat lesser extent Michigan-Miami will play out the same way. Purdue is going to beat WMU (though I think it could be close). Ball State and Iowa will be fun to watch, but I think Iowa is just too good for this year's Ball State team (last year would have been another story). NIU, CMU, and Akron all have good shots of winning their MAC games in my opinion. BGSU could win one of two, but that one will not be at Wisconsin.

We're going to see some awful football from some awful MAC teams. Some good football from some good MAC teams, and some downright inspired vengeful football from those winning MAC teams. I think this will be a banner year for MAC vs. B1G with the little brother getting some good blows in before sucumbing to B1G brother's sheer might.

The money will be nice too.

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Huge thanks to Bryan for stopping by. Go ahead and check him and Hustle Belt out on twitter (@BryanMVance and @HustleBelt) and look for my answers to some questions on the B1G soon over at www.hustlebelt.com.