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Can Miami football win the Mid-American Conference Championship?

<p>Miami football hasn&#x27;t entered its conference slate with a 3-1 record since 2003.</p>

Miami football hasn't entered its conference slate with a 3-1 record since 2003.

The Miami University RedHawks finished their non-conference schedule with a record of 3-1 thanks to an unlikely upset over the University of Cincinnati. This week began the Mid-American Conference (MAC) slate. What follows is a preview of what Miami will face over the next nine weeks.

The conference of parity

Both redshirt junior linebacker Matt Salopek and head coach Chuck Martin emphasized the parity in the MAC. Miami can’t write off any of its conference opponents.

“The MAC is the MAC,” Salopek said. “We have eight winnable games and eight losable games. That’s how it is.”

Martin said that the parity comes from the similarity in spending between conference members. He compared the MAC to the Big Ten, where teams like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State outspend conference opponents by tens of millions of dollars. 

Figures 1 and 2 data via Knight-Newhouse college athletics database

Akron, then the MAC’s biggest spender, spends about $6 million and about two times what the lowest spender Akron does. 

Recruiting is the life blood of college sports. The best players win. That’s millions and millions of dollars spent directly recruiting players and on making those programs more attractive places to play. Not so much in the MAC though.

“In our league now, for eight straight weeks, it’s a fair fight,” Martin said.

That said, some MAC schools are better than others. As of Sept. 25, Fox Sports has the University of Toledo as the favorite to win the MAC championship, with betting odds more than 60 times more favorable than last-place Kent State. Miami falls in third out of 12 teams.

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Miami starts its schedule against three of the four teams with the lowest odds at the 2023 MAC Championship, at Kent State, hosting Bowling Green and at Western Michigan. 

Then the RedHawks play the two favorites, at home against Toledo and on the road at Ohio. They finish the schedule hosting Buffalo then traveling to Ball State.

Key games

Week 8 - Miami vs. Toledo, Oct. 21

If the RedHawks can take care of business Weeks 5 through 7, the first true test of their mettle is against Toledo. The Rockets barely lost to Illinois Week 1 (and as you can see above, the Illini spend a whole lot more on football). Then Toledo won its next three games, including a 71-3 thumping of Texas Southern.

Toledo returns 16 starters from its 2022 MAC Championship-winning squad, including seven all-conference selections. Its quarterback, dual-threat Dequan Finn, went for nearly 3000 total yards last season and 32 touchdowns. So far this year, he’s thrown four interceptions through four games but also recorded 10 touchdowns.

Toledo’s offensive line returns four starters. Running behind it, junior Peny Boone is averaging 7.7 yards per carry, including over 200 yards and two touchdowns against Western Michigan last week.  

Their defense is holding opponents to under four yards per carry. They have eight takeaways through four games. 

Their offense is explosive and laden with threats. The defense is stout and makes big plays. Toledo is a force.

Week 9 - Miami vs. Ohio, Oct. 28

The team that Toledo beat in the MAC Championship last season poses a major challenge as well. 

A highly touted team to begin with, Ohio has already pulled off two upsets this season. Week 2, they beat Florida Atlantic 17-10, and Week 3, they beat Iowa State 10-7. Last year, offense was their calling card, but allowing 17 combined points in those two games is impressive.

That offense led the conference last season with over 420 yards over 30 points per game. Ohio returns all but two starters from that unit, including last year’s MAC Player of the Year, quarterback Kurtis Rourke. 

So far, the Bobcats are holding opponents to under 70 rushing yards per game and fewer than 250 total yards. They have 11 takeaways already. They crushed Bowling Green last week, 38-7. 

It’s clear who the two top dogs of the MAC are. Miami’s close on their tails, and if they hadn’t gotten beaten so bad Week 1, they might be right there. They’ll have their chance Weeks 7 and 8 though.

After opening up the conference slate with a 23-3 road victory over Kent State, Miami hosts Bowling Green this weekend. The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. from Yager Stadium in Oxford.