- Between the Sun Belt’s top teams and a month-long marathon of #MACtion, Tuesdays and Wednesdays offer some of the best treats of the season's second half.
It’s October, which means we get the chance to appreciate fall weather, the MLB playoffs, the start of a new NBA season (or NHL, if you’re into that) and most importantly, the return of midweek football, courtesy of your favorite Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt Conference teams looking for primetime national exposure. Every week but one from now until season’s end includes at least one FBS game scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday.
The craziness starts on Tuesday when Appalachian State takes on Arkansas State (8 p.m., ESPN2) in a clash of two Sun Belt contenders. In recent years the Sun Belt has broken the seal on the season’s pre-Thursday action with several October standalone games and leaned into the #FunBelt moniker bestowed upon it by citizens of the Internet. The league is also reaping the rewards of partnering with ESPN, inking an eight-year deal in March that gave the network exclusive multimedia rights to the conference’s sports.
With due respect to the Sun Belt’s legwork, the MAC has perfected the packaging of midweek football. #MACtion has been a staple of diehard college football fans’ enjoyment of the sport for most of the last decade, but under a 13-year deal with ESPN that was finalized in 2014, the league received an infusion of cash and exposure that incentivized it to double down on quirky scheduling. After making news in ’17 for not playing a single Saturday game in November, the MAC has only four Saturday games scheduled for the final month of the regular season.
The teams that participate get a chance to play in front of a national audience, fans get a chance to see shootouts between teams that are far from technically flawless—the MAC and the Sun Belt feature eight of the 20 worst defenses in college football by yards allowed—and ESPN gets to fill precious weeknight inventory. Everybody wins.
There’s something in the midweek schedule for everyone, but here are the three most intriguing non-Saturday games coming up.
Oct. 9: Appalachian State at Arkansas State
Reason to watch: This could be a preview of the conference’s inaugural title game. Remember, Appalachian State took Penn State to overtime in Week 1 and averages 524 yards of offense and nearly 52 points a game. Arkansas State, the only team in the Sun Belt’s West division currently above .500, is no pushover either and features quarterback Justice Hansen, the league’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year. Hansen’s dual-threat capabilities could give the Mountaineers’ defense some issues.
Oct. 25: Troy at South Alabama
Reason to watch: The Jaguars are competing for the title of the worst team in the country, at 1–5 with a lone win over Texas State. (Keep in mind, though, that a one-win South Alabama team did stun Troy last season The entertainment value here is all about Troy and head coach Neal Brown, who should end up on the shortlists of Power 5 athletic directors looking to hire new coaches this winter. Brown’s biggest problem moving forward will keeping his offense humming after losing starting quarterback Kaleb Barker for the season after he suffered a torn ACL in last week’s win against Georgia State.
Nov. 14: Buffalo at Ohio
Reason to watch: Buffalo’s 6'7”, 245-pound quarterback Tyree Jackson has already started to generate some NFL draft buzz because of his size and rocket arm. The raw talent to become one of the nation’s best quarterbacks is there, and while Jackson is only completing 58% of his passes midway through his junior year, he does have 17 touchdowns for a dangerous Bulls team. The running ability that he showed off during his freshman season has fallen by the wayside, as he has only attempted six rushes in the first six games of the year. Jackson has a chance to lift the Bulls to their first MAC title since 2008.