MAC College Football Season Preview & Predictions

Date | AuthorKyle Hunter

Last Updated: 2019-07-28

The Mid American Conference isn’t a large conference, but they have done a nice job promoting their league through MACtion. If you are a college football fan, you can’t help but love MACtion. It allows the league to get extra exposure, and football fans and bettors alike have gotten to know these teams better than the rest of the smaller leagues. I still remember the classic 63-60 win by Northern Illinois over Toledo in 2011. Let’s hope this conference can bring some thrillers once again in the season ahead.

The MAC wasn’t very good last year. Northern Illinois ended up winning the MAC Championship with a 30-29 win over the Buffalo Bulls. Northern Illinois averaged only 4.5 yards per play last year, and they were still able to win the MAC. Northern Illinois has a new coach this year after Rod Carey left for Temple. Buffalo doesn’t have star quarterback Tyree Jackson anymore either. The MAC will look quite a bit different than last season.

Toledo and Ohio enter the season as the two favorites in this league. Both of these teams have consistently been very good, and there is no reason to expect a drop off from them this season. Jason Candle has done a nice job keeping what Matt Campbell built together. Frank Solich has had Ohio in contention every year. The Bobcats have been to the title game four times since 2006, but they haven’t won any of them. Ohio has a good fan base and the folks in Athens are anxious to see their team finally win the MAC title.

Thomas Hammock is the new coach at Northern Illinois. Jim McElwain was hired on as the head coach at Central Michigan. Scott Loeffler is the new head coach at Bowling Green. Tom Arth is the new man in charge at Akron. Hammock is the only one of those guys who isn’t walking into a tough situation. McElwain takes over a team who was historically bad on offense last year. Bowling Green is one of the worst teams in the nation. Akron didn’t do Arth any favors by waiting until so late to bring him on board.

The MAC has two divisions, and the MAC West is clearly the stronger side of this conference. Several teams are capable of winning the MAC West. In the MAC East, Ohio is -105 at 5Dimes right now. The gap between the MAC West and the MAC East is even larger than it was a year ago.

MAC Win Total Best Bet

Ohio over 7.5 (-130, 5Dimes)

Frank Solich has done a wonderful job at Ohio. The Bobcats haven’t quite been able to get over the hump and win the title game in the MAC, but they have been very good every year. This year shouldn’t be any different.

Ohio did lose a lot of talent on offense, but they return Nathan Rourke at quarterback. Rourke is the best quarterback in the MAC, and he might be the best overall player in the MAC. Rourke averaged a whopping 6.4 yards per carry last year. He wasn’t asked to throw it too often, but he threw for 23 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. Ohio was eighth in the country in yards per play last year. They won’t be that good this year with a much less experienced offensive line. Ohio will still be plenty good to score a lot of points in the conference.

The primary reason I’m optimistic about Ohio this year is their defense. This defense took a stunning turn for the worse last year. Their long-term results have been very good. What happened last season? Ohio allowed opponents to convert on 43.8% of their third down conversion attempts. They gave up 31 plays of 30 yards or more. Why am I optimistic? They had consistently been a good defense in the past, and at the end of last year Ohio turned a corner defensively. They allowed 6.7 yards per play through their first seven games. They allowed only 5.2 yards per play in their last five games. The defensive line is very good, and the secondary improved a lot late in the season.

Ohio’s schedule is an easy one as well. The Bobcats play some very weak opponents on the road this year, and they get to host Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Miami (Ohio). Ohio also has two easy non-conference home games against Rhode Island and Louisiana.

The Rest

Toledo over 8 (+145, 5Dimes) – Toledo had a down year by their standards last season. The Rockets finished 7-6 after a disappointing loss to FIU in the Bahamas Bowl. They lost several close games last year, and expectations are definitely higher for this season.

The Rockets have a ton of depth at quarterback. Depth is extremely important everywhere, but it is especially nice to have great depth at the signal caller position. Bryant Koback is a very talented running back. The offensive line wasn’t up to Toledo standards last year, but they should be improved this season.

Defensively, Toledo is somewhere in the middle in the MAC. The linebackers aren’t nearly as good as the other top teams. The secondary was surprisingly shaky last year, but they should improve this season. The defensive line is good at rushing the passer, but only mediocre against the run.

Toledo isn’t a team I’ll want to bet ATS too often early in the season, because I do have some questions about this team. On the other hand, the schedule sets up very favorably. Toledo gets to host Western Michigan and Northern Illinois in MAC play. They have road games against weaker opponents. At a massive plus money price, I’m taking the over here. I think this could easily land on 8, but I see a much higher chance of 9 wins than 7.

