Preseason SP+: Toledo top MAC team and defense, EMU top offense

The preseason SP+ ratings done by Bill Connelly of ESPN have come out eariler this week, so let’s look at the numbers really quickly.

If you’re unfamiliar with SP+, then here’s the gist of it. It’s a projection rating system that takes a lot of things into account: recent history, recent recruiting, and returning production.

SP+ is my opponent- and tempo-adjusted look at the most sustainable and predictive aspects of college football. It is intended to be predictive and forward-facing; it is a power ranking, not a résumé ranking that gives credit for big wins or brave scheduling.

(Bill Connelly, ESPN)

If you want to learn a little bit more, read Connelly’s post (from SB Nation, 2017) to explain his system.

SP+ is a reference point that I turn to a lot over the course of the season, and I’ll do my part to keep you updated on the new projections every week when they come out. I’ve filtered things to focus solely on the Mid-American Conference. The ranking show their national placements in FBS, so Toledo is the No. 1 team in the MAC by SP+ but 66th nationally.

Click here to see ESPN’s full preseason SP+ ratings.


TeamOverall (national) rankRating
Western Michigan721.8
Ball State86-1.3
Central Michigan90-2.0
Eastern Michigan100-5.8
Kent State103-6.8
Northern Illinois116-12.0
Bowling Green126-20.1


TeamOff. rankOff. Rating
Eastern Michigan3933.7
Western Michigan4432.8
Kent State4932
Ball State6229.8
Central Michigan8726.6
Northern Illinois12118.2
Bowling Green12813.3


TeamDef. rankDef. Rating
Central Michigan8828.6
Northern Illinois9730.2
Western Michigan9931
Ball State10031.1
Bowling Green11233.5
Kent State12438.8
Eastern Michigan12539.6


  • The MAC leads the country in returning production. In his post, Connelly notes that the MAC leads all FBS conferences with 83.1% returning production. The extra year of eligibility in response to the 2020 pandemic has helped out just about every FBS team (it’s also really fun to just say ‘super senior’ all the time), and MAC teams are no different. The math here is also influenced by each MAC team only playing between 3-6 regular season games last year too. Still, expect an improved quality of football this year with the extreme circumstances.
  • EMU leads the MAC in offensive SP+ heading into the 2021 season. If you look at the more traditional, straight-lined stats from last year’s team, you’ll see that EMU was 9th in the conference in yards per play (5.75), 7th in scoring (33.2 points/game), 7th in passing average (8.3 yards/att.), last in rushing average (3.4 yards/carry), and tied with Toledo for the league-worst 12 turnovers. EMU landed nationally in returning offensive production, so this stat truly is influenced by the lack of turnover on its roster.
  • BGSU slightly higher on defense than I might’ve expected. The team’s still fourth-from-last and has a lot of potential to get run over again, but starting out at 112th but 12 positions higher than MAC East favorite Kent State is still pretty neat content.
  • Wow, Kent State really is bad on defense. I’m looking to see if one of its many transfers-in on defense make noticeable differences on the field. Even without Jaret Patterson still in the league, Kent State can still get bulldozed against the run if it’s not prepared to stop a hungry offense.
  • I think Miami is a team that is actually a lot better than what SP+ projects. Right now the RedHawks are in the bottom-half of the league for overall and offensive SP+, and defensively only fifth. I can mentally not buy a lot of stock into how the RedHawks defense played last year, and I don’t think losing CB Manny Rugamba will be too detrimental to the team’s success this year. The offense isn’t exactly what Chuck Martin’s known for, but I really like a lot of pieces that are still in place on that side of the ball, especially since a lot of the returners there were key players for their 2019 championship run (QB Brett Gabbert, RB Jaylon Bester, WR Jack Sorenson, etc.)

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