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Beyond the Empire: MACtion Remains Magic

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Our MAC expert stops by to shamelessly self-promote. Also, we talk MACtion, Wednesday night football, and whether a Big Ten team could fall to its junior partner.

MAC Championship - Western Michigan v Ohio Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Welcome to the dying days of B1G 2018! As we count down to the start of Big Ten football, we’re previewing the Big Ten non-conference slate by conference affiliation. Stay tuned for all the G5 and P5 conference previews, along with our Closing Arguments prediction series for each Big Ten team. This week, we turn it over to our MAC-adjacent writer, James Snyder.

As some of you may know, I am a bit of a self described expert of the MAC conference. In fact, if you say MAC conference to someone that follows the MAC conference, they will gouge out your eyes with a spoon, rip out your redundant tongue and beat you to death with it. As the basketball editor over at Hustle Belt, the SB Nation MAC blog, our “leadership” at OTE decided to task me with our little MAC preview.

Disclaimer: Since I don’t like being tasked with anything, I am likely to respond with a passive/aggressive drunken shitpost. [ed. note: fuck]

First, I am going to announce with authority the games where your favorite team is going to get embarrassed by their MAC foe. It’s my guess, with absolutely zero research on my part, that the B1G will face the MAC more than any other conference in the non-conference schedule, and there will be at least one upset, and a few close calls.

I have highlighted 5 games that should be must watch if you enjoy seeing the misery on the face of your conference foes, instead of rooting for them like that conference down south.


The Games

Jimmy’s Picks

Kent State Golden Flashes (3-9, 1-7 MAC) at Illinois Fighting Illini (2-10, 0-9 B1G)

September 1 | 11am CT | BTN, probably (you’re not watching this)

2018 S&P+ rating: 127
2017 Sagarin rating: 186
B1G S&P+ Odds: 72% (+10.3 margin)

Literally no one can win this contest between two shit shows. Illinois has been so terrible that I have decided to remove the fighting from their name.

Northern Illinois Huskies (8-5, 6-2) at Iowa Hawkeyes (8-5, 4-5)

September 1 | 2:30pm | BTN

2018 S&P+ rating: 69
2017 Sagarin rating: 76
B1G S&P+ Odds: 71% (+9.7 margin)

As a Buckeye fan, this game brings back two near losses to a MAC opponent. One of the best defensive players in the country lines up at defensive end for the Huskies. Sutton Smith is an absolute beast, and something happened to Iowa’s offensive line that makes this big news. I am not going to pretend to care about another Big Ten team.

Since everything is about me, I will tell you why this reminds me of a Buckeye near upset. A few years back, the Buckeyes played Buffalo, who had Khalil MACk. Maybe you have heard of him? Anyway, he had the best defensive performance I have ever witnessed on the college level, and kept the Bulls in the game the entire time.

The second almost Buckeye upset that I am reminded of is the turnover factor. An NIU team that wasn’t particularly great almost knocked off the Buckeyes because Ohio State had 7 turnovers. In most David vs. Goliath match-ups, this is part of the story. This particular match-up puts a Goliath of the MAC against a B1G team that isn’t vastly superior with athletic talent. If you want to watch Iowa lose as much as I do, then I highly recommend tuning into this game.

Eastern Michigan Eagles (5-7, 3-5) at Purdue Boilermakers (7-6, 4-5)

September 8 | 11am | BTN

2018 S&P+ rating: 96
2017 Sagarin rating: 96
B1G S&P+ Odds: 75% (+11.8 margin)

Chris Creighton has completely changed the culture of his green clad team and has turned them into a bit of a blue collar juggernaut. They will be taking on basketball on turf 2.0, which could be one of those match-ups where the plucky team is more motivated, and earns the win.

Iowa State Cyclones at Iowa Hawkeyes

September 8 | 2:30pm | BTN—hey wait a minute

I know Iowa State isn’t in the MAC, but Matt Campbell coached at Toledo and is doing great things in Ames. Since I want Iowa to lose every game, I included this one on the list.

