Week 1 MAC football schedule: Miami-Marshall rivalry highlights Saturday slate

Football is back, baby!

The first week of the regular season is upon us and everybody from the Mid-American Conference is going to finally hit the field for the first time in way too long. Before we actually get to the part where we talk about the slate of games, a quick word on ESPN+:

If you don’t know what ESPN+ is, it’s basically another ESPN3 that’s behind a paywall (roughly $5/month). You don’t need cable for ESPN+, but you still need cable (or at least just the login for one) for ESPN3. Just because you have one doesn’t mean you can get what’s included in the other. So even if you have signed up for ESPN+, that doesn’t mean you can watch what’s being played on ESPN3.

If you don’t sign up for ESPN+ this week, then you won’t be able to watch four of the 12 MAC games to celebrate Week 1. So far, there are four games on ESPN+ for Week 2 and three for the following week.

In summary, you’ll need to pay for cable (or a streaming service, just so you can get ESPN, ESPN2/ESPNU, ESPN3, CBSSN, FOX and so on), for ESPN+ and, if you’re feeling really festive, a flag for $75.

Speaking of which, who’s going to be the first to #FlyTheFlag?

Week 1 schedule

Game Time (ET) TV/Stream
Central Connecticut State at Ball State 7 p.m. (Thursday) ESPN+
Syracuse at Western Michigan 6 p.m. (Friday) CBS Sports Network
Monmouth at Eastern Michigan 6:30 p.m. (Friday) ESPN+
Kent State at Illinois 12 p.m. Big Ten Network
Howard at Ohio 2 p.m. ESPN+
Marshall at Miami-OH 3:30 p.m. ESPN+
Central Michigan at Kentucky 3:30 p.m. ESPNU
Northern Illinois at Iowa 3:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
Delaware State at Buffalo 6 p.m. ESPN3
VMI at Toledo 7 p.m. ESPN3
Bowling Green at No. 24 Oregon 8 p.m. PAC 12 Network
Akron at Nebraska 8 p.m. FOX

What to watch

Central Connecticut State at Ball State — Did you know that Ball state is 8-6 against FCS teams since 2000? It’s true. Looking for trends, Ball State lost to FCS teams in 2006, 2010 and 2014, which would make this game next in line. But let’s remember that backup running back Caleb Huntley had a 1,000-yard rushing season as a true freshman last year behind an offensive line that was deteriorating with the rest of the very-injured team. Now the offensive line and starting running back James Gilbert are much healthier, more rested and shouldn’t have too many problems here.

Syracuse at WMU — The Bronco passing attack is a focal point in all of this. Tim Lester is now calling the plays for WMU’s offense, heading into his second year as the head coach, and has said plenty of times that the passing game is what’s been the biggest change since last season. Jon Wassink did really well as a first-year starting quarterback before he went down with a collarbone injury with a completion percentage of 64.2, averaged 7.2 yards per attempt and had a TD-INT ratio of 14-4, so it’ll be fun to see how the passing game changes and how well Wassink adapts. Plus, losing two stud cornerbacks on defense makes this game a good opportunity for the defensive line to show how strong that unit is.

Monmouth at EMU — All of the questions go to the offensive side of the ball here. How good is Tyler Wiegers? Will the running game improve on the offensive line’s behalf? Can Shaq Vann get off to a good start and show that he can be an explosive, elusive running back at 5-foot-10, 215 pounds? Which one of the new junior college transfer receivers will stand out the most? How much will Mathew Sexton be targeted by Wiegers? Can EMU rely on any of the tight ends to catch passes this year? How many quarterbacks will we even see in this game?

Kent State at Illinois — It sounds like Kent State likes its options at running back with Will Matthews, Justin Rankin and Jo-El Shaw. That might not be the M.O. of this team moving forward, but it’s possible that these three might be big players for the Kent State offense this year. As for defense, I’m just curious to see how the 3-4 will look and if anybody on the defense sticks out.

Howard at Ohio — There aren’t any issues with this defense, right? At least nothing too noticeable? Replacing Quentin Poling isn’t supposed to be easy.

Marshall at Miami-OH — This rivalry doesn’t get played as much as it probably should, but Miami’s in need of flipping the script. Despite having a better record in the series with 30 wins and 13 losses to the Thundering Herd, Miami hasn’t beaten Marshall since 2003, so the RedHawks are way overdue. Plus, with as experienced as this offense is with the pedigree of its defense and Chuck Martin in his fifth year running the program, there’s little excuse left for Miami to not come away with a win here.

CMU at Kentucky — There’s a new starting quarterback. New group of receivers. Some new offensive linemen. Devon Spalding is playing a new position. But can Central Michigan play some defense? If the offense has a bad day, it’s easy to look past a season opener at an SEC arena. The continuity of the defense should be more indicative of how the season will progress than whatever kind of day the offense has — good or bad.

NIU at Iowa

Delaware State at Buffalo — The second-half of Tyree Jackson’s sophomore season was what Jackson looks like when he’s more one-dimensional than dual-threat, which is still pretty damn good. In that stretch of four games, Jackson was 92 of 145 (63.4 percent) for 1,363 passing yards (9.4 yards per attempt) with nine touchdowns and two picks. I’m sure by now he’s feeling fine enough to run, but he doesn’t have to do all the legwork here. There’s a potential first-round wide receiver with tons of speed and super soft hands. There are three favorable options at running back. Buffalo’s not going to make Jackson run a bunch, but he’s gonna take off at least once and that’ll be my favorite moment of Buffalo’s season opener, potentially.

VMI at Toledo — I mean, it’s the quarterback play. Yeah, we all want to know what Bryant Koback looks like in an actual football game and not just version of his younger self making Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays as a high schooler, but he’ll be at Toledo for four seasons and he’s not the quarterback. We’ll see both Eli Peters and Mitch Guadagni, but why stop there? Think we’ll see some of the other quarterbacks in the second half for Toledo? Why not?

BGSU at No. 24 Oregon — Bowling Green’s traveling to one of the loudest stadiums in the USA with less than half of its defensive playbook and a Heisman-hopeful quarterback waiting on the other side.

Akron at Nebraska — Ulysees Gilbert III shall down as one of the greatest linebackers in Akron history. Some of the best players in MAC history are sometimes too unlucky to miss out on playing in the MAC championship game. Akron snuck in the back door to get in last year’s matchup against Toledo. As one-sided as it was, Gilbert recorded 10 tackles and returned an interception for 25 yards. Fun fact: on the interception, Gilbert was actually assigned to key in on the run, but audibled out of that mid-play. Maybe he’ll get drafted in a few months, who knows, but when that media circus actually starts up, we’ll be referring back to this game right here.

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