There were more than a couple of results that warranted further inspection Saturday. The one that earned national attention was Kent State’s victory at Rutgers, which I think pretty clearly is the league’s signature win this season since it came on the road and marked the highest-ranked team beaten by a MAC school in 2012.
The one that raised eyebrows around the league was Miami knocking off previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Ohio. The Bobcats have been reeling because of injuries for weeks, but that wasn’t the eyebrow-raiser for me: How about the RedHawks claiming a big win over an East Division rival, continuing to make that a FOUR team race?
Both Northern Illinois and Toledo faced challenges on the road Saturday, but both responded the same way: Both the Huskies and the Rockets put together terrific second-half efforts to remain unbeaten in MAC play and set up a winner-take-all showdown in DeKalb on Nov. 14.
Here is a look at the league’s 13 teams, presented in the order I would rank them at this point in the season. …
1. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (8-1, 5-0) (LW #1): Give a little credit to Western Michigan for giving the Huskies a challenge Saturday. But give a LOT of credit to NIU for handling the first-half challenge, firing a few first-half salvos of its own, then dominating the second half. This team’s defense isn’t getting enough credit for its performance so far this season, and the offense just keeps churning out points. Warning: Shield the eyes of young children Saturday when Northern hosts UMass, because that violence could be graphic.
2. TOLEDO (8-1, 5-0) (LW #2): Give a little credit to Buffalo for giving the Rockets a challenge Saturday. But give a LOT of credit to UT for handling that first-half challenge, firing a few first-half salvos of its own, then dominating the second (say, where have I heard that before?). The Rockets have an underappreciated runner in David Fluellen, and the defense – despite giving up lot of yardage – always seems to create turnovers, then convert them into points. But UT faces a couple of challenges, starting with Ball State at the Glass Bowl next Tuesday.
3. KENT STATE (7-1, 4-0) (LW #4): It was easy to slide the Golden Flashes into third following their impressive win at Rutgers. And I must admit, it was hard to resist the temptation to slide them even higher in this poll. KSU will need to be focused when facing Akron Saturday, although it should help that it is a rivalry game. And for those of us who looked past the contest at Miami the following Saturday … not so fast, my friends. But are the Flashes for real? Ask Rutgers.
4. OHIO (7-1, 3-1) (LW #3): So much for the “bigger” tests coming AFTER the Miami game. The Bobcats failed their test in Oxford, and things are about to get really tough for OU. I expect the Bobcats will post a win Thursday over Eastern Michigan, but the schedule gets much tougher quickly as Ohio finishes with Bowling Green (just six days after playing EMU), then plays at Ball State and at Kent State to end the season.
5. BALL STATE (6-3, 3-2) (LW #5): The Cardinals posted another solid road win over Army to become bowl-eligible. Things get harder right away for BSU, though, as their next contest comes against Toledo at the Glass Bowl next Tuesday, followed by a home game against Ohio and the season-ender at Miami. I was not a fan of their offense before the season began, but I have been convinced it is solid; I would like to see more from the Cards’ defense before solidly jumping on the bandwagon.
6. BOWLING GREEN (6-3, 4-1) (LW #6): The Falcons have won five in a row, and the victory over Eastern Michigan makes BG bowl-eligible. There are questions about the quality of the Falcons’ win in that span, although I would think Miami’s win over Ohio helped in that regard. The Falcons need a strong effort next Wednesday against Ohio, and Kent State looms on the horizon. Both of those are important not only to win the MAC East, but also to burnish the Falcons’ bowl resume.
7. MIAMI (4-4, 3-1) (LW #8): The RedHawks got a week off to prepare for the rivals from Ohio, and Miami certainly took advantage of that team to beat the Bobcats and keep alive their hopes to win the East and go bowling. The RedHawks need a strong effort at Buffalo to keep things rolling – and that won’t be as easy as it sounds – but it’s do-able, and it’s important if Miami wants to set up a huge contest against Kent State the following Saturday.
8. WESTERN MICHIGAN (3-6, 1-4) (LW #7): Let’s give the Broncos credit for a strong first-half effort against Northern Illinois, which shows what they are capable of even without QB Alex Carder. But the second half also showed the deficiencies of this team, especially from a defense that should be better. The schedule eases in the coming weeks, but rivalry games with Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan should have this team’s attention.
9. BUFFALO (1-7, 0-4) (LW #9): The Bulls have lost six in a row, but the four in league play came to teams with a combined 17-1 record in the MAC (Kent State, Ohio, Northern Illinois and Toledo). Things don’t get any easier this week with Miami coming to town and Western Michigan still to come (and Bowling Green as the season-ender). It helps that Brandon Oliver has returned to action, giving them a running game and a tool to control the clock and keep them in the game.
10. EASTERN MICHIGAN (1-7, 0-4) (LW #11): The defense struggled at Bowling Green last week, and Thursday brings a road trip to Ohio – another tough contest for a team whose last three league losses have come to teams with a combined league record of 13-1. It looks as if this team has figured out some things offensively, but the defense needs to buckle down as “Michigan” games against Central and Western, followed by a season-ended against Northern Illinois, are yet to be played.
11. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (3-5, 1-3) (LW #12): The Chippewas won a game they needed to win by beating Akron Saturday, but CMU needs to keep that momentum rolling against “Michigan” opponents in Western Michigan (this week) and Eastern Michigan (next week). Once the Chippewas cleaned up the turnovers, they were able to score 35 points and were much more productive offensively. Believe it or not, there are three possible wins still on the schedule – how many can CMU claim?
12. AKRON (1-8, 0-5) (LW #10): Last week I asked if a 2-1 record in the next three games was too much to ask for. Answer? Perhaps, since the Zips opened with a lopsided loss at Central Michigan. Akron has a chance to “make” its season this Saturday with a rivalry game with Kent State, and UMass follows, but two wins looks a little more grim, doesn’t it?
13. MASSACHUSETTS (0-8, 0-4) (LW #13): It almost seems unfair that this team now has to face Northern Illinois on the road after playing at Vanderbilt last week. Surviving that contest in one piece gives the Minutemen a chance in the following weeks, because games against Akron and Buffalo are coming up. Can UMass win either of those games? Yes. Will they? They will need to play better to have a chance.Agree? Disagree? Want to add to the discussion? Use the "Post a Comment" area below to voice your opinions. Keep it clean, keep it civil, and it will be all good. Join in NOW!