Buffalo Bulls (6-6, 4-4) at Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-8, 3-6)

September 22 | TBD | TBD

2018 S&P+ rating: 93
2017 Sagarin rating: 95
B1G S&P+ Odds: 61% (+4.8 margin)

As the B1G starts B1G on B1G violence in earnest, this game will probably be a bit of team actually in New York on team in New Jersey that is part of the Big Ten for the New York market violence.

The Bulls have an exciting QB and WR combo that can torch just about any defense. Tyree Jackson, if healthy, is capable of putting up video game numbers. WR Anthony Johnson will play on Sundays, and has the potential to be as good as another former MAC star, Antonio Brown. The Bulls also have one of the best defensive players in the MAC, also named Khalil, this time Khalil Hodge. I almost didn’t include this game because if Buffalo wins, I wouldn’t consider it an upset.

Central Michigan Chippewas at Michigan State Spartans

September 29 | TBD | TBD

2018 S&P+ rating: 116
2017 Sagarin rating: 99
B1G S&P+ Odds: 97% (+32.3 margin)

The second to last non-conference game could be the best. Chippewas coach John Bonamego has a habit of pulling out big wins. He usually puts together a solid football team that does things like this...

Central Michigan also did this last season

The Rest of the B1G-MAC Games

Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-8, 3-6) vs. Akron Zips (7-7, 6-2)

September 1 | 7pm | FOX wait really why | UNL -23.5

2018 S&P+ rating: 119
2017 Sagarin rating: 117
B1G S&P+ Odds: 84% (+17.0 margin)

Did you remember that Akron appeared in the MAC Championship Game last year? Me neither.

Terry Bowden is still marching along at the Rubber Bowl [yes, I know], and while he’s got a back seven to look out for—including DBs Kyron Brown, Jordan George, and Darian Dailey—the loss of depth on an already-thin front four and of longtime DC Chuck Amato could have the better of the Zips’ two sides of the ball hurting. This could be a nice starter for a Huskers’ offense that should be good on the ground but has questions moving the ball in the air.

On offense...Jesus. If the Huskers defense can’t stop a offense projected as one of the worst in the NCAA, it’s going to be a long year in Lincoln. QB Kato Nelson was an exciting development when he emerged late in his true freshman season, and he can toss it to explosive WR Kwadarrius Smith. That’s about it. Break out the Blackshirts, I guess.

Michigan Wolverines (8-5, 5-4) vs. Western Michigan Broncos (6-6, 4-4)

September 8 | 11am | FS1

2018 S&P+ rating: 87
2017 Sagarin rating: 87
B1G S&P+ Odds: 92% (+24.6 margin)

Former WMU QB and now-HC Tim Lester navigated the post-Fleck transition just fine, going 6-6 and being one of a few schools (including Buffalo) to not get invited to a bowl. He brought back the second-best ‘crooting class in the MAC, and the Broncos are set to stick around the upper-middle of the MAC.

The question will be developing a defense that’s young and thin—ends Antonio Balabani and Ali Fayad combined for 6.5 sacks, but the middle and all three starting linebackers graduated. It doesn’t matter if Shea Patterson is already polishing his Heisman or not—Chris Evans and Karan Higdon are going to have a field day.

Maryland Terrapins (4-8, 2-7) at Bowling Green Falcons (2-10, 2-6)

September 8 | 5pm | ESPN+

2018 S&P+ rating: 97
2017 Sagarin rating: 141
B1G S&P+ Odds: 55% (+2.1 margin)

UM BUT ABOUT THIS ONE

All Maryland things aside—Bill Connelly’s margin was calculated before the Durkin uncertainty began—the Falcons are made to win shootouts under Mike Jinks’ new offense. QB Jarret Doege was efficient—if not great downfield—during his time healthy, and the Falcons’ offensive line has built some depth by virtue of having to start four underclassmen in 30% of the BGSU starts. With sophomore RB Andrew Clair a threat out of the backfield and 6’5” (!!!) WR Datrin Guyton adding speed and size—but questionable hands—the AIR FALCON could trouble the Terps’ defense, unless the OL hasn’t grown into the offense.

