Tramel: The MAC & Pac-12 will spice up college football
The storied conference with all kinds of tradition, great coaches and great players and great rivalries, finally kicks off its season this week, with a six-game conference schedule and a heralded television spectacle.
In other college football news, the Pac-12 is starting, too.
Wait, you thought I was talking about the Pac-12? Uh, no. The Pac-12 is great, but I’m talking the MAC. Mid-American Conference.
And the MAC is giving us a November treat. It’s doubling down on its relatively-new tradition of scattered games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in November. The MAC kicks off Wednesday night with six games, all 12 league teams, and four of them will be televised on cable: Buffalo-Northern Illinois at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, Ohio-Central Michigan at 6 p.m. on ESPN, Ball State-Miami/Ohio at 6 p.m. CBS Sports Network and Toledo-Bowling Green at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
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Eastern Michigan-Kent State and Western Michigan-Akron will be played Wednesday night but will be streamed by ESPN.
Next week, all six MAC games will be televised on cable -- three on Tuesday night, three on Wednesday night.
The week after that, same. Three MAC games televised Tuesday night, three Wednesday night.
Only on Thanksgiving week does the MAC revert to a traditional schedule, and for the two weeks after.
But for three weeks, the MAC gives us Tuesday night and Wednesday night football.
I know Buffalo-Northern Illinois doesn’t grab you like Ohio State-Penn State, but I can always find a reason to be interested in any college football game. So I’ll flip channels Wednesday night and become quite the expert on the MAC.
The Pac-12 starts also, but not until Saturday, including the crazy Southern Cal-Arizona State game, which is Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff, which is 11 a.m. here in Middle America and 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, where the Trojans and Sun Devils play in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The advent of the Pac-12 gives us a more robust Saturday schedule. Without the Pac-12, college football Saturday night winds down about 10 p.m., except for stragglers like the OU-Texas Tech game, which played out the string of the Sooners’ 62-28 rout.
But at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, we’ve got Washington State-Oregon State (Fox Sports1) and Washington-California (ESPN).
Plus Oregon-Stanford at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC, Arizona-Utah at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2 and Colorado-UCLA at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2. None are games of the century, but all add to the fabric of a college football Saturday, and frankly, without the Big Ten (which has been up and running for two weeks) and the Pac-12, the buffet was a little bare.
Not so now. And we even get Wednesday night football to kick off the week.
Let’s get to the predictions.
Oklahoma State at Kansas State: Cowboys 27-20. Since the 1980s, OSU has won just twice in Manhattan, a 43-37 nail-biter in 2016 and 24-14 in 2010. And we’re now in the ‘20s.
Kansas at Oklahoma: Sooners 66-7. KU is the only Big 12 school without a win over OU since the Bob Stoops Renaissance began.
West Virginia at Texas: Longhorns 31-21. UT is 4-4 against the Mountaineers during the Big 12 era but just 1-3 at home.
Baylor at Iowa State: Cyclones 41-16. Man, the Bears are struggling. They clearly look like the ninth-place team in the league.
Texas Tech at TCU: Horned Frogs 30-17. TCU’s schedule was front-loaded. The Frogs should be ready to pile up the wins.
Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville: Gators 24-23. Can the Bulldogs score enough to win? They managed just 14 points at Kentucky.
Tennessee at Arkansas: Volunteers 21-20. The Razorbacks are better than we thought, Tennessee worse than we thought. Which should make for a good one in the Ozarks.
Texas A&M at South Carolina: Aggies 33-17. The Gamecocks never have won in six series games against their designated annual crossover rival.
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State: Bulldogs 23-13. The Mike Leach Era opened with a 44-34 upset of LSU. Since then, Mississippi State has scored 30 points total in four defeats. But Vandy is a tonic for anything.
Clemson at Notre Dame: Tigers 26-24. With no Trevor Lawrence, this is a golden-dome opportunity for the Fighting Irish. But Clemson is a proud program and might just win with backup quarterback D.J Uiagalilei.
Pittsburgh at Florida State: Panthers 25-21. Pitt is perpetually mediocre. The Seminoles are a mess. This time, let’s go with mediocre.
