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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Is this a trick or a treat? You may still be recovering from a Halloween Hangover on this Tueday…making it hard to determine whether it's good news or bad news that ESPN's airwaves are about to be run over by Mid American Conference football this week and next.

In fact, there's a MAC game every day this week beginning TONIGHT with Northern Illinois at Toledo on ESPN2.

Tuesday: Northern Illinois at Toledo
Wednesday: Temple at Ohio
Thursday: Akron at Miami of Ohio
Friday: Central Michigan at Kent State
Saturday: Ball State at Eastern Michigan

Note that Bowling Green and Western Michigan have a bye this week, because they'll be involved NEXT Tuesday with Toledo and Northern Illinois respectively. The MAC plays every day but Friday next week too….so you'd better get ready to do some handicapping if you want to win TV games!

Is THIS the conference sports fans want invading their weeknight airwaves?! Of course not…but ESPN likes to have football programming, and there's no way a real conference is going to move off of Saturdays or Thursday Night's because stadium gates are so lucrative. The MAC doesn't draw that great anyway for home games, so they might as well turn their stadiums into glorified TV studios and make some extra money.

And, in all fairness, ESPN will be including some of the best games set for MAC action all season during this two week stretch. If you haven't been following the conference much, the schedule looks like alphabet soup. Be aware that:

*Toledo has impressed this year (you'll recall they almost beat Ohio State in Columbus), and is involved in quite a dogfight in the MAC West with Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. They host Northern tonight, and then Western next Tuesday. Those are likely to be the two most important games played this year in that division.

*Temple and Ohio are the two best teams in a very weak East Division. They play each other tomorrow night. Yes, ESPN may be kicking off with defacto divisional championship games! Good idea for the MAC to go big in their TV window…starting off with teams we're likely to see in the conference championship game in early December…and then in bowl games later on in the month.

So, the schedule may at least be more of a treat than you were originally thinking in terms of watching quality football. And, if you're watching football, you might as well be trying to win money too against the Vegas numbers. To help you do that, we've put together a conference breakdown to this point in the season. We've done this already in the Big East and ACC to help you with past TV handicapping. We'll try to squeeze in as many conferences as the schedule permit through the month of November.

Let's start in the West because Northern Illinois-Toledo from the West kicks off the festivities Tuesday Night. That's also the much superior conference…and it would be no fun to start off with a bunch of horrible teams! Here are the standings in the MAC East heading into the TV gauntlet.

Toledo 4-0
Eastern Michigan 3-1
Northern Illinois 3-1
Ball State 3-2
Western Michigan 3-2
Central Michigan 2-3

Toledo didn't have a breakthrough win outside of the league because they lost in overtime at Syracuse (in a screwjob) and just missed stunning the Buckeyes. But, they did crush “best in the East” Temple once MAC play began, and are hoping to send a message tonight against Northern Illinois.

Eastern has had a very friendly schedule so far…and is probably a pretender in that current listing. Saturday's home game against Ball State will at least temporarily launch an additional team into the nexus. We still believe Toledo's games this week and next week will be the true decision-makers about who rules this bunch.

Before looking at the stat rankings, let's note that the West is a combined 18-9 in MAC action. Since any games played within the West count as both a win and a loss, that means the West is PLUS NINE over the East in straight up wins. That gives you a sense of the divisional strengths right now. The West is just crushing the East. You see above that 2-3 is the worst record in the West, with everyone else over .500.

Remember that we use Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule rankings from USA Today in our conference (and bowl) breakdowns.

Toledo: 28th on offense, 45th on defense, 46th ranked schedule
Western Michigan: 42nd on offense, 86th on defense, 97th ranked schedule
Northern Illinois: 20th on offense, 98th on defense, 109th ranked schedule
Central Michigan: 62nd on offense, 80th on defense, 101st ranked schedule
Eastern Michigan: 100th on offense, 50th on defense, 108th ranked schedule
Ball State: 77th on offense, 116th on defense, 92nd ranked schedule

Toledo looks like this year's MAC power in those numbers. They scheduled tough outside of the conference (also losing to Boise State), and can make a semi-legitimate claim as a top 40 team based on those national rankings. Nobody else may be top 70 once you adjust for the very weak strengths of schedule. It will be interesting to see if Toledo can handle the pressure of being a frontrunner these next two weeks. Getting fired up as a non-conference is easy. Can you win when you're SUPPOSED to win?

You can see why we're not enthusiastic about the Eastern Michigan-Ball State winner becoming very relevant, regardless of what the current standings might suggest. Those teams really have to lift their games to compete with the likes of Toledo.

Moving to the weaker East…

Temple 3-2
Ohio 2-2
Miami of Ohio 2-2
Bowling Green 2-3
Kent State 1-3
Buffalo 1-4
Akron 0-4

That's 11-20 combined…even with a decent Temple team in the mix. Just horrible stuff for the most part in this group. And, because they play a round-robin with each other, they all take a big hit in strength of schedule. Keep that in mind as you run through the rankings.

Temple: 67th on offense, 5th on defense, 112th ranked schedule
Ohio: 24th on offense, 19th on defense, 139th ranked schedule
Miami of Ohio: 90th on offense, 48th on defense, 87th ranked schedule
Bowling Green: 59th on offense, 65th on defense, 95th ranked schedule
Kent State: 120th on offense, 33rd on defense, 68th ranked schedule
Buffalo: 83rd on offense, 75th on defense, 89th ranked schedule
Akron: 111th on offense, 84th on defense, 94th ranked schedule

Ohio looks dangerous until you see that they've played a bunch of teams that even cupcakes think are cupcakes. Kent State's defense is about the only single unit that deserves some compliments. They rank in the top 35 while playing roughly an average schedule for college teams. Too bad the Kent State defense is about as bad as one can imagine.

We strongly encourage you to write those rankings down in your handy schedules to create a quick stat matchup you can study on a nightly basis this week and next. The schedule's too dense for us to do that here in the NOTEBOOK. We did the hard work gathering up all the numbers. Just jotting down these numbers will probably help you do-it-yourselfers find a couple of gems.

Of course, the easiest way to win is to sign up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK! We will have game day releases going up online every afternoon a few hours before kickoff. That can get cost prohibitive though if you're trying to win every day. You get the most bang for your buck by signing up for a seasonal package. Prices are very affordable. Today's a great day to check out the offerings here at the website or by calling our office at 1-800-323-4453.

Look for MAC Moneymakers every night this week. Those will help build our bankroll for Saturday's SEC Showdown of the Year in LSU-Alabama. Don't forget that college basketball is a little more than a week away. That's why the MAC is jumping through this open window in the TV schedule!


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