The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 12, 2018

2018 Mid-American Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

They call it “Maction.” The Mid-American Conference frequently produces teams capable of beating the lower half of the Big Ten and occasionally a weaker upper echelon team from their Big Brother rival conference. Additionally, the MAC has produced some star players that became NFL stars. It has also successfully placed its champion in the New Year’s 6 bowl that is reserved for a Group of 5 team.

2018 should be no different in these respects. The MAC has some strong teams, two or three of which are talented enough to make a run at the NY6 Bowl bid. On the other hand, these teams are good enough to beat each other and prevent the champion from running the table. Additionally, both divisions have more than one really good team, so it may be difficult to have either division champion go 8-0 in the league.

2018 could be another Year of the Quarterback in this league. Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson led the league in passing last year as a sophomore. Jackson missed four games, but when he was healthy, he was the top quarterback in the league. Against Bowling Green he topped 400 passing yards and three touchdowns versus no interceptions. He threw four TD passes the next week against Ball State, and he finished the year with 294 yards and two scores in a win over Ohio. If he stays healthy, Jackson could pass for 3,000 and run for 1,000 yards this year.

Another junior quarterback, Nathan Rourke makes Ohio’s offense potent. Rourke is also a dual-threat QB; his passing arm isn’t quite up to Jackson’s quality, but he is a little better runner and has a considerably better offensive line in Athens.

The MAC-East is rich with quality quarterbacks. Miami of Ohio’s Gus Ragland is the senior statesman of the division. Ragland became a star in the second half of the 2016 season, when he orchestrated a 6-0 finish after the Red Hawks began the season 0-6. He’s more of a move the pocket passer than Jackson or Rourke and will not beat opponents with his legs. Miami’s much improved offensive line should give Ragland a chance to compete for top passer in the MAC.

The West Division will have the best defensive team this year. Northern Illinois should have the best pass defense in the entire league, as their pass rush and pass coverage both rank as the tops in the MAC. NIU will face competition from Toledo, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and even Eastern Michigan. The Huskies probably have the best chance at going 8-0 in the league, because the West is a little down compared to recent years.

One reason why no MAC team may qualify for the NY6 Bowl this year is a much tougher slate of non-conference schedules. Every team faces a tough Power 5 opponent, and the ratings call for the MAC to lose all of these games.  Northern Illinois could easily lose all four non-conference games having to play at Iowa, Florida State, and BYU and host Utah. Of course, our ratings cannot select upsets out of a hat, and usually there is always an upset or two, which is why we only rely on our ratings for picking the next game on the schedule for each team.

Here is how the MAC media voted in the preseason poll.

Team Votes
East Division 1st Place Total
1. Ohio 21 140
2. Buffalo 1 112
3. Miami (Ohio) 2 95
4. Akron 0 74
5. Bowling Green 0 58
6. Kent State 0 25
West Division 1st Place Total
1. Northern Illinois 15 133
2. Toledo 7 125
3. Western Michigan 1 87
4. Eastern Michigan 0 67
5. Central Michigan 1 58
6. Ball State 0 34

Picked to win 2018 MAC Championship Game
Ohio 13
Toledo 5
Northern Illinois 4
Miami 1
Central Michigan 1

The PiRate Ratings differ minimally from the media’s preseason opinions.

Mid-American Conference
East Division
Team MAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Ohio U 0-0 0-0 95.1 96.5 96.4 96.0
Buffalo 0-0 0-0 94.3 96.7 95.4 95.5
Miami (O) 0-0 0-0 91.5 93.9 93.4 92.9
Akron 0-0 0-0 90.5 92.1 90.7 91.1
Bowling Green 0-0 0-0 85.1 85.4 85.7 85.4
Kent St. 0-0 0-0 80.2 81.6 79.5 80.4
West Division
Team MAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Toledo 0-0 0-0 96.3 98.4 96.4 97.0
Northern Illinois 0-0 0-0 96.3 97.9 96.6 96.9
Western Michigan 0-0 0-0 91.5 93.8 92.9 92.8
Eastern Michigan 0-0 0-0 89.1 90.5 89.8 89.8
Central Michigan 0-0 0-0 84.8 88.5 85.2 86.2
Ball St. 0-0 0-0 77.7 80.4 77.4 78.5
MAC Averages 89.4 91.3 90.0 90.2


New Coaches

Kent State: Sean Lewis has some history in the MAC.  He was the offensive coordinator for Dino Babers at Bowling Green, when the Falcons torched MAC defenses for 45.6 points per game in 2015.  Lewis followed Babers to Syracuse, where he helped lead the Orangemen to new passing heights.  He played for Brett Bielema at Wisconsin, so he could incorporate some of his alma mater’s power game with the Baylor-style spread offense.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

Team Conference Overall
Ohio 7-1 10-3
Buffalo 6-2 8-4
Akron 4-4 5-7
Miami (O) 4-4 4-8
Bowling Green 1-7 3-9
Kent St. 0-8 1-11
Team Conference Overall
Northern Illinois 8-0 9-4 *
Toledo 7-1 9-3
Western Michigan 4-4 6-6
Eastern Michigan 4-4 5-7
Central Michigan 2-6 3-9
Ball St. 1-7 2-10
* Northern Illinois picked to win MAC Championship Game

Bowl Tie-ins
The MAC does not have a set bowl pecking order. They send teams to bowls to create the best overall games. These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, FL
Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, AL
Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, AL
Frisco Bowl in Frisco, TX
Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, ID

There is a secondary bowl agreement with the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit if it needs an at-large alternate.

Coming Tomorrow–The Mountain West Conference

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