Louisville at Virginia: Cavaliers 30-20. Virginia is 2-4 but got a little bit of a raw deal. Of the ACC’s massive pack of so-so teams, the Cavaliers have drawn some of the better ones -- North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest.
Miami at North Carolina State: Hurricanes 32-28. Do you realize Miami could nudge Notre Dame for the No. 2 seed in the ACC? If the Hurricanes win out and finish 9-1 in the conference, and Notre Dame loses to Clemson and otherwise wins out to finish 9-1 in the conference, they go to a tiebreaker. Having not played each other, it would come down to how they fared against teams in descending order. If Miami played the No. 4 seed and Notre Dame didn’t, the Hurricanes make the ACC Championship Game. At least that’s the way I read the league bylaws.
North Carolina at Duke: Tar Heels 32-21. UNC just isn’t as good as we thought, but the Tar Heels could be in the running for that No. 4 seed, along with N.C. State, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
Boston College at Syracuse: Eagles 31-17. The road team has won straight in this series of the Northeast precinct of the ACC.
Liberty at Virginia Tech: Hokies 28-24. One of the most intriguing games of the day. The 6-0 Flames are ranked 25th in the AP poll. They have beaten Syracuse and get North Carolina State later.
Michigan at Indiana: Wolverines 38-30. What an horrendous loss for Michigan against Michigan State last week, losing to the team that lost to Rutgers.
Nebraska at Northwestern: Wildcats 27-24. With Wisconsin’s COVID troubles, Northwestern could become the favorite in the Big Ten West.
Michigan State at Iowa: Hawkeyes 23-20. Few coaches need a win more than does Kirk Ferentz. His Hawkeyes are 0-2 after a summer of racial turmoil.
Maryland at Penn State: Nittany Lions 34-20. Terrapin quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was impressive in an overtime victory over Minnesota, but the Nittany Lions are ready for win No. 1.
Minnesota at Illinois: Gophers 44-17. Minnesota won 11 games last season but is off to an 0-2 start.
Rutgers at Ohio State: Buckeyes 51-14. Greg Schiano already is working his magic in Piscataway, but magic goes only so far in Columbus.
Washington State at Oregon State: Cougars 34-21. It’s hard to gauge the Pac-12 in a normal year. It’s even harder to gauge the Pac-12 in a pandemic year. It’s impossible to gauge the Pac-12’s Pacific Northwest State schools in a pandemic year.
Arizona State at Southern Cal: Trojans 30-24. Herm Edwards is 7-6 and 8-5 in his first two Sun Devil seasons, so perhaps he’s building something. We’ll see Saturday.
Arizona at Utah: Utes 29-17. Utah has had to sit at home on weekends, watching hated rival Brigham Young make a lot of noise. Now it’s the Utes’ turn.
Washington at California: Huskies 41-17. Cal coach Justin Wilcox has done a nice job rebuilding the Golden Bears; he’s 20-18 in three seasons. A win over UW would be a huge boost.
UCLA at Colorado: Bruins 34-23. CU coach Karl Dorrell makes his Buffaloes debut against the school that fired him as head coach in 2007.
Stanford at Oregon: Ducks 31-20. Oregon is a big favorite to win the Pac-12, but will a maximum of seven games be enough to get even an undefeated Ducks team into the College Football Playoff?
Tulsa at Navy: Golden Hurricane 30-21. Against East Carolina, TU got a gift from the American Conference officiating crew and remains tied atop the league with Cincinnati.
Houston at Cincinnati: Bearcats 33-17. Cincinnati routed Memphis and now seems capable of going unbeaten, which would give the playoff committee something to think about.
SMU at Temple: Mustangs 45-14. A breather for SMU; the woeful Owls are 1-3, with only a two-point victory over lowly South Florida.
South Florida at Memphis: Tigers 45-10. How did USF fall so far? The Bulls were quite competitive for a long time.
Tulane at East Carolina: Pirates 28-26. ECU was good in Tulsa. Can the Pirates keep it up?
Air Force at Army: Black Knights 24-17. The Cadets are 6-1. Too bad their game against Brigham Young was canceled. An Army-BYU game would be fascinating.