Western Michigan over 7.5 (-113, Bookmaker) – Western Michigan should be much improved this season. The Broncos went only 4-9 ATS last season. I expect much more from them this year. Jon Wassink was injured for several games last year, and Kaleb Eleby was thrown into the fire as a freshman. Wassink is probably the second best quarterback in the MAC, and if he stays healthy he will have a big season. It wasn’t only Wassink who was injured though. Western Michigan had a ridiculous 21 players lost to season ending injuries.

Western Michigan easily has the best group of running backs in the MAC. LaVante Bellamy is a star, and the Broncos recruited very well at this position this offseason. There is a lot of depth at wide receiver as well even though it did hurt that Jayden Reed transferred to Michigan State. The offensive front is big, and with Mark Brooks back in the fold at right tackle this unit is clearly better than a year ago. The Broncos will score a lot of points this season.

Western Michigan has a really strong front seven on defense. The Broncos weren’t deep enough on the defensive front last year, but they are much improved in that area this season. The secondary is a real weakness. The Broncos gave up 67 plays of 20 yards or more last season, and that was largely because the secondary was beaten deep way too much.

Western Michigan’s special teams are also a major weakness, and that could lose them a close game or two.

Overall, I really like this team, and I’ll be looking to bet on them ATS in favorable spots. The conference schedule is very difficult though. They have all four of their most difficult opponents in the MAC on the road this season. They’ll need to go win a game at Ohio or Toledo, and that could be difficult. Western Michigan looks like a seven or eight win team, so this line is very tight. I’ll lean toward the over. I have this team power rated ahead of Toledo, but their schedule is much more difficult.

Northern Illinois over 6.5 (+110, 5Dimes) – Northern Illinois lost head coach Rod Carey to Temple in the offense. I like the hire of Thomas Hammock. He has done some really good work with running backs in the past, and I would expect a run heavy offense from the Huskies this year. Eric Eidsness is a good hire at offensive coordinator. He did an excellent job in the same position at South Dakota State. I also like the hire of Derrick Jackson as defensive coordinator. A guy who has been working with Jeff Brohm and Nick Holt is a guy who I have to high expectations for in the defensive coordinator role.

This year’s Huskies will look much different. They aren’t going to be nearly as good on defense. Sutton Smith and Josh Corcoran are huge losses on the defensive line. The Huskies sacked opponents a whopping 50 times last year. That isn’t happening again. The Huskies only allowed 2.7 yards per carry last year. They’ll be good against the run this year, but I wouldn’t expect them to match that number. The strength of the defense is the linebackers. Antonio Jones-Davis and Kyle Pugh are stars. With them this defense will still be very solid.

Can the offense be better? Yes. Northern Illinois was 127th in the country in yards per play on offense last year. They did improve a bit late in the season, but overall it was an ugly showing from this unit. Eidsness’ teams at South Dakota State could really run the ball, and Hammock will clearly want to run. The running back spot is in good spot led by Virginia transfer Tre Harbison. Can the offensive line improve a lot? They allowed 43 sacks last year. They’ll throw it less this year, but they need to be average more than 3.9 yards per carry. I think they will.

I definitely won’t bet this win total. An extremely slight lean to the over. There are some massive changes at Northern Illinois this year. I love the coaching staff and think the long run looks great for the Huskies program. Northern Illinois has a very difficult schedule this year though. The Huskies play three straight on the road against Utah, Nebraska, and Vanderbilt. They must also travel to Ohio and Toledo in the MAC. My least favorite win total in the MAC.

Eastern Michigan under 6.5 (-110, Bookmaker) – I respect Chris Creighton a lot as a coach, and that’s why this is a very slight lean to the under on the season win total. Eastern Michigan’s coaching staff does a really good job getting the most out of their players. The Eagles do have a lot of talent to replace though, and they won’t be able to lean on the defense as they have the last couple seasons.

Eastern Michigan allowed only 4.56 yards per play on defense in MAC play last season. That was second best in the MAC. The Eagles had two stud linebackers in Kyle Rachwal and Jaylen Pickett. Both of them are gone, and they will be hard to replace. Maxx Crosby was a star on the defensive line, and without him I see this team struggling to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Eastern Michigan only allowed opponents to score on 35 out of 48 trips into the red zone. Only 22 of their opponents scores in the red zone were touchdowns. Look for some regression to the mean in this area with Eastern Michigan’s inexperience.

The offense has potential with Mike Glass at quarterback. There are enough playmakers at both running back and wide receiver to do some damage. The big question mark is the offensive line. They allowed 39 sacks last year, and they will be a weakness again this season.

