Does UMass football have the toughest non-conference schedule in the MAC?
July 4, 2012 I saw this tweet from UMass offensive lineman John Wallace, and it got me thinking. UMass football! Toughest OOC schedule in the nation! We ready!! twitter.com/gungatron_58/s… — John Wallace(@gungatron_58) June 20, 2012 At first, I laughed. There's no way the Minutemen, FBS rookies that they are, could really have the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, right? Well, 124 schedules is a lot to go through, but I did decide to take a look at the rest of the MAC, and how UMass' non-conference slate stacks up. I ranked the MAC schools' non-conference schedules from one to thirteen, and lo and behold, what did I find? The Minutemen indeed have the toughest road — and it's not even that close. Without further adieu, the rankings. 1. UMass @ UConn v. Indiana @ Michigan
@ Vanderbilt The Minutemen play four BCS conference opponents, two of which went to bowls last year. Three games are on the road, including that week-three trip to Ann Arbor to face last year's Sugar Bowl winners in Michigan. In addition, UMass is the only MAC school that doesn't have a non-conference game against an FCS school (though, some would argue Indiana counts, with a 1-11 record in 2011 and losses to Ball State and North Texas). Still, when your easiest nonconference game is against a Big Ten school, you know it's going to be tough sledding. I give UMass credit for scheduling the big boys â€” if you're going to move up to the FBS, there's no sense in scheduling a bunch of cupcakes. Unless, you know, the Minutemen go 0-12. Then, perhaps, we'll have to take a retrospective look at the scheduling process. Until then, it's full speed ahead for David into Goliath's den. 2. Miami (Ohio) @ Ohio State v. Southern Illinois @ Boise State @ Cincinnati If it wasn't for the cupcake at home against the Salukis (which, I learned via Wikipedia as I was writing this, are the Royal Dog of Egypt), Miami's non-conference murderer's row would have topped the Minutemen's. The Redhawks get to be part of Urban Meyer's debut in Columbus. They get a trip to the smurf turf (which, by the way, is not a bird killer, according to this Los Angeles Times article). To cap it off, there's a mid-season trip down the road to Cincinnati, which posted a 10-3 record and was part of the 3-way tie at the top of The Conference That Now Includes Teams From Both Coasts (perhaps they should call it the Big Country â€” they'd even have a theme song). However you cut it, the Redhawks are staring a 1-3 non-conference record straight in the face. 3. Bowling Green @ Florida v. Idaho @ Virginia Tech v. Rhode Island
The Falcons usually schedule up, and this year is no different, where they'll be paid handsomely to take beatings from Florida and Virginia Tech. The Idaho game is very winnable, though, and Rhode Island should provide some relief for coach Dave Clawson, who was my first post-game interview at the FBS level after Falcons nearly beat Missouri in Columbia back in 2009. 4. Buffalo @ Georgia v. Morgan State @ UConn v. Pittsburgh Buffalo's game against Georgia in Athens is one of the five toughest non-conference games for MAC teams. The Bulls hope FCS Morgan State will be a walkover (the Bears dropped their only MAC game of 2011 58-13 to Bowling Green), but the two games against Big Country — er, Big East — teams will be trés tough. The Bulls fell to Pitt and UConn by a combined score of 52-19 in 2011. 5. Central Michigan v. Southeast Missouri v. Michigan State @ Iowa v. Navy The Chippewas somehow convinced Mark Dantonio's Spartans to pay a visit to Mount Pleasant, where things won't be pleasant for Central Michigan. It doesn't get any easier at Iowa, and a home game against Navy is no treat either. 6. Ball State @ Clemson @ Indiana v. USF @ Army
Good luck to Ball State stopping Tajh Boyd and Clemson. They're going to need against the dark-horse Heisman candidate, who led the Tigers to an 8-0 start in 2011 with superb play at the quarterback position. The Cardinals will have their hands full with USF's B.J. Daniels too, as the Bulls look to bounce back from a disappointing 1-6 showing in the Big Country last season. Ball State is also the first team on this list to face Army. They won't be the last. 7. Western Michigan @ Illinois v. Eastern Illinois @ Minnesota v. UConn The bad news: The Broncos face two Big Ten teams on the road. The good news: They are Illinois and Minnesota. Illinois has a new coach straight from the MAC itself (Toledo's Tim Beckman) and finished the regular season with six straight losses to balance their 6-0 start, and finally, once and for all, rid themselves of Ron Zook. Minnesota won just three games last year, but went 1-0 against the MAC (a 29-23 victory over Miami (Ohio)) and showed signs of life toward the end of Jerry Kill's first season. The most disappointing thing about the Broncos schedule? If they swapped UConn for Western Illinois and Minnesota for the Royal Egyptian Dogs â€” I mean, Southern Illinois â€” they'd have had the Illinois sweep. Either that, or swap Minnesota for Washington and play every FBS team named the Huskies. Don Treeger/The RepublicanCharley Molnar is calm here, but will he stay that way with the MAC's toughest non-conference slate? 8. Eastern Michigan v. Illinois State @ Purdue @ Michigan State v. Army If a team beats Illinois State at home, but no one sees it, did they really win? The Eagles averaged just 4,267 fans per home game last year, less than half of any of their MAC counterparts (including UMass). It could have something to do with the fact that Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti is 6.2 miles from Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, or it could have
something to do with the eight total Eagle wins over the last three years (though EMU did go 66 in 2011, to be fair). Either way, the Eagles will be big underdogs at Purdue and Michigan State. They also play Army. This is not the last time Army appears on this list. 9. Toledo @ Arizona @ Wyoming v. Coastal Carolina v. Cincinnati The home game at the Glass Bowl against Cincinatti is the toughest on this schedule, but long road trips to Tucson and Laramie won't be walkovers either. The only reason Toledo isn't ranked above Eastern Michigan on this list is because of EMU's game at Michigan State, but at the end of the day, this schedule could prove to be much tougher than it looks in June. On the plus side, the Rockets' game against the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina is the first game on this listwith a theme song. 10. Kent State v. Towson @ Kentucky @ Army @ Rutgers Kent State will get a chance to avenge the Great Omaha T-Shirt Debacle (kind of) with its game in Lexington, but probably won't. Hey, at least there's the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The trip to Central Jersey won't prove any more fruitful, and the lack of bourbon will be disappointing. They also play Army. No, this isn't the last time Army is on this list. Keep reading. 11. Akron v. Central Florida @ Florida International v. Morgan State @ Tennessee
You'd think Akron would be higher on this list with the game in Knoxville, but until Derek Dooley can restore the Vols to previous glory, Neyland Stadium is no longer the horror it once was for opposing teams. The intrigue in that game: Volunteers vs. Zips, the last two entries in the FBS mascot alphabet. Should be a barn-burner. Morgan State makes its second (and final) appearance on this list. 12. Ohio @ Penn State v. New Mexico State @ Marshall v. Norfolk State Frank Solich's squad is coming off a thrilling victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and will be favored in three of its four non-conference games. Other than the opener in Happy Valley, the Bobcats shouldn't have problems. 13. Northern Illinois v. Iowa (at Soldier Field) v. Tennessee-Martin @ Army v. Kansas If Army wants to be in the MAC, why don't they just join? The Black Knights play four MAC games, and yes, this is the final time they are on this list. The Huskies open their season against Iowa in the only neutral site non-conference game for a MAC team. At least they won't have to deal with the pink visiting locker room at Kinnick Stadium. The game against Kansas might look tough (since the Jayhawks are in the Big 12), but I saw the Jayhawks last year, and it wasn't pretty.