Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports/Andrew Weber
It's MAC Week here at CBR and personally I'm pretty geeked about it. After all, there's a reason why #MACtion has become all the rage amongst the college football geeks out there and why the casual fan is starting to catch on. It's because they know what I know - on any given Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday and the occasional Saturday as well we are likely to see just about anything go down.
It's what makes the higher-up's at the MAC conference offices and the coaches willing to play along geniuses. They've got a great platform all to their own and now, for the most part they've got four or five teams that can compete on a pretty high level. NIU played three quarters of great football in the conference's first ever BCS birth before bowing to the physically superior FSU squad in the Orange Bowl and the profile of the conference hasn't been higher than it is in 2013.
With anything and everything possible in this conference it makes coming up with a set of games that will mean the most very difficult. However, the scheduling gods have also helped by matching up some of the best teams in both divisions this season. So, while MACtion may lay waste to how we see things play out, the games below are sure to play a part in all the narratives and more.
10. Marshall at Ohio (Sept. 14): Two mediocre at best teams from 2012 on the Top 10 biggest games list? Ahh, but the devil is in the details my friend and Ohio, who took down Penn State last season, wasn't your normal 9-4 football team. 2012 was a year of injury and overcoming just to get to that record. 2013 is a do-over for Frank Solich's team and a ton of the important parts of last year are back. Getting a seemingly equal team in Marshall to come to Oxford, Ohio is a good barometer of where these teams, who both finished 4-4 in their respective conferences last year, stand. If Ohio wants to be the challenger we all thought they were going to be last season a win over a team like this needs to happen.
9. Central Michigan at Ball State (Nov. 6): With all of the attention on Toledo and NIU last year the Cardinals of Ball State were a quiet 6-2 in MAC play, but sleeping on them this season could be very dangerous. Well, so too could be sleeping on one of the more consistently good programs over the past 15 years - Central Michigan. For CMU they would've already played both of the West division favorites and it's likely we'll know where they stand, but after a 41-30 game between these two teams last year this could be a very entertaining game again.
8. Northern Illinois at Kent State (Oct. 5): The two teams that met in the MAC Championship game are at it again in this cross-divisional game, but toping the insane 44-37 championship game is going to be hard to come by. It's also early on in the MAC schedule for these two teams. Additionally, both are facing life with new head coaches. So, by the time these two teams meet in early October we should have a good idea of where these teams stand under the leadership of Rod Carey (NIU) and Paul Haynes (Kent State). Don't think they won't both be contenders to end up meeting at Ford Field once again this season and this could just be an appetizer.
7. Toledo at Ball State (Sept. 28): Did you know that there were two teams tied for 2nd in the MAC West last season? While the national narrative focused on Toledo, NIU and the resurgence of Kent State in 2012, Ball State was sneaky good themselves and ended up with the same record as the Rockets in the West last season (6-2). Not only that, but Ball State actually took down the Rockets in Toledo last season. This game will be highly intense to say the least and full of a lot of returning talent for both teams. Toledo will be in the midst of three straight contests inside the MAC West and it'll be the 2nd of back-to-back games on the road in that stretch as well. If Toledo wants to take that next step and become a true contender this is the game they need to circle on their schedule to win.
6. Kent State at Ohio (Nov. 19): Welcome to the two contenders in the MAC East. There's a reason all of the attention has been paid to the West, it's clearly stronger from head to toe at this point, but these are the two most likely contenders in the East and with this one being a late season matchup we could be looking at a game that has a ton of importance to the 2013 race as well. Then why put this game so low on the list? Well, call me skeptical that Kent State can do it without Darrell Hazel at the helm. If they can (and there's a lot of good talent back) then this game moves up the list.
5. Tulsa at Bowling Green (Aug. 29): Tulsa won a bowl game over Iowa State last season and were the Conference USA champions a season ago. It's hard to imagine that the second place MAC East team could have a better challenge and an ability to actually win that challenge than what Tulsa presents. It'll need it's awesome defense from a season ago to show up in this one against a very tough and physical Golden Hurricane team. If BGSU can win it'll be a giant sign to the rest of the MAC that "We're Here."
4. Toledo at Missouri (Sept. 7): Talk about stepping up to the big boy level, huh? At least this isn't a game against the Florida's, LSU's, Alabama's, or Texas A&M's of the SEC. Toledo takes on a Missouri team that's got their backs against the wall for coach Gary Pinkel and they could firmly push this team. If there's any MAC team that can match "SEC speed" it's the Rockets. While they will be underdogs against Mizzou, this one has major upset potential and could be the catalyst this team needs to be a player on the national level.
3. Bowling Green at Kent State (Sept. 7): Bowling Green has been one of the most consistent teams in the MAC over the past decade (2010 aside) and this will be a massive early season MACtion contest between the clear top two teams in the East. This is pretty straight forward as to why it's such a big game - the winner sets the tone for the rest of the season and is likely to put their destiny in the MAC in their own hands. The loser is behind the eight ball in just the second week of the season, that's the harsh reality of this early season clash.
2. Northern Illinois at Iowa (Aug. 31): 18-17.... That's all that stood between NIU and a perfect season last year and in 2013 they get a chance at a rematch with the Iowa Hawkeyes team that took them down by a single point last year. If NIU wants to parlay their BCS appearance into national prominence in 2013 it needs to win this season opener and prove they are a true contender. They'll get another chance later against Purdue, but without a win in this one it's all for naught. Thankfully a dark horse Heisman candidate in Jordan Lynch is back as are a number of his offensive weapons so a W over the Hawkeyes could very well be attainable, in fact it wouldn't surprise me to see NIU be a slight favorite to win it.
1. Northern Illinois at Toledo (Nov. 20): Like there could be any other game that would top this list? Regardless of what happens to these two teams in the non-conference slate (both have ridiculous tasks there) these are the two best teams in the MAC West and perhaps the entire conference. Chances are the winner of this one gets a birth in the championship game. There could be a lot more on the line should the non-conf schedule go their way too. All sorts of fireworks could happen between these two offensive juggernauts. Even if you aren't a die-hard MACtion guy, this is going to be must see TV for any college football fan.