Ranking the MAC nonconference schedules
Many schools knew their nonconference slates before Thursday's announcement of the Mid-American Conference 2012 football schedules, but with the official release we can now mull over everything and find out who did the best job of putting together a schedule.
MAC schools continue to improve in bringing in BCS automatic qualifying schools, as seven AQ schools will visit MAC campuses this year and Iowa will play Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in a home game for the Huskies.
The criteria for a good schedule varies from school to school depending on what the team's goals are in a given year, but generally fans look for winnable games against AQ schools, particularly at home, competitive series against non-AQ teams, preferably with some name recognition, and no more than one game per year against a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) team. There were a few teams in the MAC this year that really hit home runs in these areas.
Here is BroncoBlitz's take on the best and worst nonconference schedules for 2012.
1. Central Michigan. It may stick in some Bronco fans' craws that CMU did such a great job of putting together 2012's lineup, but there is no denying it. Although the team may not be up to the task, home games with Michigan State and Navy as well as FCS Southeast Missouri give the Chippewas a total of seven home games in 2012, and no team hosts two teams with such high name recognition. A road game at Iowa rounds out a nonconference portion worthy of a BCS school.
2. Northern Illinois. NIU's game with Iowa will probably not look like a home game, but nonetheless should be a good money maker and is preferable to a road game, particularly as the first game of the season. The Huskies also host Kansas and Tennessee-Martin, and the one true road game at Army is very winnable. This schedule strikes a balance that many MAC schools fail to achieve.
3. Western Michigan. The Broncos' schedule may not have the cachet of their instate arch-rivals, but every game is winnable and there is an AQ team coming to Waldo Stadium. WMU beat Connecticut on the road last year and in 2012 will play the Huskies at home, and road games at Illinois and Minnesota give the Broncos realistic opportunities to beat a Big Ten team. Eastern Illinois rounds things out to give WMU six home games.
4. Buffalo. Pittsburgh comes to town on Oct. 20 this year, giving the Bulls one of the marquee home games in the conference as well as hosting FCS Morgan State. A return trip to UConn and a guarantee game at Georgia are both likely losses for this struggling program, but props must be given for hosting AQ programs two straight seasons.
5. UMass. Quietly, the Minutemen managed an impressive group of games for a first year FBS program. Certainly fans would like to see one game that was a likely win, but hosting a Big Ten team in Indiana is a nice feat, and road games at Vanderbilt and UConn could be competitive. UMass-UConn is an intriguing game, as the two had a longstanding rivalry in their Division I-AA Yankee Conference days before UConn moved up. Whether the rivalry continues beyond 2012 is up in the air. A likely loss at Michigan is also on the docket.
6. Toledo. It is nice for the Rockets to host an instate Big East team in Cincinnati, and they do manage six home games, hosting Coastal Carolina as well. However, long back to back road trips to Arizona and Wyoming to open 2012 are not ideal, as Wyoming is tough and both teams have had Toledo's number. Perhaps exacting some revenge will bring some intrigue and excitement to fans, but Toledo could already be tired by Week Three.
7. Bowling Green. Fans will always get excited about playing a perennial power like Florida, even if the chances of winning in the Swamp are almost nil. Idaho has proven to be a good matchup for the Falcons, who beat the Vandals last year but fell 43-42 in the wild 2009 Humanitarian Bowl, making this possibly one of the unlikeliest budding rivalries in the country. The Falcons avoid the five home game fate of four MAC teams, but the home game with Rhode Island and likely loss at Virginia Tech are not particularly exciting.
8. Ball State. The Cardinals only get the nod here because of their home game against South Florida, but it is still preferable to see MAC schools get more than one home nonconference date. Nonetheless, Indiana is an ideal series for BSU, and Army is a winnable road game. Traveling to Clemson is the only game that we are highly unlikely to see an upset in.
9. Akron. Akron's schedule is not terrible, but their placement here is a reflection that MAC schools are doing better in the department. Central Florida visits to open the season, and they are becoming a top non-AQ name. Though the game falls on the road this year, the series with Florida International is a good one for a MAC school. The Zips get a likely win over Morgan State, and a guarantee game with Tennessee rounds things out.
10. Eastern Michigan. Of the remaining schools, EMU is the only one to host a team with any real name recognition, as the Eagles will face Army on Oct. 20. Illinois State is the FCS team for Eastern this season, and the Eagles will head to Michigan State as part of their three-for-one deal as well as playing at Purdue.
11. Ohio. The fact that the Bobcats play host to another FBS school gets them the nod over the final two here, but there is still not a whole lot to be excited about among New Mexico State and Norfolk State at Peden Stadium. Ohio also goes to Penn State and plays at rival Marshall, probably the most exciting nonconference game for OU.
12. Miami. Other than hosting FCS Southern Illinois in Week Two, Miami's schedule is brutal outside of the MAC. The RedHawks get started by heading to Columbus to take on Ohio State, and after playing SIU will face Boise State on the blue turf. Cincinnati has beaten Miami for the Victory Bell six straight years and will defend it in Cincinnati this season.
13. Kent State. There is no excitement to be had at Dix Stadium in the nonconference, as Towson comes calling Aug. 30 to open the season and the Flashes play the rest of their out of conference slate on the road. Kentucky, Rutgers and Army have no local excitement, although an improving KSU team may have a shot at an upset in one of the BCS games, which salvages the schedule at least somewhat.