Brigham Young at Boise State: Broncos 27-26. A major showdown. BYU could finish unbeaten if it gets past Boise State. The 7-0 Cougars finish with North Alabama and San Diego State.
Utah State at Nevada: Aggies 37-27. Jay Norvell’s Nevada team is 2-0, but getting past Utah State won’t be easy.
Wyoming at Colorado State: Cowboys 19-17. Underrated rivalry. It’s 64 miles from Laramie, Wyoming, to Fort Collins, Colorado.
San Jose State at San Diego State: Aztecs 28-20. The Spartans, with just two winning seasons since 2000, are 2-0, but the Aztecs figure to be too tough.
Fresno State at Nevada-Las Vegas: Bulldogs 30-19. The Mountain West doesn’t have divisions this season, so the West Coast teams don’t have an easy path to the conference title game.
New Mexico at Hawaii: Rainbow Warriors 25-15. Two universities in locales that have had some of the toughest pandemic restrictions.
Arkansas State at Louisiana-Lafayette: Ragin’ Cajuns 34-24. Within a few minutes of each other on September 12, these Sun Belt teams took down Kansas State (ASU) and Iowa State (ULL). But only Louisiana-Lafayette has built upon that success. The Red Wolves are 3-4 overall.
Troy at Georgia Southern: Eagles 27-22. Georgia Southern played tough against both Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Louisiana-Monroe at Georgia State: Panthers 31-7. The Warhawks are one of only five winless teams in major-college football, minimum three games, joining Kansas, Florida International, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
Appalachian State at Texas State: Mountaineers 45-31. We’ve sort of slept on Appalachian State since it lost to Marshall, but the Thundering Herd is unbeaten, and the Mountaineers haven’t lost since.
South Alabama at Coastal Carolina: Chanticleers 47-17. Coastal keeps rolling. But Appalachian State and Liberty await.
Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic: Owls 28-27. FAU, after finally getting to open the season on October 3, is 2-1 and played Marshall tough.
Massachusetts at Marshall: Thundering Herd 38-0. A mismatch of OU-Kansas proportions.
Louisiana Tech at North Texas: Bulldogs 41-40. Seth Littrell’s Mean Green can score but has trouble stopping opponents.
Texas-San Antonio at Rice: Roadrunners 35-25. The Owls have been competitive after waiting six weeks to open their season. But UTSA has been more seasoned.
Charlotte at Middle Tennessee: 49ers 27-20. Charlotte has played five games and had three others canceled or postponed. That’s a packed schedule.
Florida International at Texas-El Paso: Miners 31-28. Not the greatest matchup in the history of college football, and the Golden Panthers get to fly 1,643 miles for the pleasure. If you want to drive, it’s 1,931 miles. And they’re in the same conference.
Eastern Michigan at Kent State: Flames 26-17. Kent State hasn’t won the MAC since 1972, when the Flames were coached by Don James, who two years later got the Washington job.
Western Michigan at Akron: Broncos 41-21. The MAC is a compact conference. It’s 281 miles from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Akron, Ohio, and you drive near a few other conference schools to get there.
Buffalo at Northern Illinois: Huskies 36-32. This is the MAC’s longest trip. DeKalb, Illinois, to Buffalo is 594 miles.
Ohio U. at Central Michigan: Bobcats 27-24. There is something comforting about college football when you remember Frank Solich still coaches the Ohio Bobcats. Solich was in Bob Devaney’s first Nebraska recruiting class 58 years ago, ran for over 200 yards against Air Force in 1965, spent 19 years as a Tom Osborne assistant and then became a head coach. Six years at Nebraska, where his record of 58-19 produced a winning percentage of .753 -- the Huskers are 122-85 since, a winning percentage of .589. Now in his 16th year at Ohio, Solich is 113-81.
Ball State at Miami-Ohio: RedHawks 18-14. Miami is the defending Mid-American champion.
Bowling Green at Toledo: Rockets 32-17. These Ohio schools have played every season starting with 1962, and Toledo leads the series 30-27-1.
Last week: 29-14. Season: 175-69.