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Five MAC Games To Watch In 2013

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Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The Mid-American Conference made history last season with a hot team, Northern Illinois, and some fortunate upsets among power conference schools that allowed the nationally-ranked Huskies to earn a BCS bowl slot.

Northern Illinois eventually fell to Florida State, 31-10, in the Discover Orange Bowl, but the appearance opens a previously shut door for the mid-major.

Like it or not, conferences like the MAC will be judged on the handful of opportunities its members have to take on power conference foes – almost always on the road. According to the MAC, conference schools will face eight teams that were ranked in the Top 25 last year, including Ohio State, Florida, Kansas State, Louisville, Louisiana State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Michigan.

While playing well in those games mean a lot – sizable paydays for MAC schools – the conference’s reputation won’t necessary be on the line. While those games may be high profile, there are five measuring-stick games that will give MAC football swagger a shot in the arm or make it ill.

Aug. 31: Northern Illinois at Iowa – The Huskies (12-2 in 2012) were nationally-ranked when they entered the Orange Bowl last season. The Hawkeyes finished 4-8 last season with its offense ranking near the bottom of all BCS schools. Yet, one of Iowa’s wins was a season-opening 18-17 victory over Northern Illinois. The Huskies managed to overcome the loss last year, but can it afford to lose to a bottom-half Big Ten school two years in a row?

Aug. 31: Ohio at Louisville – Louisville is likely to start the season as one of the top 10 football teams in the country. Ohio (9-4) lit up the scoreboard last year, concluding with a 45-14 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, which was essentially a road game in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl. Granted, there is no comparison between Louisville and Louisiana-Monroe, but Ohio has the type of offense that could keep this game interesting. Since this contest will receive a lot of attention because of Louisville predicted stature, the Bobcats could help its own fortune and the MAC with a solid performance. A win? Who knows?

Sept. 14: Eastern Washington at Toledo – Eastern Washington is a very good Football Championship Subdivision football team, reaching that division’s national semifinals in 2012. While the Eagles won’t be playing on its blinding red football field, they are capable of scoring points anywhere they go. That said, the MAC can’t afford to earn BCS swagger and have one of its top programs, namely Toledo (9-4 in 2012), lose to a FCS school, even one as talented as Eastern Washington. While a Rocket loss wouldn’t be the equivalent to Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State in 2007, it will have its ramifications on conference reputation. The Rockets will be under pressure in this one.

Sept. 28: Northern Illinois at Purdue – Purdue’s coach Darrell Hazell will be very familiar with Northern Illinois, after losing to the Huskies in the MAC championship game last season when he was the head coach at Kent State. Purdue (6-7 in 2012) managed get bowl eligible and slip into the Heart of Dallas Bowl. If the Huskies can beat both Iowa and Purdue, it could give the MAC some bragging rights, regardless of where the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers are on the Big Ten ladder.

October 12: Bowling Green at Mississippi State – The powerful Southeastern Conference has a sort of a SEC-MAC Challenge going on this season with five matchups, but Bowling Green (8-5 in 2012) could make this contest interesting. First, the Falcons have developed a reputation of playing well in games like this, losing to Florida 27-14 on the road last year. Secondly, Mississippi State, which played in the Gator Bowl last season, will be coming down from its game against Louisiana State the week before. Finally, this contest falls into one of the pesky nonconference contests in the middle of a heated conference battle. In short, Bowling Green has a chance to catch a good Bulldog team distracted, thus giving the MAC its best shot at beating a SEC team this season.