The 5 Most Interesting MAC Matchups this Season

Welcome to The Most Interesting Matchups, the series about interesting gridiron matchups (get it?) from the upcoming season, as taken from the series’ history. Think of it as “Drunk G5 History” or “Trivial Pursuit: CFB Edition.”

Each week, I’ll highlight one conference and its particular out-of-conference matchups. I have to rule out teams like UTSA and Georgia State, since their programs are so young, and my methodology is not the least bit scientific—though numbers play a huge part. This week is the Mid-American Conference.

Check out previous entries here:

Sun Belt

Mountain West

C-USA


5. Western Kentucky at Ball State

2018 Date: Saturday, September 22
Series: Tie, 2-2

I am now on the fourth installment in this series and this is the first matchup I’ve come across that is tied. Believe me, I looked. Neither team has an edge in this series, but unfortunately this year is the second game in the home-and-home.

In fact, unless a future matchup schedules an odd number of games this will not change. That’s just a matter of simple math.

These teams first met back in 1929. Western Kentucky State Normal School and Teachers College beat Ball State Teachers College, the respective schools’ former names, 13-0. The Hilltoppers and Cardinals didn’t take the field against each other for nearly 80 years.

Ball State won both games in the first home-and-home, taking the series lead in 2008. In the decade since, the only real change for either school was the shift from the Big East to the American Conference. WKU won last year’s installment, bringing us to the even series we have.

I don’t expect a result other than a Hilltopper victory, so when this game comes back around in 2027 we can discuss whether Ball State will take back the series lead.


4. Buffalo at Temple

2018 Date: Saturday, September 8
Series: Buffalo, 12-4

In the late 1950s, Buffalo joined the University College Division of the NCAA, and Temple joined the Middle Atlantic Conference. The short version of this story is that this MAC was a split conference, and the Owls were effectively competing at the University level too.

For little over a decade, the Bulls went back and forth for a nearly-guaranteed win. In 1970 Temple ended the streak, and Buffalo’s team went under. The official reason was that the student body voted to end using its fees for the team, but I’m inclined to believe they were embarrassed they lost to the Owls.

Regardless, the team was restarted in 1977. The Bulls joined the Mid-American Conference in 1998, and Temple after that in 2007. Thus began another, more balanced round of matchups.

If you only count the post-Nixon Buffalo team, this series is tied at three each. The Bulls took 2006-08, and Temple took 2009-11. That’s when Temple ran back to the Big East, just in time for it to fall apart.

Personally, I am high on the Bulls this year, but the game is in Pennsylvania. I hate seeing series records move further apart but I don’t see it getting closer for the Owls.


3. Eastern Kentucky at Bowling Green

2018 Date: Saturday, September 15
Series: Eastern Kentucky, 3-1

You read that correctly. If you’re wondering, “I bet those losses were all before WWII or something,” you’d be correct. In 1940, 1949, and 1950 Eastern Kentucky won by a combined score of 103-20.

At the time EKU had just joined the Ohio Valley Conference (1948), and Bowling Green was an independent. Four years later, the Falcons joined the young Mid-American Conference. Both teams are still in their respective conferences.

In 2003, BGSU took its first step toward evening the series lead. The Colonels came to Indiana and left with a 63-13 whipping. Quarterbacks and future Arena Football stars Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs combined for over 400 yards in the obliteration.

It was a bright spot in an even brighter 11-win season for the Falcons, the first foray into double-digit wins in over a decade. That year, 1992, was also the last year Bowling Green got to a bowl game.

Fifteen years later, things are completely different. I’m not convinced Bowling Green will win 11 games, but a win over EKU should be yet another bright spot.


2. Ohio at Cincinnati

2018 Date: Saturday, September 22
Series: Cincinnati, 24-23-3

Too often when I’m doing these I find out the matchups I choose were rivalries of some sort. I circled this one and thought to myself, “darn. This isn’t gonna be fair to the other matchups.”

Lo and behold, I find that this pick isn’t technically a rivalry. I was kinda stunned, honestly. They first played back in 1896, the teams have tied THREE times and they’re basically on opposite sides of the state.

Then I looked deeper and found the obvious answer. Though these teams played 29 times (and tied all three times) before WWII and joined the same conference for seven years after the bombs were dropped, they haven’t played each other in 37 years.

The B-Cats went back and forth while in the MAC, but when the Eastern team went independent in 1952 (Ohio never left the MAC) the series died. Cincinnati joined another conference, but when it began the move back to independence it picked the series back up in 1968. Then, following the 1981 game, the series just… ended.

To put this into perspective, these teams played since the Victorian Era, dropped off for a bit during the early Cold War, picked back up and then stopped during Reagan’s first term.

I’d say on paper Ohio has the edge, and I agree. I expect the Bobcats to finally even things back up.


Honorable Mention: Kent State at Penn State

2018 Date: Saturday, September 15
Series: Penn State, 5-0

This series doesn’t make the full list because Penn State is a Power 5 school, but this series is a bizarre harbinger for the Nittany Lions. They’ve scheduled Kent State in the last full season for each of the last three coaches.

The first game in the series was in 1965, the last year for head coach Rip Engle. Engle was succeeded by the greatest coach in Penn State history. The Golden Flashes returned to Happy Valley in 2003 (incidentally, Penn State’s first losing season in 14 years) and 2010, losing both games.

The following year, Paterno was fired halfway through the season.

Three years later Kent State returned to take on the Lions as led by Bill O’Brien. They blanked Kent 34-0, went 7-5 and O’Brien left for the pros. He was replaced by James Franklin.

If there was any superstition around the game, it might have been eliminated by the 2017 Rose Bowl win. If not, State College may have another house on the market this winter. I don’t think it’ll happen, but I do see Penn State keeping the unbeaten streak alive.


1. Nevada at Toledo

2018 Date: Saturday, September 22
Series: Toledo, 4-0

Liberty and New Mexico State are the first two teams to play each other in the regular season. According to Wikipedia, there have been 24 bowl games that were rematches of regular season games, but only ten have actually happened in the same calendar year. The first two games in this series are the second group to ever accomplish this.

The Rockets came to Reno on a two-game streak. On September 23, 1995, they extended that streak with a 49-35 shootout win over the Wolf Pack. Toledo continued the streak to the end of the year, and Nevada only dropped one other game: the following week at San Diego State.

The conference champions were then selected to meet again in the Las Vegas Bowl. Just the year before, Central Michigan and UNLV met in the first same-year bowl game rematch. Unlike the 1994 game, a 52-24 blowout, the Toledo-Nevada game went to overtime.

Here’s where this series goes from interesting to mind-blowing. The current college overtime rules were adopted in 1996, but they were implemented in the 1995 bowl season. This was the first college football game to use the current overtime rules.

So to recap:

  • Undefeated team versus two-loss conference champion,
  • Only the second time two teams have rematched in the same calendar year and
  • The first time any teams have ever used the current overtime format.

The game ended 34-34, and the Wolf Pack received the first possession. Nevada was forced to kick a field goal, and Toledo’s undefeated season came down to a single drive. A walk-off two-yard touchdown run, the first of its kind, capped off the Rockets’ undefeated season.

Two years later, Toledo took the scheduled rematch at home, and a decade after that the first of another home-and-home. I can’t predict another overtime thriller, but I suspect Toledo’s streak isn’t going anywhere.


Next time on Most Interesting Matchups: American Athletic Conference.

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