MAC Odds: 2023 College Football Betting Preview
The Mid-American Conference has become a cult favorite among college football fans. Its popularity rose with Tuesday and Wednesday night games, lovingly dubbed, “MACtion.” Toledo is the 2023 preseason favorite to win the conference. Despite the MAC residing near or at the bottom of college football power rankings, it has consistently delivered an entertaining product. It has also avoided any conference realignment. Thanks to having the lowest conference variance score, MAC odds are also a perfect place to eye longshots and underdogs.
So, let’s get deep in the weeds with the MAC. Below, you’ll find team previews, win total projections, futures odds, and much more. Welcome to your 2023 MAC football betting guide.
MAC Odds: To Win The Conference
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Resistant to the changes sweeping the nation, the MAC maintains its two-division format. In fact, the MAC and Sun Belt are the two remaining holdouts – every other conference either has nixed divisions, or plans to next season. But the balance of power between the MAC East and MAC West don’t demand a change. Since 2015, every team has made the MAC Championship game, except for Eastern Michigan. No team repeated as division champion since the 2013-15 stretch which saw three straight editions of Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois in Detroit.
The top tier in MAC odds is pretty cut and dry: Toledo () and Ohio (). Those two teams are the most talented in their respective divisions and both return prolific QBs after a season where they met in the championship game. Following those two are Buffalo (), Miami (), and Eastern Michigan () before diving into longshot territory.
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MAC Odds: Projected Wins, Win Totals
Projected wins below are derived from aggregate power ratings, including SP+, FPI, and more. Win totals are pulled from FanDuel Sportsbook as of July 27.
|Team||Proj. Wins||Win Total||Price|
|Eastern Michigan Eagles||6.9||7.5||+100/-122|
|Miami (OH) Redhawks||6.7||6.5||-134/+116|
|Ball State Cardinals||5.3||5.5||+116/-142|
|Central Michigan Chippewas||5.1||5.5||+122/-150|
|Bowling Green Falcons||4.4||4.5||+108/-132|
|Western Michigan Broncos||4.1||4.5||+160/-200|
|Kent State Golden Flashes||3.7||2.5||+100/-122|
MAC Power Ratings
Table Key (all ranks except power rankings are national):
– Rank (Power ranking, conference)
– Proj. Wins (Projected total wins)
– Return (Returning production, total)
– Returning O (returning offensive production)
– Returning D (returning defensive production)
– PPD (Points per drive scored)
– PPDA (Points per drive allowed)
– L5 (Last five years recruiting average, national)
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KFord Ratings: Mid American Conference
MAC Odds: The Favorites
Last year, Toledo finally put its foot on the gas and took home its first MAC championship since 2017. Annually, the Rockets rated out in their own tier, ahead of other MAC teams. That’s thanks to a five-year recruiting average that stands almost 10 national spots higher than the next best (Buffalo) and over 15 spots higher than third (Central Michigan). They out-spent the MAC median athletics budget by $5M in 2021 and have among the best facilities in the conference.
And yet, they’re not the dominant program all of those factors would suggest they should be.
QB Dequan Finn returns this season after being named second team All-MAC last year. He combined for 31 touchdowns, including nine rushing, and is second in returning QBR (Kurtis Rourke). Finn is immensely talented, likely the best all-around player in the MAC, but he struggled to stay healthy last season. Finn’s return makes Toledo one of just 26 FBS teams that return their head coach, both coordinators, and primary starting QB from a season ago. All skill players who had at least 70 intended touches (targets, carries, receptions) return, too.
But the biggest strength of this team is their defense. Phil Steele ranks every defensive unit (DL, LB, DB) as tops in the conference. Corner Quinyon Mitchell co-led the nation with 20 PBUs in 2022 and all three returning starters in the secondary land on some preseason All-MAC team. The secondary is such a strength that they rank 15th nationally, per Steele. Toledo also bolstered their defensive front with pass rusher Travion Ford, a Missouri transfer and former blue-chip recruit.
Thanks to a schedule that ranks third-easiest nationally (OOC: at Illinois, vs. Texas Southern, San Jose State, and at UMass), Toledo should be in the mix for at least nine wins. The Rockets projected to be underdogs only at Illinois and they project for just three one-score games all season long. It’s for these reasons why they sit atop MAC odds in the preseason.
The beginning of the season for Ohio sits in a precarious spot. 2022 MAC MVP Kurtis Rourke suffered a torn ACL late in the year and had to miss the MAC Championship and Arizona Bowl. While reports suggest Rourke will be ready for Ohio’s Week 0 game at San Diego State, the injury looms large. Behind him is QB CJ Harris, who performed admirably in Rourke’s absence, but Harris is a run-dominant player and completely changes the Bobcats system.