On D...um...OH SHIT IT’S DC CARL PELINI! Hell fuckin’ yeah, let’s do a couple lines and wrassle.

Pelini inherits a lot of depth in the front four, but a thinned-out linebacking corps could be problematic. The secondary has a lot of tackling experience, particularly rover Fred Garth, who had over 10% of BGSU’s tackles in 2017—but that’s mostly because the front seven were so shitty. With virtually all their production in the secondary returning, though, a stout-but-undersized Falcons defense—with time to gel—could harry the Terps’ offense.

Indiana Hoosiers (5-7, 2-7) vs. Ball State Cardinals (2-10, 0-8)

September 15 | 11am | BTN

2018 S&P+ rating: 117
2017 Sagarin rating: 194
B1G S&P+ Odds: 83% (+16.6 margin)

The Cardinals don’t leave the state of Indiana until October 13!!!11! That’s an Iowa Soft Schedule!!!1!

Sure, there are back-to-back games at Notre Dame and Indiana, but...still.

After a decent start to 2017, the bottom fell out on Mike Neu’s club—injuries and ass-whoopings marred a terrible collapse. But there’s a lot returning, as QB Riley Neal harassed Northwestern in 2016 and is back after missing a chunk of last year due to injury. RB James Gilbert is back, along with Caleb Huntley, his 2017 replacement. Nine guys started on the offensive line in 2017, and while that’s not ideal, there’s at least experience if coached up right. Freshman All-America WR Justin Hall is a 5’9” speedster with decent hands. We could be back to Fun Balls Tate on offense, and

On D, the Cardinals are switching to a 3-4 defense. That’s decent, considering they return 5 of their 7 LBs who got starts in 2017 and lost virtually their whole defensive line, I guess? Play to your strengths or something. MLB Jacob White shows an aptitude for getting into the backfield, CB Josh Miller had a whopping 13 PBUs in 2017.

So...yeah. 2018 could be a lot more 2016 than 2012 for the Hoosiers, but with Ball State playing the in-state chip-on-shoulder card, I guess you never know.

Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2, 7-2) vs. Kent State

September 15 | 11am | BTN

2018 S&P+ rating: 127
2017 Sagarin rating: 194
B1G S&P+ Odds: 99% (+38.1 margin)

Today I learned that Sean Lewis parlayed some success as Dino Babers’ OC into the Kent State HC job. The Golden Flashes’ search, per Bill Connelly, was not ideal:

After names like South Dakota head coach Bob Nielson and former Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner wafted in and out, athletic director Joel Nielsen ended up homing in on Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and Syracuse offensive co-coordinator Sean Lewis. He chose the latter. More importantly, Lewis accepted.

Jesus.

Anyhow, the Flashes have, like, 5 QBs, none of whom are that good, and leading receiver Justin Rankin was a former walk-on running back. So that’s where we’re at. New DC Tom Kaufman is going build a bend-don’t-break defense out of one which lacked size. Penn State by 50.

Punter Derek Adams averaged 43.6 ypp in 2017, which could be fun. So tune in—Penn State-Kent State! Punting!

Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-7, 2-7) vs. Miami-Ohio Redhawks (5-7, 4-4)

September 15 | 2:30pm | BTN

2018 S&P+ rating: 82
2017 Sagarin rating: 109
B1G S&P+ Odds: 62% (+5.3 margin)

Coming off a 5-7 season that Bill Connelly tabbed as one of the unluckier in 2017—though it’s part of a pattern of Chuck Martin being 5-17 in one-score games—Miami should have a good defense that tests the Gophers.

The Redhawks were excellent facing the fun in standard downs in 2017—26th in SD/carry and 14th in power success rate—and lose just one starter of a starting defensive line that nabbed 19 TFLs and 11 sacks. Junior DE Doug Costin could make some noise against a sketchy Gophers’ OL, and LB Brad Koenig pins his ears back and gets into the backfield as well. The Redhawks have a deep secondary but will need to make up for the loss of their two leading tacklers—S Joshua Allen might be the man to do it, leading the team in INTs. Hope Zach Annexstad has rounded into form by then.

