I mean, it made sense at the time: More games, more chances to have teams go head-to-head, more clarity in the rankings. By this point, teams are entering the final third of their schedule, and we’ve probably seen enough results to split the teams up pretty easily, right?
Take, for example, the three-team logjam at the top of these rankings. Who should be first? It would be easy to pick the team ranked in the Top 25, except another team just beat a Top 25 squad. And neither of those teams are the squad I had first in the rankings last week. What’s more, who’s to say that team lurking at No. 4 isn’t really No. 1?
In fact, earlier today I asked fans to tell me who should be the top team in the rankings. I’m still chuckling at back-to-back Tweets that were nearly identical. One said, “Toledo, of course.” The other said, “Ohio, of course.” Well of course.
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 (7-1, 4-0) (LW #1): Surprised? Don’t be. The Huskies are doing more than just winning: They are winning convincingly, and they are winning consistently. There don’t seem to be fluctuations in performance, playing poorly against a bad team and well against a good team (hint, Toledo, hint). They are getting votes in the polls, so the voters obviously know who NIU is. The Huskies now need to keep it rolling as they play at WMU Saturday.
2. TOLEDO (7-1, 4-0) (LW #3): Last week I knock the Rockets down a peg when they were sloppy in wins over Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. But when UT plays well, the Rockets likely are the league’s best team. Last week I warned fans of Northern Illinois and Ohio that, if the Rockets pull off the upset and beat Cincinnati, UT would move up the charts. They did, and they have. Now the Rockets need to put together a solid performance against a lesser foe to start developing some consistency -- and perhaps reclaim the top spot.
2. OHIO (7-0, 3-0) (LW #2): I saw the Ohio football team move up the national rankings … even though it was “off” last week. Neat trick. However, the Bobcats are heading in the opposite direction in this poll, not because of what they did last Saturday (since they didn't play), but based on what one of the teams behind them in the poll managed to accomplish. This week OU faces Miami in a rivalry matchup, but the bigger tests are coming at the end of the season as Ohio hosts Bowling Green, then plays at Ball State and at Kent State to end the season.
4. KENT STATE (6-1, 4-0) (LW #4): Top three teams in the Power Rankings, take notice: If the Golden Flashes can post a win at Rutgers, well, prepare to add a fourth. KSU beat Western Michigan Saturday, but the Broncos did have some success despite still playing without their starting quarterback and forced the Flashes to score the game’s last 24 points to pull out the win. So I’m still not completely convinced. But I’m getting there, I must tell you. …
5. BALL STATE (5-3, 3-2) (LW #5): The Cardinals posted a solid road win over Central Michigan and continue to score points in bunches. This might be the MAC squad with the most balanced offense as QB Keith Wenning continues to play well while RB Jahwan Edwards gives punch to the running attack. The defense continues to give up points in bunches, though, and will need to tighten up if the Cards want to be successful in a three-game finish that will be challenging: at Toledo, home against Ohio and at Miami. This week I expect the Cardinals to fare well against Army.
6. BOWLING GREEN (5-3, 3-1) (LW #7): The Falcons have won four in a row, although the wins came against a quartet of teams (Rhode Island, Akron, Miami and UMass) that have combined for four wins this season. And three of those wins were by Miami -– and two came against Akron and UMass. What's more, the fifth win came against a team that just fired its coach (Idaho). But a win is a win, right? And the Falcons have certifiably played great defense in that span, with both the offense and special teams “inconsistent.” Dates with Ohio and Kent State loom on the horizon, although beating Eastern Michigan is the task at hand.
7. WESTERN MICHIGAN (3-5, 1-3) (LW #6): Yes, losing QB Alex Carder has proved to be a debilitating blow for the Broncos, who are 1-3 since he was injured. But this defense has enough pieces in place to be better than it has been, and I think the offense should have been good enough to combine with the defense to post at least one win through its recent gauntlet of Toledo, Ball State and Kent State. If Broncos fans want to complain, consider this: How do you feel about your team’s chances this week against Northern Illinois? If you don’t say “good” –- and I don’t blame you if you don’t –- well, then this is about the right spot for this team to be ranked.
8. MIAMI (3-4, 2-1) (LW #8): The RedHawks got a week off to prepare for their rivals from Ohio, and this is a must-win game if the RedHawks want to win the East or go bowling. Two losses in the East, especially when KSU and OU are unbeaten and BG has only one loss (not to mention a win at hand over Miami), make winning the division an uphill battle. But don’t be surprised if the week off allowed Miami to iron out some of the offensive kinks that had developed the previous two weeks.
9. BUFFALO (1-6, 0-3) (LW #9): The Bulls have been a victim of the schedule maker in recent weeks, losing five straight – including three MAC games to teams with a combined league record of 11-0. This week? Someone obviously has a wicked sense of humor, because it’s 4-0 Toledo. I suspect UB plays the New England Patriots the following week. And trying to handle that stretch without RB Brandon Oliver? Whew. I’ll repeat myself from a few weeks back: This probably is one of the best one-win teams in the country.
10. AKRON (1-7, 0-4) (LW #10): The Zips didn’t get much of a break from the schedule-maker, either, playing Ohio and Northern Illinois in back-to-back weeks. The game against the Huskies took a lot of the wind of the sails of the UA offense, which managed just seven points. Akron is about to enter a critical stretch with a winnable road game at Central Michigan, a rivalry game at Kent State and a winnable home game against UMass. Is a 2-1 record in that span too much to ask for?
11. EASTERN MICHIGAN (1-6, 0-3) (LW #12): Remember, I’m done making predictions about this team. After laying 47 on Toledo –- more points than the Eagles had scored in any TWO games previous –- EMU earns its first win of the season at Army last Saturday, scoring 48 more in the process. The defense has been giving up points in bunches, though, including 38 to the Black Knights. The next step is for EMU to keep scoring while tightening things up on defense, and that will be challenging with road games at Bowling Green and at Ohio the next two weeks.
12. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (2-5, 0-3) (LW #11): The Chippewas again struggle with turnovers and defense, although the nature of the turnovers probably lead to the defensive struggles. Yes, this team is young … but there are just too many turnovers, even for a young team. You’d have to think Dan Enos is coaching for his job at this point, with winnable games against Akron and Eastern Michigan bracketing a rivalry game against Western Michigan. And with a season-ending game at UMass, don’t the Chippewas have to win at least two more times? Or more?
13. MASSACHUSETTS (0-7, 0-4) (LW #13): Last week I wrote, “Will the combination of a difficult loss, an extra week to prepare and a home game help UMass claim that elusive first victory since joining the FBS ranks when Bowling Green comes to town Saturday?” The answer is No. The Minutemen really struggled on offense after showing glimpses of potential earlier this season. This is a building project, and the foundation is still being put in place.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!