Assuming Rourke does return to full health this season, Ohio’s offense should be the best in the MAC. All-conference WR Sam Wiglusz and complement Jacoby Jones return, with eight of Ohio’s overall nine top receivers from a season ago. Running back Sieh Bangura rushed for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns as a true freshman. This offensive line also returns four of five starters, including All-MAC selection Parker Titsworth and projects to be one of the top units in the MAC.
Defensively, Ohio was perfectly serviceable (59th in points per drive). Seniors Bryce Houston and Keye Thompson make up one of the best linebacking duos in the Group of Five after combining for 172 tackles, 13 QB hits, and seven sacks a year ago. However, their secondary needs to over-perform, as just two of five starters return and three projected starters are sophomores. Ohio also graded as one of the worst-tackling teams, per PFF, but finished with a +12 turnover margin (fifth-best nationally).
Not to be overlooked, kicker Nathanial Vakos transferred to Wisconsin. In 2022, Vakos was nearly automatic from anything under 50 yards, going 21/24, and 49/50 on extra points.
Road games at San Diego State and FAU prove to be tough tests, and the Bobcats handle Iowa State at home. But once the conference slate opens up, Ohio avoids Toledo and EMU while playing the five lowest-rated MAC teams. I project them for 7.1 wins thanks to the sixth-easiest schedule nationally.
MAC Odds: The Contenders
Just 10 starters are back for Buffalo and promising DC Brandon Bailey left for Georgia Southern (the youngest coordinator in the FBS). Regardless, Buffalo projects to be a contender in the MAC East thanks to a solid defensive unit and experience at QB. Cole Snyder (3,030 yards, 18 TDs) returns for his junior season along with the Bulls’ top three rushers. Up front, three more starters return, but the offensive unit only needs to be serviceable or average for Buffalo to win games.
Defensively is where this team shines. They return safety Marcus Fuqua, a legitimate All American candidate who picked off seven passes last year, tied for the most in the country. Leading tackler Shaun Dolac (147 tackles, seven PBU) also returns at linebacker after earning first team All-MAC honors last season. Five players in the projected front six are rising seniors and three of five starters in the secondary are juniors. This is an experienced group that, at its best, will be one of the MAC’s top defenses.
Buffalo came out of the gate last season 0-3 with an average score of 35-22, including allowing 37 to Holy Cross (FCS). They won their next five straight with an average score of 36-19. The Bulls then finished the season losing three of four by an average score of 32-25, including almost dropping bowl eligibility in a 23-22 slap fight with Akron. The two sides of the football just couldn’t come together.
With more experience throughout the roster, Buffalo should be in a better position to secure bowl eligibility. In the current MAC East, bowl eligibility puts you in contention to win the division.
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Before Chris Creighton arrived in Ypsilanti in 2014, Eastern Michigan had a .305 program win percentage. They existed at the bottom of the FBS and managed one single bowl berth since 1975. Removing his first two seasons, Creighton has led EMU to a .538 win record, five bowls, and developed five NFL Draft picks – equivalent to the previous 17 years of EMU football. Buried in the shadow of Ann Arbor, Creighton has done one of the best coaching jobs in the entire FBS.
However, the Eagles remain the one MAC team not to have made Detroit since 2015 and the only MAC program without a championship appearance. Coming off a 9-4 record (its second-best ever), Eastern Michigan might be in a position to punch their first ticket to Detroit. All-MAC running back Samson Evans (1,166 yards, 15 TDs) returns as the primary offensive threat. He’ll run behind three new starters on the offensive line and alongside a new face at quarterback. Sophomore Austin Smith is the likely starter.
Like Toledo and Buffalo, EMU hangs their hat on their defense. Despite losing Jose Ramirez along the defensive front, the Eagles have one of the better defensive units in the conference. Six of their back seven return, including all three starting linebackers, and seven of the top eight tacklers from a year ago. EMU made a defensive adjustment last year, substituting a corner for a safety in their 4-2-5 build, and their points allowed dropped from 39 to 24 over their final nine games.
Eastern plays the second-easiest schedule in the MAC. Their non-conference slate includes Howard, at Minnesota, UMass, and at Jacksonville State. In league play, they avoid Ohio and Miami and reasonably could be competing for the MAC West until the final bell. I project them for 6.9 wins on the year, but that could run higher given their favorable non-conference slate. If you’re looking beyond favorites in MAC odds, the schedule makes EMU a consideration.