The Eagles were +10 in turnover margin last year, and that is hard to replicate. I lean toward the under on this win total.

Buffalo under 6.5 (-131, Bookmaker) – I’ll start by saying I’m not excited to take an under here. Lance Leipold is a coach I respect very much. The Bulls program has been built up nicely in the last few years under Leipold. Maybe he works his magic on this team as well, but as I evaluated this team I had a hard time seeing seven wins.

Tyree Jackson is still in Buffalo, but he’s a member of the Buffalo Bills and not the Buffalo Bulls. Jackson was tremendous for this team, and he is a huge loss. It isn’t just him though, the Bulls lost their top two receivers. Star receiver Anthony Johnson graduated after last season, but KJ Osborn surprisingly transferred in the offseason. Osborn was set to be the new top guy for this wide receiver unit.

The quarterback spot is a big question mark heading into this season. Look for Buffalo to run the football more often this year. This team has a very good offensive line and some solid running backs.

Buffalo’s defense returns only three starters from last year. Khalil Hodge was the best linebacker in the conference last year, and they are going to miss him badly. The Bulls front seven is much weaker than it was a year ago, and I would expect the better rushing attacks to move the ball consistently against this unit.

I don’t like how the schedule sets up for a Buffalo team that is extremely inexperienced. The Bulls play their toughest opponents early in the season. Robert Morris should be a win, but after that the schedule is brutal. Buffalo might even be an underdog at Liberty in week three. After a tough game at home against Temple, Buffalo starts MAC play with a road game at Miami (Ohio), and then they must face the Ohio Bobcats. There is a real chance of a 1-5 or 2-4 start to the season.

Miami (Ohio) under 6 (-160, BetOnline) – Miami has found a lot of ways to lose close games in the Chuck Martin era. While they won a few close games last year, they still should have won more. Miami had a +6 turnover margin and a +9 sack margin, but they finished 6-6 on the year. Miami averaged 5.46 yards per play on offense, and only allowed 5.24 yards per play on defense. Still, they couldn’t top the .500 mark. This team had some fairly high expectations in recent seasons, and they have yet to top the six win mark under Martin.

Let’s start with the positive for Miami this season. The Redhawks should be solid on defense. The fact that the defense suffered injuries last year actually allowed some of the youngsters to log some quality time on the field. That will help them remain solid despite only returning five starters from a year ago. Manny Rugamba is a key addition in the secondary. He was previously an Iowa Hawkeye. In general, the run defense has been above average in recent years.

The offense is the side of the ball I’m concerned about for Miami. Gus Ragland was a great decision maker at quarterback. His ability to stay away from turnovers will be hard to match. There no quarterbacks on this roster who have even attempted a pass in college. The team lost three of their top four running backs, and the offensive line is less experienced. How will they score?

Miami plays at Iowa, at Cincinnati, and at Ohio State in the non-conference portion of their schedule. I think six is the ceiling here, and I believe five wins is more likely.

Ball State over 4 (-120, 5Dimes) – Riley Neal and James Gilbert both decided to transfer in the offseason. It would be easy to think that means Ball State is going to be even worse. I don’t think that is the case. The Cardinals do return 17 starters, and there were signs of improvement last year.

Ball State’s defense allowed only 5.92 yards per play on defense last season. While that is far from great, it is much better than the 6.6 yards per play they allowed two years ago. You could make a solid argument that Ball State has the best linebackers in the MAC, and good linebackers can go a long way to making a defense stronger. What did this defense improve on so much last year? Ball State didn’t allow big plays anymore. The Cardinals allowed only 48 plays of 20 yards or more (23rd best in the nation).

On offense, Ball State has one of the better offensive lines in the MAC. They also have tremendous receivers. With Drew Plitt the likely new starter at quarterback, I would expect a lot more downfield passing from Ball State. They have the receivers to make big plays in the passing game. The running game can likely continue to improve.

Ball State isn’t a good team, but they aren’t a terrible team either. The schedule does them zero favors. They play the top three teams from the MAC East. They also have to Indiana and NC State in the non-conference slate. I lean over 4 wins here, but I think there might be better value betting on Ball State as underdogs ATS during the season.

Kent State over 4 (+155 5Dimes) – The record might not have shown it, but there were some positive signs for Kent State’s football program last year. For the first time in quite a while, they could actually move the football. Woody Barrett turned out to be a nice fit for the Dino Babers style of offense that Sean Lewis runs.

