The 2020 season saw most MAC games cut to only half of a season. Still, there’s plenty to be excited about in 2021 in a conference that features some of the best quarterback play in the Group of Five. College Football fans have grown accustomed to “MACtion” with many games getting national audiences during the weekday. Now, let’s unveil our 2021 MAC standings predictions.
6. Bowling Green
The Falcons are still square in the middle of a rebuilding season. However, they should certainly be able to improve upon last season’s winless campaign. Winnable games appear on the home schedule against Murray State and South Alabama. But, expecting more than one win inside the conference might be asking too much as our models show Bowling Green being last in the conference on offense and defense with only 11 starters returning. The good news is that head coach Scot Loeffler is building the program back up which is evident by their second-ranked recruiting ranking in the conference this year.
Similarly, Akron is on the same trajectory this season and the cellar dweller spot might be up for grabs when the Zips go to Bowling Green on October 9th. Akron needs to just survive September which has trips to Penn State and Ohio State on the docket. Getting quarterback Kato Nelson back from injury should help an offense that only averaged 17 points per game in 2020. But, an improvement on the defensive side of the ball is paramount to allow the Zips to stay within striking distance. A task that did not get completed last year.
4. Miami, OH
It’s hard to take anything away from a Redhawks team that only played three games a year ago. However, they did beat Ball State. Quarterback Brett Gabbert was solid for the Redhawks with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and completed 66% of his throws. Miami does have one of the toughest road schedules in the league with trips to Ball State, Ohio, and Kent State. But, the experience of this Redhawk team will have them in the hunt come November.
3. Kent State
The Golden Flashes bring one of the best offenses and our top-ranked quarterback into the 2021 season. Dustin Crum was fantastic with nearly 1,200 yards passing with 12 touchdowns and a 74% completion. Kent State gave up 38 points per contest including 70 to Buffalo which included over 500 yards on the ground. The schedule is rough, especially early with trips to Texas A&M, Iowa, and Maryland. The Flashes have the talent to win the league, but the schedule away from home is the second toughest in the league and is too much to ask for.
The Bulls were dominant last year and have been the best team in the East over the last few years. But, with our second-place prediction here we might be resting too much on past years success. On paper, this looks like it could be a rebuilding season for Buffalo. With Lance Leipold moving on to Kansas after the Spring, there is a lot of roster and coaching turnover for this team to overcome. But, they do have one of the best running back in the conference in Kevin Marks with a serviceable quarterback. The Bulls have our easiest conference schedule away from home which should help them stay in the upper half of the conference.
The Bobcats are our picks to come out of the East this year on the heels of a tough defense. Ohio only surrendered 17 points per contest last year, albeit in only three games. They get many of their tougher games at home with Central Michigan, Kent State, and Toledo all visiting Ohio. Having an experienced and winning coach in Frank Solich will certainly help for a team that will rely on defense and running the football to a divisional championship.
6. Northern Illinois
The Huskies have the misfortune of playing in the tougher division. If they were in the East, they could make a case to finish in the middle of the division. But, be that as it may, the Huskies major point of emphasis will be improving a defense that gave up 40+ points in four of their six games last year. Returning 10 starters is a good start for a team that will have a full spring and fall camp. Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi should improve the offense on what will be a much-improved team.
5. Eastern Michigan
The Eagles have an incredible 21 starters returning from last year’s team that went 2-4. Preston Hutchinson returns at quarterback to lead a team that averaged over 33 points a game in 2020. The Eagles actually have a favorable non-conference schedule outside of a trip to Madison to battle Wisconsin. This team has a decent chance to get to a bowl game with winnable conference road games at Bowling Green and Northern Illinois. However, it will hard to get higher than this spot in a load West division.
4. Central Michigan
Jim McElwain returns for his third season in Mt. Pleasant guiding the Chippewas. Trips to Missouri and LSU make the road schedule tough as a whole but the conference schedule evens out a bit. Washington transfer Jacob Sirmon will be a welcome addition to the Chippewas offense that scored 32 points per game in 2020. Even at the fourth spot here, the Chippewas have a puncher’s chance to challenge in this division.
3. Western Michigan
The top three in the West could ultimately go either way as they are thinly separated. The Bronchos have the best offense in the conference with Kaleb Eleby running the show. He had the best touchdown to interception ratio in the conference with 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Western Michigan can win the conference if they can see improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Ultimately, trips to Buffalo, Toledo, and Eastern Michigan is why they land third here.
2. Ball State
The reigning MAC champions land just on the outside looking in. That’s hard to conceptualize given the fact that this team might be better than a year ago. Senior quarterback Drew Plitt leads an offense that returns 10 starters and were one of the best in the conference last year. The schedule is just murderous for the Cardinals. They face Penn State and Wyoming in the non-conference away from home which is followed by two of their first three conference games at Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan. That will prove just too much to overcome.
With 21 starters returning, our power rankings have Toledo with the second-best offense and top-ranked defense in the conference. They do travel to Ball State, but get to host Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. However, with such an experienced team, the Rockets can win some tough games on the road. Jason Candle is one of the best coaches in the conference and even though their quarterback, Carter Bradley, is just in the middle of the pack the offensive and defensive lines could be dominant.
MAC Championship Game
Toledo vs Ohio
It will be the battle of Ohio when Toledo and Ohio lock horns for the MAC Championship in 2021. This will be a very competitive game with both teams being very battle tested throughout the season. However, Candle and his Rockets will take home their first conference championship since 2017.