Miami (OH) Redhawks
When Miami can keep their starting quarterback healthy, they’re a dominant MAC team. Over the last five seasons, the Redhawks are 32-11 against MAC competition given their starting QB plays. Brett Gabbert didn’t play much last year, and Miami went just .500 in league play. Gabbert does return for his senior year, but he’s played just 16 total games since his freshman year (55% of games across three seasons). His durability should be a genuine concern heading into 2023.
Aveon Smith arose as the starter in Gabbert’s absence, but with Gabbert in and out of the lineup occasionally, Miami’s offense never got traction and finished 106th in points per drive. They lost games 24-20, 17-13, and 16-10 – all winnable should the offense have had any sort of kick to it at all. The Redhawks return their top two rushers and two of their top three receivers, save for All-MAC selection Mac Hippenhammer.
Fortunately, 16 total starters return for Miami, nine of which come on defense. That unit should again be strong coming off a top-40 mark in points per drive allowed. Linebacker Matthew Salopek notched 124 tackles last season, second on the team.
Head coach Chuck Martin was the center of criticism during the Bahamas Bowl for his strong and public take against going for it on fourth down. Only four teams went for it on fourth down less than Miami last year in neutral situations (16.7%). According to Bill Connelly’s fourth-down profit metric, the Redhawks finished 105th nationally. They also finished 4-3 in one-score games – a record that’s likely improved on with a bit more aggression (15-20 in one-score games under Martin!).
Longshot To Consider IN MAC ODDS: Akron Zips
In terms of wins and losses, it didn’t get much worse than Akron last season. The Zips went 2-10 and, yet, were a bettor’s darling in the MAC East. That’s because they went 7-2 against the spread over their last nine games, including an outright upset of NIU as a +10 underdog and a near upset of Buffalo as a +11 underdog the following week. No individual statistic or metric really successfully defined Akron in 2022: fiesty.
QB DJ Irons showed versatility through the air (2,600 yards) and on the ground (314 yards) while his backup, Jeff Undercuffler, was the one who orchestrated near back-to-back wins. Fifteen starters return this season, including four of five offensive linemen. However, being projected favorites just once against FBS competition, Akron is likely too long a longshot in MAC odds to reasonably bet ().
That said, the market may still not be adjusted to the Zips. Aggregated preseason power ratings pin Akron as the fourth-worst team nationally, but also for 3.8 wins (slightly over their win total).
But what I’m looking to most do is back Akron against the spread this season, perhaps early on the schedule. Games at Temple, Indiana, and into MAC play may not be priced properly for this team that hung in games and should be able to do so again this year.
A MAC Team To Fade: Bowling Green Falcons
Bowling Green out-performed expectations in almost every sense of the word last year. Four of their six wins came as underdogs, including two as two-score underdogs (Marshall, Toledo). The Falcons also lost in seven overtimes to Eastern Kentucky and were blown out by Buffalo and Kent State by a combined 78-13 despite being a +2 underdog each time. It was a thrill ride for BGSU fans that ultimately culminated in a disappointing bowl loss to New Mexico State.
A majority of the top talent from last year’s team departs, particularly on defense. Karl Brooks was an NFL Draft selection and safety Jordan Anderson transferred to UCLA. Ultimately, four Falcons transferred up to Power Five teams. They did land former Missouri and Indiana QB Connor Bazelak in the portal and return dynamic receiver Odieu Hiliare. But just five defense starters return and Bowling Green plays the third-toughest MAC schedule.
BG projects to be a favorite against FBS competition just once (vs. Akron, around a field goal), with another PK on the road (at Kent State). But the Falcons don’t always abide by the point spread; since 2019, they have more outright upsets as a double-digit underdog (5) than wins as a favorite (4), and two losses as a double-digit favorite.
Barring a second-straight season of odds-defying trends, Bowling Green is set to go under their regular season win total.
Ball State Cardinals
Just when Ball State looked like it was completely gutted, it landed a pair of dynamic transfers: QB Layne Hatcher (Texas State) and All-MAC RB Marquez Cooper (Kent State). Past their opening two weeks at Kentucky and Georgia, Ball State has an exceedingly winnable schedule that handles both Toledo and Miami at home. The Cardinals roster one of the better offensive lines in the conference, led by All-MAC center Ethan Crowe. They also have a stout front seven that returns every starter. Thanks to a projected nine one-score games, Ball State’s projected wins fall to just 5.3. But with a lucky year in the turnover department, they could vastly exceed that projection.
Central Michigan Chippewas
Bert Emanuel Jr. is a dynamic athlete, but attempted just eight total passes last year and is listed second on CMU’s depth chart. Nine starters return on defense and the stock arrow is definitely pointing up for the Chips. However, they play the MAC’s second-toughest schedule and one that’s pound-for-pound more difficult than Ball State’s loaded OOC slate. They draw Ohio and Buffalo from the East and play three games at a rest disadvantage this season. Unfortunately for Jim McElwain’s crew, they may be in for fewer wins despite being a more talented team than some they’re going to finish behind.
