MAC: 10 Intriguing Non-Conference Games In 2014
For a conference looking to increase its visibility and strengthen its reputation, TV appearances and tent-pole non-conference games are two of the primary building blocks.
And the Mid-American Conference will have a handful of blocks to build with in 2014.
Twenty-one MAC games will be televised by an ESPN channel this fall. Continuing an established trend, 18 of the broadcasts will be weeknight contests in November, and which channel gets which (ESPN2, ESPNU, or the online ESPN3) will be determined 12 days before each game.
ESPN2 also will broadcast the MAC title game on Dec. 5.
The MAC also scored something of a coup with one of its teams making a rare appearance on the ESPN flagship network. The MAC team is hosting, to boot, though it’s probably not the matchup the conference would hand-pick to showcase its strengths.
Fresh off its second-ever bowl season, Buffalo will host Baylor on a Friday night. But if the contest takes the same tone as the 2013 meeting (a 57-point Baylor blowout), it would mirror the last time a MAC school appeared on ESPN for a regular-season game: Ohio’s 49-7 thrashing at Louisville last September.
Even when not picked up by the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports,” MAC teams will draw attention to several of their early-season matchups, with six non-conference games against teams that finished in the Associated Press Top 25 in 2013 and 11 games against Big Ten opponents.
Admittedly, many will be one-sided — Kent State at Ohio State, Miami of Ohio at Michigan, Eastern Michigan at Florida, for instance — but a handful of these non-conference contests could prove meaningful.
Here are the 10 most intriguing.
Akron at Penn State: Sept. 6
Less than a year after almost knocking off Michigan at the Big House, Akron will trek to Happy Valley attempting to do the same thing against Penn State, which lost at home to Ohio in 2012.
Ohio at Kentucky: Sept. 6
The Wildcats aren’t exactly on the top shelf of their esteemed conference, but the realistic possibility of a MAC team defeating an SEC team is enough to get this one on the list. (And to be fair, Kentucky has coasted to easy wins over MAC teams in each of the last five seasons.)
Ball State at Iowa: Sept. 6
For a Ball State program that’s been on the rise in recent years, this could be a key game against a Big Ten opponent that lost to MAC members in both 2012 and 2013.
Missouri at Toledo: Sept. 6
In perhaps the most enticing non-conference contest of the entire MAC season, perennial bowl contender Toledo will host a Missouri squad that reached the SEC title game a year ago and finished fifth in the AP poll. And the Rockets hung tough with the Tigers at Missouri last year before falling, 38-23.
Northern Illinois at Northwestern: Sept. 6
A year after winning at Iowa and then obliterating Purdue in West Lafayette, the Huskies will head to Evanston to try to carve another notch on their Big Ten belt against a Northwestern team that cruised to an easy win over Western Michigan last September.
Baylor at Buffalo: Sept. 12 (Friday)
The Bulls snag the other premier non-conference home game for a MAC team, hosting a Baylor unit that wound up 13th in the AP poll a year ago. The good news: The Bulls get to play a home game in primetime on ESPN. The bad news: The Bears lit up Buffalo for 70 points in a Week Two rout in 2013.
Toledo at Cincinnati: Sept. 12 (Friday)
In case the Baylor/Buffalo game begins to resemble last year’s matchup, MAC fans can switch over to ESPNU to see if the Rockets can once again surprise the Bearcats, which tripped up in Toledo two years ago.
Indiana at Bowling Green: Sept. 13
Bowling Green’s blowout loss in Bloomington to a mediocre Indiana team was perhaps the aberration of the Falcons’ MAC championship season. They’ll try to atone for it this year in front of a home crowd in a potential hallmark game for the program.
Bowling Green at Wisconsin: Sept. 20
The Falcons will get another chance to plant their flag a week later with a trip to Madison to face Wisconsin, which has won its last two games against MAC opponents by a combined score of 94-7.
Akron at Pittsburgh: Sept. 27
In the final weekend before the bulk of the league schedule begins, the Zips may have a chance to garner some notice in the Steel City against Pitt, which narrowly defeated Bowling Green in the Little Caesar’s Bowl last December.