It was the great philosopher Crow Sting who said back in 1997 “The only thing for certain is that nothing is for certain.”
I don’t know if the legendary pro wrestler is a fan of MACtion, but that profound thought certainly applies to Mid-American Conference football.
The conference has built a reputation on its unpredictability. An enjoyable trait for drawing in casuals to their weeknight games, a nightmare for those who like to responsibly wager on their outcomes. Last year for example, we knew Toledo was the best team and Akron was the worst. Everything else was a jumbled mess.
So what should we expect this year? Basically, Toledo Good. Kent St. Bad. Everyone else, somewhere in between. With that in mind, you will see a lot of win totals somewhere between 5 and 7 for these teams. That’s Vegas basically shrugging their shoulders and saying they don’t know what to expect either. So here is my attempt to throw wagers against the wall to see what sticks. (Odds courtesy of FanDuel as of July 14.)
Ball St. Over 5.5 (+116) – Losing your best offensive player (running back Carson Steele) to UCLA is not what I would call addition by subtraction. But the Cardinals were able to restock their offensive cupboard through the transfer portal, grabbing running back Marquise Cooper from Kent St. during their mass exodus and getting well traveled quarterback Layne Hatcher from Texas St. Those are solid pieces to work with.
Looking at the schedule, you can all but guarantee a 1-2 start with games at Kentucky and Georgia followed by a home game against Indiana St. The real intrigue comes with the rest of the schedule. Their last non-conference game comes against fellow Group of Fiver Georgia Southern in Muncie. Looking at their conference schedule, they do have divisional crossover games against Miami in Muncie, Kent St. and at Bowling Green. None of those are overly daunting. And they get conference favorite Toledo also in Muncie. There are wins to be had on this schedule, and finding 6 of them and qualifying for a bowl gets you plus money. Worst case scenario, they are at least fun to watch.
Central Michigan Under 5.5 (-122) – If the Chippewas are able to build the entire airplane out of Bert Emanuel Jr., then based on what we saw at the end of the year last year they will be incredibly dangerous. However, it is also possible that his somewhat reckless style of taking off and running will get him in trouble, and Daniel Richardson is not around to provide a solution (having transferred to FAU). Neither is stud running back Lew Nichols (drafted by the Packers). This team will have to hang their hat on a solid defense, but road games at Michigan St., at Notre Dame and at South Alabama all in September will not instill a lot of confidence early on. There are also conference games at Buffalo, at Ball St and at Ohio as well as the season finale at home against Toledo. I know I said almost anything can happen in this conference, but that also includes the wheels coming off CMU this season.
Toledo Over 8.5 (-128) – Did you notice I’m staying completely away from the East Division? Good luck figuring that mess out.
Here me out, but there is a world where Toledo is the G5 Rep in a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. (Sure, they may get blown out when they get there, but let’s deal with that in December.) DeQuan Finn may be the conference Player of the Year and the schedule sets up pretty well for the Rockets. The season opener at Illinois will not be easy, but whether they get past the Illini or not, four consecutive home games against Texas Southern, San Jose St., Western Michigan and Northern Illinois and a road game at UMass offer the Rockets to really…Take Off. (Sorry.)
Following that likely 5-1 start comes a game at Ball St., which I mentioned above as being a key game, and a game at Miami OH. Splitting them still gives Toledo a cushion for a 9-3 record. How you feel about games against Buffalo, Eastern Michigan at Bowling Green and at Central Michigan will dictate how you feel about Toledo as a whole. I trust a very good defense (especially the secondary) to be able to shut down at least nine of the offenses on their schedule.
Because I feel bad about neglecting the East Division, I will give all 12 of you still reading a bonus pick.
Ohio Over 7.5 (-122) – I don’t know much in this world of chaos that is the MAC, but having a quarterback, wide receiver and running back that are all preseason all-conference picks and a schedule that avoids Toledo and gets Miami OH at home is a pretty good foundation for success.
An argument can be made that Kurtis Rourke – not Finn – is the conference’s top signal caller, provided he is healthy after missing the last part of last season due to injury. A similar argument can be made that Sieh Bangura is the top running back. Ditto Sam Wiglusz at wide receiver.
That’s all well and good, but the schedule offers plenty of opportunity for loss, which is ultimately what matters here. The Bobcats open the season Week Zero at San Diego St. and after a game against Long Island, go to Florida Atlantic and host Iowa St. A glass half empty approach suggests a 1-3 start. But with a few breaks, 3-1 (or better) is attainable. If they can navigate that, then the conference schedule offers the breaks they need to really get on a roll and make a repeat appearance to the conference title game, which will almost assuredly get them over the 7.5 threshold.