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90 Days Until Kansas Football: What if Kansas were in the MAC?

The first article in a series attempting to examine how well KU Football would fare in other conferences. What if: Kansas were in the MAC?

Eastern Michigan v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

One of the ideas floated out by the commentariat at RCT was a series on “what if KU were in X conference?” That seemed like a good idea, although honestly I’m not sure how to flesh it out.

Throughout the summer, I will take a look at several different conferences, and as to whether or not future editions of “What If” will look like this article or not will be based on the responses to this one, and probably how I feel in general on that day. So strap in, cuz I’m flying by the seat of my pants here; I have no idea where this article is going or where it will end up.

We’ll kick off the series by looking at the Mid-American Conference, aka the MAC.

My first thought it to take a look at some advanced stat rankings over the past couple of years and see how KU ranks compared to their “new” conference foes. There are several to choose from, but we’ll go with F+, which (correct me if I’m wrong) is some sort of a combination of FEI and S&P+.

I assume (ok fine, I hope) that these numbers also take into account strength of schedule, because obviously comparing KU’s 2017 schedule directly with, say, Ball State’s, is something I won’t be doing here.

We’ll look at the last five years, but the rest of this piece will focus on 2017 since it’s the most recent and relevant data.

Kansas in the MAC

School 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
School 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
KANSAS 123 108 127 99 101
Akron 114 104 84 105 108
Ball State 125 91 110 91 57
Bowling Green 108 111 25 98 47
Buffalo 64 127 98 114 80
Central Michigan 77 100 67 85 111
Eastern Michigan 65 82 122 128 124
Kent State 124 107 109 107 106
Miami OH 69 86 113 103 123
Northern Illinois 53 76 66 69 60
Ohio 33 74 69 106 104
Toledo 39 33 20 59 62
Western Michigan 70 24 51 56 117

First of all, the job Chris Creighton (pictured) has done at Eastern Michigan since arriving there in 2014 is incredible. That guy needs to be a top-5 candidate to replace David Beaty.

Ok, so now let’s break down the table a little bit. (Note: F+ rankings in parentheses.)

By the numbers, in 2017 Kansas (123) would have been the third-worst team in the MAC, ahead of only Kent State (124) and Ball State (125). We already know that CMU (77) and Ohio (33) both waxed Kansas (123) head-to-head last year - and CMU did that in Lawrence. The only teams worse than CMU were BGSU (108), Akron (114), and the aforementioned Kent (124) and Ball (125).

You have to assume KU would have lost (probably fairly handily) to every other team except those four. Akron, BGSU, and Kent are all in the East Division, so if KU was in the West, they may not get to play all four teams. Even if KU got to play all four of them, which would be toss-up games by the numbers, and somehow managed to win all four games, the Jayhawks would still have had just five wins in 2017 - not enough to qualify for a bowl.

That said, it’s also probably more likely that KU upsets one of the higher ranked teams if the game were in Lawrence. I would have to think that if Buffalo (64), EMU (65), Miami (69), or WMU (70) were to have an off night, the Jayhawks would have an easier time of knocking them off than, say, Texas Tech (51) or West Virginia (62). But then again, we saw first-hand how well KU played Baylor (97) at home last year.

Other head-to-head data on the table to note:

2016: (77) Ohio 37 @ (108) Kansas 21

2014: (85) Central Michigan 10 @ (99) Kansas 24

Not on the table but still possibly relevant:

2012: (85) Kansas 23 @ (40) Northern Illinois 30

2011: (42) Northern Illinois 42 @ (106) Kansas 45

Obviously, games aren’t played on paper, but all the numbers indicate that while KU wouldn’t necessarily be the cellar-dweller they are in the Big 12, they still could be. Regardless, they would rank in the bottom half of the MAC and would still have struggled for bowl eligibility over the past five seasons.

Conversely, it’s also likely that they would win more than one or two games per year. However, that difference isn’t enough for KU to be a bowl team any more often than they are now, and that makes me sad.