The offensive line struggled last year. They allowed 43 sacks in 2018. While I don’t think they will be great, I do think we should expect this unit to be a good amount better than last year. They were learning an entirely different system. This is their second year in it, and they should give Barrett some more time this season. Kent State has two quality running backs, and the Golden Flashes return their top three wide receivers.

Can this defense be a little better? I think Tom Kaufman is an above average defensive coordinator, and I think this secondary has enough talent to be a quality unit. They will still give up quite a few points, but we should see some improvement.

Kent State’s schedule is tough in the non-conference, but they have very winnable games at home in the MAC. They host Bowling Green, Ball State, and Miami (Ohio). The road game at Akron is a very winnable contest as well. They should pick up a win at home against Kennesaw State in the non-conference slate. Four looks like the floor to me, and we are getting a big plus money price on the over. I like the value on this win total.

Central Michigan under 4 (-135, 5Dimes) – Jim McElwain was a rising star a few years ago. He took the Florida Gators head coaching position, and proceeded to struggle in three strange years. McElwain was good at Colorado State, and I think this was a solid hire for the Chippewas.

Will Central Michigan be able to move the football this season? Everyone is going to tell you that this offense will be better than last year’s offense. That isn’t a bold prediction. How could they not improve? Central Michigan had the worst offense in college football last year, and it wasn’t close. The Chippewas had a historically bad offense. Central Michigan averaged 3.78 yards per play last season. The MAC isn’t exactly loaded with stellar defenses, but the Chippewas managed to gain only 3.69 yards per play in conference action. They had only 24 plays of 20 yards or more in an entire season.

Central Michigan did recruit some decent players on offense in this class, and Quinten Dormady transferred from Tennessee. Dormady is the likely starter at quarterback, and he is clearly a big upgrade. The offensive line is still a trainwreck though, and that could make it hard to get too much going. There are clearly more playmakers here, but don’t set expectations too high.

The Chippewas defense was very good last year. They allowed only 4.96 yards per play. The Chippewas return only three starters on defense though, and they won’t be able to match last year’s statistics on this side of the ball. The run defense will be a problem.

I wanted to find a reason to take the over, but it’s hard for me to see five wins from this team. They will improve, and with McElwain’s solid recruiting the future is brighter. Still, we shouldn’t expect a massive jump right away.

Akron under 3.5 (-150, BetOnline) – This is a tough one. Tom Arth isn’t a bad hire at all, but he has been put in a bad situation. He was the last head coach to be hired in this cycle, and that put him behind in recruiting and planning for this season. The Zips also only return ten starters from last year.

Akron has a good quarterback in Kato Nelson. There isn’t much else positive to say about the offense. The Zips averaged a pathetic 2.9 yards per carry last year. They ran for only 2.79 yards per carry in MAC play a season ago. Akron averaged only 18.9 points per game last season. Akron entered the red zone only 21 times last year, which is about as bad as you will ever see. The offensive line is now learning a new system, and this unit is a major weakness. What identity will this offense have in 2019?

The Zips will switch to a 3-4 defense this season. Akron returns only three starters from last year’s defense. While the switch to the new coaching staff might work out in the long run, it is hard to imagine this defense coming even close to the production of the 2018 Akron defense.

I’m not excited about laying the juice on under 3.5, but I definitely can’t take the over here. Adam Burke’s power ratings spreadsheet projects 2.7 wins for the Zips, and I’m in full agreement.

Bowling Green under 3 (+125, 5Dimes) – Scott Loeffler is the new head coach at Bowling Green, and he has an extremely difficult job ahead of him. Bowling Green went 3-9 a year ago. The Falcons allowed 40.0 points per game a year ago. The Mike Jinks era got off to the strangest of starts, and his time here hurt the program.

There was going to be a big positive for the team this year until Jarett Doege decided to transfer to West Virginia. Doege would have been one of the best quarterbacks in the MAC, but now Bowling Green is left with a huge question mark at quarterback. The Falcons must now game plan to try to run the football far more often. It is still hard to see how that will have much success since the offensive line is a clear weakness. Loeffler had some success at Bowling Green thanks to a star running back in AJ Dillon. Dillon isn’t walking through this door. I was never impressed with Loeffler’s offenses at Virginia Tech, and I don’t see this offense having much success at all.

Brian Van Gorder was hired as the defensive coordinator. While he is a big name in that he was a defensive coordinator at some major college programs, he was never very successful. He led the Louisville defense last year, and to say that went poorly is an understatement. This defense is short on talent, and the defensive front is clearly the worst in the MAC.

I’ll take under 3 at the plus money price here. In my initial power ratings for this year, Bowling Green sits 125th in the nation. There is a good chance this pushes, but I think two wins is far more likely than four.

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