The best way to measure one conference up against another is to look at non-conference. The 2022 MAC non-conference schedules are fairly eclectic but every single team has at least one Power 5 team on the schedule.
In this series, we will look at each team’s out-of-conference slate and rank them based on difficulty. There are some teams who have serious gauntlets. Other teams have a cakewalk. Everyone loves a little #MACtion, so let’s start with the Mid-American Conference.
The Easiest MAC Non-Conference Schedules
Eastern Michigan: vs Eastern Kentucky (FCS), @ Louisiana, @ Arizona State, vs UMASS
Likely the surprise of 2021, the Eastern Michigan Eagles have the easiest of the MAC non-conference schedules. EMU finished last year (7-6) after dropping the LendingTree Bowl to Liberty. They did go 3-1 out of conference, losing a surprisingly good game against Wisconsin.
This year, the Eagles again only get one Power 5 opponent. Louisiana will be a tougher match than the other three, but that’s not saying much. Arizona State has been hemorrhaging talent over the past nine months; the Sun Devils have had 20 players enter the Transfer Portal. They could be the worst Power 5 team in the nation this year.
Buffalo: @ Maryland, vs Holy Cross (FCS), @ Coastal Carolina, @ UMASS
After looking like the top MAC squad in 2020 and narrowly losing the MAC, Buffalo fell hard in 2021. Now, in 2022, Buffalo loses its top offensive weapons and its OurLads depth chart looks like the beginning of a sad project on Excel.
Question for fans of the Buffalo Bulls, who is your biggest rival? Is it an in-state program (Army/Syracuse), a MAC divisional opponent (Ohio, Kent, Akron), an indy (UMass)? These questions need answering! pic.twitter.com/oSKgUPNwJf
— Sidelines Sports Network™ (@Sidelines_SN) May 25, 2022
Thankfully for the Bulls, its non-conference slate is not the hardest. Maryland isn’t quite what it needs to be just yet. Holy Cross is FCS and UMASS is about as borderline FBS/FCS as it gets. The hiccup will be Coastal Carolina.
Coastal Carolina has been one of the winningest Group of 5 programs over the past couple of years. They will return with Grayson McCall ready to finally earn a Sun Belt Championship.
Ball State: @ Tennessee, vs Murray State (FCS), Georgia Southern, vs UCONN
If it weren’t for residing within a gauntlet of a division, Ball State may have had a more successful defense of its 2020 MAC Title. The Cardinals split their non-conference schedule last year.
Murray State and UCONN should be victories for Ball State. Georgia Southern also struggled in 2021. Tennessee will be the test. Dark horse Heisman candidate, Hendon Hooker, is the leader of the Volunteers offense. He’s shown that he certainly has the ability to win games for his team. Ball State will have to contain his playmaking abilities.
Northern Illinois: vs Eastern Illinois (FCS), @ Tulsa, vs Vanderbilt, @ Kentucky
Since its inception in 1997, no team has appeared in more MAC Championship games than the Huskies of Northern Illinois. And, for the first time since 2018, NIU won it all. They split their four non-conference matchups…narrowly.
Northern Illinois gets to run it back with Rocky Lombardi at the helm and they have a favorable schedule to boot. An FCS foe should be no match for the Huskies and Vandy is a bottom-dweller, even in the SEC. The first question will be Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricanes are not projected to finish atop the AAC but they have been known to give “better” teams fits; see their last few games against Ohio State. Finally, Will Levis and Kentucky have been getting better and better as the years have gone by. The Wildcats were the only SEC East team to make Georgia even break a sweat last year. They took down Georgia Tech last year, they can win at least one of these G5 vs P5 matchups.
Central Michigan: @ Oklahoma State, vs South Alabama, vs Bucknell (FCS), @ Penn State
Most rushing yards last season…
CMU Lew Nichols III – 1,848
MSU Kenneth Walker III – 1,636
BYU Tyler Allgeier – 1,606
MIZ Tyler Badie – 1,604
BAY Abram Smith – 1,601 pic.twitter.com/np5cpP9ZnQ
— College Football Stats (@CollegeFB_Stats) February 23, 2022
The 2021 Central Michigan Chippewas were as exciting as any within the MAC. CMU split their non-conference games by losing to their two SEC foes. This year, there is no SEC to be found and the nation’s leading rusher is back for more.
Oklahoma State had the fifth-best rushing defense in the country but will they take a step back after losing defensive coordinator, Jim Knowles? Both South Alabama and Penn State allowed around 150 yards per game on the ground. If there’s one thing to bet on it’s that Lew Nichols is going to find a way.
Bowling Green: @ UCLA, vs Eastern Kentucky (FCS), vs Marshall, @ Mississippi State
Last year’s Bowling Green Falcons squad, as has been the case for half of a decade now, was not good. Even then, any experience is good for this team. They’ll be returning 84% of the team’s total production. Even if they were bad, there’s plenty of reason to believe they’ll make even moderate progress in 2022.To say that BG has the sixth-easiest of the 2022 MAC non-conference schedules is relative. Can they get swept or, at the very least, lose three of four? Yes, but that is less about the quality of the opponent than it is the quality of this Falcons team.
UPDATED RETURNING PRODUCTION RANKINGS:
* BYU jumps to the top of the list
* Hawaii dives to the bottom
* Ohio State’s still top-25, which is almost unheard of for an elite team. pic.twitter.com/04SBo3Svlf
— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) June 29, 2022
UCLA will be a tough Week 1 opponent, regardless of what they do through the year. Chip Kelly will have Dorian Thompson-Robinson ready to go. Marshall has been a very solid Group of 5 team these past two years. The last and only time BG and Mississippi State faced off, it took a little help for the Bulldogs to take down the Falcons in Starkville. Will it be another 21-20 thriller?
Nothing Better Than Tuesday Night #MACtion
Likely considered the fifth-best Group of 5 conference, the MAC has so much more to offer, as we have argued before. Regardless, they are the teams that many larger programs schedule as a tune-up. In return for possibly getting their teeth kicked in, MAC schools get a generous payout.
Six teams in the MAC down, six to go. There is one poor program that has to run through a pair of CFP contenders in 2022 and nobody envies them.
Mid-American Conference: Easiest; Hardest
Conference-USA: Easiest; Hardest
Mountain West: Easiest; Hardest
Sun Belt: Easiest; Hardest
American Athletic: Easiest; Hardest
Pac-12: Easiest; Hardest
Big 12: Easiest; Hardest
ACC: Easiest; Hardest
SEC: Easiest Hardest
Big Ten: Easiest; Hardest
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