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Monday, March 1, 2010
Breaking down the MAC West scheduling

By Graham Watson

Rarely do you see two FCS schools on a non-AQ schedule, but Ball State has done just that in order to get its squad off on the right foot this year.

For the first time in a while, the MAC West will not be the dominant side of the conference. There are several team rebuilding whereas the East has a lot of veterans returning.

Below are the nonconference schedules and top conference matchups for the teams in the MAC West. Again, the schools are listed in alphabetical order.

BALL STATE

Sept. 2: Southeast Missouri State (2-9)
Sept. 11: Liberty (8-3)
Sept. 18: at Purdue (5-7)
Sept. 25: at Iowa (11-2)
Combined record: 26-21
Combined winning percentage: .553
FCS schools: 2
Top 25 teams: 1
Bowl teams: 1

Key conference game/stretch: Ball State opens the conference season at Central Michigan (Oct. 2) and Western Michigan (Oct. 9) and in any other year this would be a bad scenario. However, both of those teams lost several key playmakers, which might present an opportunity for the Cardinals to gain some early confidence.

Nonconference skinny: Ball State needs to have something positive happen to it early and the nonconference schedule is set up for that. Back-to-back home games against FCS teams should provide early confidence, but two FCS schools means the Cardinals have to win seven to be bowl eligible. Ball State should go 2-2.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN

Sept. 2: Hampton (5-6)
Sept. 25: at Northwestern (8-5)
Oct. 9: at Virginia Tech (10-3)
Nov. 13: at Navy (10-4)
Combined record: 33-18
Combined winning percentage: .647
FCS schools: 1
Top 25 teams: 1
Bowl teams: 3

Key conference game/stretch: The Chippewas play Northern Illinois on Oct. 23, which will be a key early game in deciding the MAC West. NIU is going to be the favorite and this game will provide an opportunity for Central Michigan to make an early play for the division title.

Nonconference skinny: Central Michigan’s nonconference schedule is spread out throughout the season, which I think hurts the Chippewas' ability to get into a good rhythm in conference play. Not to mention, it’s not an easy schedule. I like a win in the season opener, but with a lot of offensive newcomers, beating the other three is going to be tough.

EASTERN MICHIGAN

Sept. 4: Army (5-7)
Sept. 25: at Ohio State (11-2)
Oct. 9: at Vanderbilt (2-10)
Oct. 23: at Virginia (3-9)
Combined record: 21-28
Combined winning percentage: .429
FCS schools: 0
Top 25 teams: 1
Bowl teams: 1

Key conference game/stretch: It’s hard to pick out a key conference game or stretch for a team that didn’t win any games last year. The Eagles do open the conference season against Miami-Ohio (Sept. 11), a team that won one game. This is a key opener for both schools to start the 2010 conference season off right.

Nonconference skinny: On the outside this looks like a nonconference schedule built for wins. However, all of these teams are going to be better in 2010 and I’m not sure that Eastern Michigan is going to be athletic enough to stay with any of these squads. Army is going to be the best bet, but the Black Knights will be a tough matchup in 2010.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS

Sept. 2: at Iowa State (7-6)
Sept. 11: North Dakota (6-5)
Sept. 18: at Illinois (3-9)
Sept. 25: at Minnesota (6-7)
Combined record: 22-27
Combined winning percentage: .449
FCS schools: 1
Top 25 teams: 0
Bowl teams: 2

Key conference game/stretch: The Huskies play three tough divisional foes right in a row against Central Michigan (Oct. 23), at Western Michigan (Oct. 30), and against Toledo (Nov. 9). Northern Illinois should be the favorite to win the division this year and if the Huskies can get through this stretch, it should be smooth sailing to the MAC title game.

Nonconference skinny: For Northern Illinois, a team that returns several players off the squad that defeated Purdue last year, this nonconference schedule is interesting. The Huskies, barring injury, have the ability to beat every team on the schedule, but going on the road is tough. They should go 3-1, but I have a feeling it will be more like 2-2.

TOLEDO

Sept. 3: Arizona (8-5)
Sept. 25: at Purdue (5-7)
Oct. 2: Wyoming (7-6)
Oct. 9: at Boise State (14-0)
Combined record: 34-18
Combined winning percentage: .645
FCS schools: 0
Top 25 teams: 1
Bowl teams: 3

Key conference game/stretch: Toledo was a bit of a disappointment last season after it didn’t go to a bowl game, but it has a chance to be the top team in the MAC West this season. The Rockets’ main competition with be Northern Illinois, which it plays at on Nov. 9. That’s the end of a grueling stretch for the Huskies and an opportunity for the Rockets.

Nonconference skinny: This is a deceptively tough nonconference schedule for the Rockets. Few teams win at Boise State and Arizona and Wyoming both were bowl teams a year ago. Purdue is a crapshoot, but it’s going to be tough to beat at home. Toledo could come out of the nonconference schedule 2-2, but I think 1-3 is probably more realistic.

WESTERN MICHIGAN

Sept. 4: at Michigan State (6-7)
Sept. 11: Nicholls State (3-8)
Oct. 2: Idaho (8-5)
Oct. 16: at Notre Dame (6-6)
Combined record: 23-26
Combined winning percentage: .469
FCS schools: 1
Top 25 teams: 0
Bowl teams: 2

Key conference game/stretch: Western Michigan had a tough 2009 and it’s hard to tell what kind of team will take the field in 2010, especially with quarterback Tim Hiller and running back Brandon West gone. The Nov. 5 game at Central Michigan is probably the one to watch since it’s a rivalry and both teams will be replacing several key players.

Nonconference skinny: The early part of the season might be tough for Western Michigan as it learns some new coaches and personnel. That Michigan State game is a brutal open, but Nicholls State and Idaho can be had at home. Notre Dame is an unknown, but I don’t think the Broncos have the athleticism to stay with the Irish. The Broncos could be 2-2, but like Toledo, 1-3 is probable.