Offense is another matter. Three of QB Gus Ragland’s top four receiving targets graduated, and early dates with Cincinnati and Marshall will test how he builds rapport with a receiving corps outside downfield threat James Gardner. The undersized RB duo of Kenny Young (5’7”) and Alonzo Smith (5’10” but 208) will split carries if healthy, but...meh.

Northwestern Wildcats (10-3, 7-2) vs. Akron

September 15 | 6:30pm | BTN

2018 S&P+ rating: 119
2017 Sagarin rating: 117
B1G S&P+ Odds: 89% (+21.6 margin)

You read what I had above on Akron, right? If Clayton Thorson is back by now and the ‘Cats OL is...like, competent, Jeremy Larkin is gonna go for 150 and a couple scores.

I’ll mention that I don’t like Northwestern against running QBs as a matter of principle, but this will be a nice test for the Wildcats’ linebackers ahead of a punishing Big Ten slate.

The Conference

Jimmy’s Preview

Now, onto the MAC race. Every Sunday this season, I am going to recap MAC football games over at Hustle Belt.

Instead of focusing on things like turnovers and play calling, I am going to parody each coach into a professional wrestler. This article should give you an idea what I am talking about, brother!

Think of the upcoming season as a 12 man battle royale. A lot can happen, but if I were a betting man, I would bet on “Fighting” Frank Solich. If I told you there was only one coach in all of D1 that could rip a quarter in half, would you bet against Solich?

Aside from the parody, thee Ohio Bobcats have a great team that should have a bit of an edge after getting knocked out of the East race because of an improbable Akron win. Nathan Rourke is a great QB that fits what Ohio is trying to do. Also, every Solich win is a slap in the face of Nebraska, at least in my mind. And like every red blooded actual American, I want my fellow conference “buddies” to suffer, and suffer often.

MNW’s Everything Else

FLY THE FLAG

THIS IS A REAL THING THAT IS HAPPENING

Where to Watch the MAC

One of the disappointments for me was learning that ESPN’s pivot to sucking every bit of money possible out of you and me means that a good deal of MACtion might move to ESPN+. Now, in early reports this only looks like it applies to the Saturday afternoon matchups in the early half of the season, before mid-week MACtion really become a thing.

On the whole, though, we’ll have more of what we usually do—ESPN2 and ESPN3 splitting up two games on your run-of-the-mill Tuesday and Wednesday nights in late October and November. A few games, though, like Toledo-Kent State at 5pm on November 15, will be on CBS Sports Network. MACtion LIVES, people!

MACtion Importing P5 Games

Not only that, but we’ve got a chance for some reaaaaal weird MACtion before the conference play even gets started.

As I perused the MAC schedules and previews in anticipation of...well, Jimmy’s preview, I appreciated that the MAC has an interesting slate of Power 5 teams visiting the Rust Belt in the 2018 non-conference, in addition to Maryland visiting BGSU. Take a look:

I don’t know about y’all, but Toledo hosting Miami has my immediate attention. We’re all obviously just waiting for Tuesday night MACtion when the days get shorter and the leaves fall off the trees, but in the meantime, you never know—I could see the MAC going as good as 3-2 at home against P5 competition.

That’s it. That’s 2700 words on the MAC. Vote in the polls, hit the comments, try not to make a mess.

Poll

How will the Big Ten fare against the MAC in 2018? (Give us your picks in the comments.)

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    12-0
    (12 votes)
  • 19%
    11-1
    (23 votes)
  • 39%
    10-2
    (46 votes)
  • 24%
    9-3
    (28 votes)
  • 6%
    8-4 or worse
    (7 votes)
116 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Whose contribution was worse?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Jimmy’s
    (12 votes)
  • 28%
    MNW’s
    (20 votes)
  • 53%
    Mine, the commenter’s
    (37 votes)
69 votes total Vote Now