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MAC begins conference slate this Saturday

<p>Miami squares off against Central Michigan at home this Saturday to begin its conference slate.</p>

Miami squares off against Central Michigan at home this Saturday to begin its conference slate.

As the calendar approaches October, football season is now in full swing. 

For the first few weeks, most Mid-American Conference (MAC) teams have faced a tough schedule loaded with Power Five teams such as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Auburn and so on.

Miami’s non-conference schedule included its annual showdown versus Cincinnati, a road contest against Minnesota, and an easy win versus Long Island University (LIU).

After battling it out in non-conference contests, conference play returns with a full slate of MAC games, including Miami’s conference home opener against Central Michigan. 

The only MAC teams who don’t play a conference opponent this week are Ball State and Toledo, who squared off against each other on Sept. 25. 

Central Michigan Chippewas @ Miami RedHawks

3:30 p.m, ESPN+

My pick: Miami

Miami’s MAC opener will be a rematch of 2019’s conference championship. The RedHawks beat the Chippewas, 26-21, for Miami’s third MAC Championship Game victory.

It’s hard to take much away from 2020’s six-game season or either team’s non-conference slate (CMU played Southeastern Conference opponents LSU and Missouri). So, this game should be a good first look at how both teams will fare in conference play. Remember, the RedHawks went 1-3 in non-conference play in 2019, so records mean nothing at this stage of the season.

Though the teams will be evenly matched, I’m giving Miami the slight edge in this one since the  RedHawks will be playing in the friendly confines of Yager Stadium. The team’s two-quarterback look may also be the difference, as both Brett Gabbert and A.J. Mayer should see the field in this contest.

Western Michigan Broncos @ Buffalo Bulls

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Noon, CBS Sports Network

My pick: Buffalo

The Broncos have fared better in non-conference games to start the season, beating Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) opponent Pittsburgh 44-41. Buffalo’s been no slouch either, losing to No. 17 Coastal Carolina by just three points. 

The two teams come in with different offensive philosophies. Western Michigan likes to air it with quarterback Kaleb Eleby, while the Bulls go for a ground and pound attack with running backs Kevin Marks Jr. and Dylan McDuffie.

In the end, I predict Buffalo’s running game will grind out a win at home and show the conference that even without former head coach Lance Leipold, the team is still a contender in the East Division.

Toledo Rockets @ Massachusetts Minutemen

Noon, FloFootball

My pick: Toledo

Not a whole lot needs to be said here. UMass (a MAC team from 2012 to 2015) is still one of the worst teams in college football, and even a home contest probably won’t save them from a Toledo beatdown.

Still, I’d be remiss not to mention the Rockets’ stellar effort against Notre Dame on Sept. 11, narrowly losing to the Fighting Irish, 32-29.

Eastern Michigan Eagles @ Northern Illinois Huskies

2:30 p.m., ESPN+

My pick: Northern Illinois

These two teams squared off in the last game of the season last year, and will do so again to open conference play. Eastern Michigan’s 41-33 win capped an 0-6 season for the Huskies in 2020, but they’re already on the right track in 2021. The team beat an ACC opponent, Georgia Tech, 22-21 on the road.

Eastern Michigan, on the other hand, has had two not-so-convincing wins against lesser teams in St. Francis and UMass, and a blowout loss to Wisconsin.

When in doubt, go with the home team.

Ohio Bobcats @ Akron Zips

3:30 p.m., ESPN3

My pick: Ohio

Though the Bobcats have struggled so far this season, it’s nothing compared to the last few years for Akron. After firing head coach Terry Bowden, the team has just two wins in three years.

Right now, it’s hard to believe that Akron can beat anyone in the MAC, let alone one of its (historically) top teams. Still, it is a home game for the Zips, so anything can happen, especially against a struggling team.

Bowling Green State Falcons @ Kent State Golden Flashes

3:30 p.m., ESPN+

My pick: Kent State

This is an easy pick, as the Golden Flashes stomped the Falcons 62-24 last year. Kent State’s star quarterback Dustin Crum threw for 271 and four touchdowns in the contest, and will likely replicate or surpass his performance this year.

Army Black Knights @ Ball State Cardinals

5:00 p.m., ESPN+

My pick: Army

The Knights have been stellar this season, running through, around and over opponents with their triple option offense. 

While the Cardinals are the defending MAC Champions, the team has struggled in non-conference play. Ball State narrowly defeated Western Illinois before losing badly to Penn State and Wyoming with nearly identical scores (44-13 and 45-12, respectively).

The Cardinals will be a big factor in the MAC with sixth-year senior Drew Plitt, but they’re no match for Army.