The Mid-American Conference has become stronger in the last 10 years and now, because of COVID-19 and its extension of eligibility for players, the conference could have some sleeper teams on the national scale. With the rise of graduate students on a roster and the power of the transfer portal, a few select teams could make a run at the MAC title game, once again being held at Ford Field.
Last season, the Toledo Rockets defeated the favored Ohio Bobcats 17-7. Toledo put the game away early in the fourth quarter with a touchdown to be up by 10. Could we see a Toledo-Ohio championship game rematch? If so, will the Bobcats get their revenge?
NUMBER OF TEAMS/MOVEMENT
The MAC has 12 teams split into two divisions, East and West, with six teams each.
Let's take a look at the six teams in the East Division, listed alphabetically:
1. Akron, 2. Bowling Green, 3. Buffalo, 4. Kent State, 5. Miami (Ohio) and 6. Ohio University.
Here are the teams from the West Division:
1. Ball State, 2. Central Michigan, 3. Eastern Michigan, 4. Northern Illinois, 5. Toledo and 6. Western Michigan
2022 Bowl Teams
Five teams — Eastern Michigan, Toledo, Bowling Green, Buffalo, and Ohio University — represented the MAC in last year's bowl picture. EMU defeated San Jose State 41-27 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, one year removed from a 56-20 blowout loss to the Liberty Flames in the 2021 Lending Tree Bowl.
Toledo squeaked out a 21-19 win over Liberty in the Boca Raton Bowl with the Flames' in back-back bowl appearances. Bowling Green lost to New Mexico State 24-19 in the Quick Lane Bowl in a very tight contest.
Buffalo squeaked out a 2-point win 23-21 over the Georgia Southern Eagles in the Camellia Bowl. This was a battle in which former Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantrease started for the Eagles.
Ohio University capped off the last MAC team in postseason play with a 30-27 win in OT over the Wyoming Cowboys in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl.
The Elder Statesman
Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton is entering his 10th season as the team's head coach, and it did not start easy. After going 2-10 and 1-11 in his first two years, 2016 started a turnaround as he went 7-6, although his team lost in the Bahamas Bowl.
While he isn't the stereotypically "old-style coach," staying at a MAC school like Eastern Michigan in this era of college football is impressive. Plus, the state of society seems to be changing rapid fire every year, and it's only going to be better for Creighton from here on out.
Getting the Fresh Start
Joe Moorhead is in only his second year as the head coach for the Akron Zips. This is a fresh start for him because last year was his first head coaching gig at the Division I level. He's a former head coach at the Football Championship Subdivision level, and then an assistant at Penn State and later the head coach at the Southeastern Conference's Mississippi State. The past few years, he was an assistant at Oregon. After a rough 2-10 start with the Zips in 2022, it looks like year No. 2 should be much improved.
Central Michigan may need another upstart performance in 2023 despite head coach Jim McElwain signing a three-year contract extension after 2022. With a tenure record of 24-21, the former Alabama assistant coach and Florida Gators head coach still has MAC conference titles and bigger bowl game aspirations in his future. Who knows? A few more good years and another Power Five head coaching gig could be coming.
Under third-year head coach Maurice Linguist, the Buffalo Bulls are coming off a 7-6 season in which they won the Camellia Bowl 23-21 over former starting quarterback Kyle Vantrease and the Georgia Southern Eagles. After a 4-8 record in his first year, replacing Lance Leipold, the team took major strides in 2022. With a stacked roster of grad students, transfers and some stud freshmen, look for this team to be a favorite to win the MAC title game.
The Best League Game
Ohio University travels to Buffalo on Nov. 7. What a way for the MAC to continue its Tuesday night "MACtion" game tradition on ESPN with a contest between the visiting Ohio Bobcats and the host Bulls. If the Bulls want to take the next step in their quest for a conference title and a bigger bowl game, this is the game they will want to win and continue to grow as a program.
The Best Non-MAC Game Upset Chance
Toledo versus Illinois on Sept. 2. The MAC football conference has improved year to year, and 2023 is no exception. Right now, though, the MAC is considered to be one of the weakest Football Bowl Subdivision conferences at the non-Power Five level.
A monumental upset by the defending conference champion Toledo Rockets over an upstart Illinois program could be a start to break that narrative and help the MAC rise to become one of the best non-conferences in college football. But it must start with the baby steps of a great opening week of practices.
The Overall Take
Buffalo objectively will shock the college football world this year and be at the top of the MAC — that's this author's opinion. The Bulls should be followed by an impressive Ohio University team coming off a 10-4 season in 2022, along with a Toledo team that knocked off the Bobcats and won their bowl game to finish 9-5. Central Michigan should take a step forward with McElwain re-signing a contract extension and staying committed to one school without jumping ship.
Akron, Ball State, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan should be risers this season. Akron will be in its second season under Moorhead, and the team brings back more experience from year No. 1. Western Michigan can also be a sleeper, depending on how it performs in its big Power Five game against coach Dino Babers and a rising upstart in Syracuse.
Ball State could have it tough this year, as it is not a very experienced and talented team. In an era where every team in the MAC seems to have older students and transfer players, someone has to be near the bottom — and this author thinks Ball State may be rebuilding.
The MAC championship game will be Dec. 2 in Detroit at Ford Field. Representing the east will be upstart Buffalo against the 2023 winners, the Toledo Rockets. The Rockets should once again represent the west, but they will not be back-to-back champions this year, as the Bulls should win in a high-scoring shootout to claim their first MAC title since 2008.
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