The B1G’s streak against the MAC will likely continue. Who are the most likely upset victims?
Every year, a Mid-American Conference squad goes into a Big Ten stadium and pulls off the upset. Well, except last year, since there was no non-conference play.
The last 14 seasons that there have been non-conference games, a MAC team has defeated a B1G squad. That streak figures to continue this season because of the MAC’s experience advantage.
With the NCAA allowing football players an extra year of eligibility, many MAC programs are loaded with returning starters. Aside from Buffalo (10), which suffered a mass exodus after Lance Leipold left to take over Kansas, and Bowling Green (11), every MAC team has at least 17 returning starters. MAC teams on average have 17.8 starters back, while the Big Ten has 16.2. The Big Ten obviously has a talent advantage, but this could tip the scales a little bit toward the MAC.
Here is a six-pack of games the MAC could win:
6. Western Michigan at Michigan (Sept. 4)
Is it that far-fetched to believe that Michigan could lose to a less-talented in-state rival? Michigan certainly plays down to its competition quite often, like Michigan State and Rutgers last season. Western Michigan will be one of the top teams in the MAC, with one of the league’s best QBs (Kaleb Eleby), running backs (La’Darius Jefferson) and wide receivers (Skyy Moore). Michigan’s new defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald, will have to be sharp in his debut.
5. Buffalo at Nebraska (Sept. 11)
This game looks much more manageable after Lance Leipold left during the offseason to replace Les Miles at Kansas. Leipold took 6 players with him to Kansas, leaving behind a program that had gone 24-10 over the last 3 seasons. Nebraska isn’t above a letdown, though, as it has shown over and over the last few seasons.
4. Miami (OH) at Minnesota (Sept. 11)
Miami has one of the MAC’s best rosters and is just 2 years removed from winning the league. The Redhawks played just 3 games last season, though, so it will be interesting to see how sharp they are early in the season. Minnesota persevered through COVID issues last season and will be tough to beat at home, but the Golden Gophers definitely took a step back from a breakthrough 2019.
3. Ball State at Penn State (Sept. 11)
Ball State is still riding a high from last year. After losing its opener to Miami (OH), the Cardinals won their last 7 games, including a takedown of Buffalo for the MAC title and a rout of No. 23 San Jose St in the Arizona Bowl. With 20 returning starters, including third-year starter Drew Plitt at QB, Ball State should be ranked to start the season (but probably won’t be, even though it finished last season ranked). And for Penn State, this is not ideal timing. The Nittany Lions play Wisconsin at Camp Randall and then get Ball State the very next week, sandwiched in between a visit from Auburn. Be careful, Penn State, or it could be another disappointing start to the season.
2. Ohio at Northwestern (Sept. 25)
Ohio is routinely one of the top programs in the MAC, as it won 3 straight bowl games from 2017-19. The big question for the Bobcats is how they will react to the sudden retirement of longtime coach Frank Solich, who is the MAC’s career leader in wins. I’m guessing the players and staff at least had a hint that this could happen and will be able to adapt to OC Tim Albin taking over. With 17 returning starters, the Bobcats have the veteran experience to roll with something like this. Speaking of veteran experience, Northwestern is lacking in that department with just 8 returning starters. Playing an experienced, talented team in the first month of the season isn’t ideal for Northwestern. Besides, Northwestern has lost 2 of 3 to the MAC (Akron in 2019 and Western Michigan in 2016).
1. Kent State at Maryland (Sept. 25)
Even though Taulia Tagovailoa has a ton of potential, Kent State will have the advantage at QB with Dustin Crum, who was recently ranked the No. 12 QB in the country by PFF (Tagovailoa was No. 37). The Golden Flashes could have the best offense in the MAC and are a contender to win the conference. While Maryland has a ton of talent and will upset someone good this season, it certainly is prone to letdowns. While COVID was tough on the Terrapins last season, they were as unpredictable as any team in the Big Ten. Part of growing up is finding that consistency, week in and week out. It’s also worth noting that Kent State won’t be intimidated at all as it will already have played at Texas A&M and Iowa by this Week 4 matchup.