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Is the MAC Gaining Ground on the Big Ten?

Writer’s note: This is the third installment of the statistical breakdown series. Here are links to the first Keith Wenning vs. Nate Davis and second, BSU Defense Tackles Misleading Stats, installments.

Fans of MAC teams have known for a while that the Big Ten has been backpedaling and Big Ten fans are finally coming around to admitting it. But many Big Ten fans still see their conference as vastly superior to the MAC.

Time to see how the conferences truly stack up.

If the MAC played Monopoly with the Big Ten. Your move Penn State. Post $50 bail or roll for doubles.

Head to Head Games

The Big Ten crushed the MAC going 11-1 in head to head games. Ball State’s win over Indiana was the only exception. The MAC can claim several moral victories.

Western Michigan lost to Illinois on the road by three and Purdue in a bowl game by five. Temple lost to Penn State 14-10 at home. Toledo failed to score a last minute touchdown from the red zone in their 27-22 loss at Ohio State. Miami University dropped a 29-23 decision at Minnesota. That means five of the 11 Big Ten wins, almost half, were decided by a six points or less.

There were lopsided affairs too. Akron, Eastern Michigan, and Central Michigan all played at least one Big Ten school each in 2011 and the results were worse than the acting talent in a “Twilight” movie.

The most disappointing loss came from the MAC Champion Northern Illinois.  Northern was pounded 49-7 at Big Ten Champion Wisconsin. The gap between the best team in the Big Ten and the best in the MAC is still as large as it ever has been. The Huskies were not going to win that game but they needed to make it more respectable than that.

The MAC did find success against BCS schools outside the Big Ten. Temple knocked out Maryland 38-7 on the road. Western Michigan went into Connecticut and won 38-31. Toledo was robbed at Syracuse with a blown call on an extra point and went on to lose 33-30 in overtime (cut to Toledo fans shaking their heads).

Bowl Games

The MAC went 4-1 in bowl games this season which is a testament to how deep the conference was in 2011. The Big Ten went 4-6. To be fair, this stat is not a good measuring stick as the Big Ten played SEC schools while the MAC faced Mountain West and Sun Belt teams.  Even though this stat favors the MAC we have to throw it out when comparing the MAC to the Big Ten.

Vs. FCS Schools

The MAC went 12-0 against FCS schools while Minnesota was upset at home for a 9-1 record for the Big Ten. The MAC appears to fumble a game or two to a FCS school every year and your Ball State Cardinals were one of the repeat offenders in previous seasons.

Even 1-11 Akron won their only game against FCS Virginia Military Institute. Say that again. Even Akron won a game against a FCS school. Anything is possible.

Still, this measurement is flawed too as not every FCS school is created equally. This stat only proves that the MAC did their homework in scheduling the right cupcake.

Sagarin Ratings

Now we are talking. The Sagarin ratings are ultimate rating system for college football nerds everywhere. Namely me.

Unlike most polls, the Sagarin ratings compare every FBS and FCS team into one giant list. The Sagarin ratings are somewhat similar to RPI in college basketball.

Here are the rankings for all the Big Ten and MAC schools. The MAC schools are bolded.

First, discard Indiana and Akron. Those two schools are outliers as they were so bad they were virtually disowned by their conferences in 2011.

The theory behind the Sagarin ratings is the closer two schools are in terms of points the closer the game would be if they played on the field. For example, Western Michigan is five points away from Illinois and only three points away from Purdue. The Broncos did lose to those teams but came very close to winning. Western is 19 points away from Michigan and was trashed accordingly 34-10.

From the data we can infer the five MAC bowl teams could do damage in the Big Ten if they played their conference schedule in 2011. Toledo, Temple, and Northern Illinois would have a realistic shot at beating eight of the 12 Big Ten schools (please change the name of the conference). Penn State is only three points away from Toledo and four away from Temple and Northern Illinois. Thus, the top three MAC schools can compete with two-thirds of the BCS conference.

In theory, Ohio and Western Michigan are capable of defeating Illinois on down and maybe Ohio State and Iowa.

That makes five MAC schools the Big Ten does not want to tangle with. Especially when they are paying the MAC schools a truck load of cash to come to their house.

The Big Ten still has an advantage with their four top teams being bulletproof against a MAC school.

The Big Ten had a down year with Ohio State and Penn State ending up on CNN more than ESPN for scandals. Nebraska was making the transition to the conference and will settle in soon. Ohio State with Urban Meyer will be back at the top of the conference in no time. Penn State is a volatile situation and therefore tough to predict.

For the MAC, 2011 was a break out year. If the top teams in the MAC can stay in the top 50 in the Sagarin ratings then more upsets against BCS conference foes will come in 2012. That said the back half of the conference has to improve in order for the national perception to progress.

If the rear of the conference can make some strides in the next few years then maybe a 6-6 MAC team, your Ball State Cardinals, can earn a bowl invite (cue angry Ball State fans writing e-mails to the Akron athletic director).

Big Ten schools beware in 2012. Buying an easy win against a MAC school is getting harder and harder.

2 Responses

  1. That WMU/Purdue bowl game deserves an asterisk as well (I’m a Purdue fan and watch most of their games). Purdue recovered 2 onside kicks, ran a kickoff back for a touchdown, forced about a dozen turnovers (I’m too lazy to look it up but it was at least 6) and STILL ONLY WON BY 5 POINTS. If that game was played ten times, Purdue only wins 5-6.

  2. MAC schools have always been close to the Big 10. If you take the starters from a MAC school and starters from a Big 10 school and they have no bench to rely on the level is similar. Where the Big 10 dominates is they are so much more deep at every position. MAC schools bench can’t compete with the Big 10 bench.

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