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Beyond the Empire 2016: Previewing MAC Football with Hustle Belt

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Virginia Tech Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

If there ever was a true conference sibling to the Big Ten, it would have to be our Midwestern friends, the MAC. In true Midwestern fashion, Jordan Rinard from Hustle Belt agreed to answer some questions about the upcoming season, the multitude of matchups, the possibility of contraction and expansion, and some predictions of the games. So take a look at what he has to say and head over to Hustle Belt for all of your MAC information.

It comes as no surprise to anyone, but the Big Ten and MAC have more matchups than the Big Ten and anyone else not named the MWC this non-con. And hey, who am I to stop the interesting pairing like Ohio State-Bowling Green, Iowa-Miami, Western Michigan-Northwestern? In all, there are six matchups. What should Big Ten fans be looking for from the MAC this year? Any fresh faces that will light up Indiana? Should we go ahead and pencil any losses in?

Fans of the B1G should expect a lot of competitive match-ups against the MAC, with Western Michigan, the favorite to win the conference, going to Northwestern on opening weekend, defending MAC champion Bowling Green taking on an Ohio State team that is undergoing a lot of turnover on both sides of the ball, and an Akron team that won eight games last season heads to Wisconsin on the second week of the season. And yes, the mighty Cardinals of Ball State square off against Indiana in what will likely be a showcase of how not to play defense with Riley Neal and KeVonn Mabon making plays in the passing game against the Hoosiers. The Wildcats will end up taking that L, while the rest should be pretty competitive.

Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, who do you see as the early leader for MAC Champion? Do you think that team can break into the NY6 Bowl rotation? How about any national award winners? Basically, tell us who ESPN will be touting as a 'Darkhorse' despite all good Midwesterners knowing about them before it was cool.

WMU is the clear favorite to win the MAC in 2016, and for good reason. The job that PJ Fleck has done on the recruiting trail since arriving in Kalamazoo has been incredible, and the Broncos have a legit first round talent in receiver Corey Davis. Zach Terrell is one of the better quarterbacks in the MAC and they have a good stable of RBs that gives them balance on offense. It's hard to see Western in the New Year's Six with games against Northwestern and Southern Cal in the non-conference and their slate of games in the MAC West, but WMU is certainly capable of getting wins in those games in terms of overall talent.

Expansion has been a rough thing for the mid-majors. I was reading Alan's piece on "Why I love MACtion" earlier and was taken aback by the quote, "Power 5 don't realize what they have" yet, I'm generally willing to agree. The thing is, despite that being a true statement, it doesn't stop the growing divide between the haves and don't-really-haves. How do you see this playing out in the long run for MAC schools?

The MAC is going to have to make some additions down the road if it still wants to exist in the future. Northern Illinois is making pitches to the Big XII to join and it's only a matter of time before the Huskies pack their bags and move out of the MAC. And to bring things back to the B1G, Miami could be in a tough spot depending on how bad the Big Ten wants a viable hockey conference. Getting that B1G money would be tempting for the RedHawks (as well as the exposure on national outlets and BTN), and joining a hockey conference with the Big Ten schools it used to routinely beat in the CCHA (#RIPCCHA) and Notre Dame in 2017 would be really attractive for Miami, even if it doesn't mean success in football in the short-term.

Follow up to that question... We saw Idaho get punted from the Fun Belt this offseason. If you were forced to make room for a new team - say like, if Iowa State or someone became a free agent - who would you kick out first. Moreover, what teams would you be willing to take on to go to these lengths? Tell me you wouldn't let in Kansas. I'll laugh.

First of all, the MAC is too dignified to have Iowa State as a member. But to answer your question, Buffalo would be the first one to get the boot since it's not a great geographical fit and it doesn't have a great track record of being good in football. Purdue would be a nice add with the right hire, but realistically, I'd love to have Youngstown State in the MAC. Bo Pelini and Frank Solich in the same division? SIGN ME UP.

Okay, so let's call the games. Out of the six matches, how many do you all win? How many do you cover? Remember, we're all holding you to this.

WMU should win in Evanston as 5.5-point underdogs, a much-improved Miami should cover the 27.5 point spread against Iowa in a loss, BGSU isn't covering the -27.5 at tOSU, Kent State will lose but will definitely covering the 21-point spread at Penn State thanks to their great defense, Akron will be dropped by Wisky and won't cover, and Ball State will cover but lose to IU. I'm confident in all of these except for BSU-IU, since the Hoosiers haven't beat the Cardinals the last three times the teams laced them up.


Again, huge thanks to Jordan and the team at Hustle Belt. Head over to their site and check out the awesome stuff they’re doing on the MAC.