Kent State Golden Flashes
Kent State returns the least production and fewest coaches of anyone in the country. Eight players transferred up to Power Five programs, including all three top receivers and their starting QB Colin Schlee, and All-MAC RB Marquez Cooper left for Ball State. A grand total of zero starters return on offense. Rising coordinator Matt Johnson will keep the offensive system from Sean Lewis more or less in place. The Golden Flashes don’t project to be favored against any FBS team, with their home date with Bowling Green being a PK. However, with four projected one-score games on their schedule, Kent State may not have to deal with a doom of a 0-12 season like many project. Expect this to be a rebuilding year for Kent State.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Injuries decimated what should have been a follow-up campaign to a 2021 MAC title for Thomas Hammock & Co. Without QB Rocky Lombardi, NIU struggled to find an ample replacement, falling to a 3-9 record. Fifteen total starters return, including Lombardi and all five offensive linemen – a unit that might be the best in the MAC and ranks 21st in the nation, per Phil Steele. Trayvon Rudolph missed all of last season with an ACL injury, but returns as a first team All-MAC performer. Offensively, NIU should bounce back nicely this year and, given their four one-score losses last year, should see marked improvement. The Huskies’ schedule is the fifth-easiest in the MAC despite pulling both top contenders (Toledo, Ohio).
Western Michigan Broncos
Western Michigan was ransacked by the transfer portal. They return the least production on defense (24%!) and lost two stars along the defensive line; just two starters return on the stop unit this year. With new management – Louisville OC Lance Taylor steps in as the head coach – this is going to be a rebuilding year for WMU. They did land Old Dominion QB Hayden Wolff, but the Broncos lost their best offensive players in 1,000-yard rusher Sean Tyler (Oklahoma State) and go-to receiver Corey Crooms (Minnesota). Every unit except for the offensive line and defensive backs rank 10th or worse in the MAC, per Phil Steele, and my projections call for just 4.1 wins.
Top Difference Makers To Know
Bert Emanuel Jr., QB, Central Michigan: Perhaps not the starter, Emanuel Jr. became a Wednesday night folk hero with his performance against Buffalo (294 rushing yards, 3 TD!!!). At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and with blazing speed, expect the rising sophomore to be worked into some sort of package. And if the season starts slow, perhaps he’ll assume lead QB duties. However, Emanuel Jr. attempted a total of eight passes last season.
Trayvon Rudolph, WR/KR, NIU: Rudolph missed all of last season with an ACL tear and NIU missed him dearly. He returns as an All-MAC selection and the Huskies hope to have a healthier roster. Rudolph dominates as a No. 1 receiver and in the return game. Expect NIU’s offense to improve greatly and for Rudolph to be a chief reason as to why.
Marcus Fuqua, SAF, Buffalo: Fuqua is a no-brainer all-conference selection, but he’s also generating legitimate All America consideration. The rising junior notched seven interceptions last year, tied for most in the nation, five more PBUs, and 65 tackles.
Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo: Nobody had more PBUs nationally than Mitchell (20!). He anchors Toledo’s stellar secondary – one that easily tops the MAC and ranks inside the top 20 nationally. This season, Mitchell may be in play for All America consideration should he repeat or even exceed last year’s production.
Coaching & Coordinator Changes In The MAC
Most Impactful Hires
Billy Cosh, OC, Western Michigan: Last year, Western lacked offensive prowess. They ran the 79th-paced offense (26.1 seconds per play) and had among the worst quarterback play in the country. As a result, they finished 119th in points per drive. Cosh comes in from Richmond and plans to implement a fast-paced air raid scheme. New QB Layne Hatcher will have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball, although to whom remains a mystery.
Matt Johnson, OC, Kent State: In this case, “impact” doesn’t equate “change.” Instead, Johnson retains Sean Lewis’ system that demanded Kent State run the sixth-fastest offense in the nation (dubbed “Flash Fast”). While this season is a clear rebuild for the Flashes, the former 5,000-yard passer might keep Kent State in games by scoring and running a hot tempo.
- Lance Taylor, HC, Western Michigan (Louisville OC)
- Kenni Burns, HC, Kent State (Minnesota AHC)
- Billy Fessler, OC, Akron (QBs)
- DJ Mangas, OC, Buffalo (UCF analyst)
- Robert Wright, DC, Buffalo (Duke analyst)
- David Duggan, DC, Kent State (Troy director of player personnel)
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