“It’s always even in this league, it always is,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said.
Boy, I have never heard truer words, Coach. This is a midseason (a game late, sue me) roundup and power rankings for the Mid-American Conference, where success is a mirage and the race to play in bowl games lasts until at least Thanksgiving.
Ball State – 4-3 (3-0)
The Cardinals are one of the sneaky success stories from this season. Starting as predicted, 1-3 with losses to Indiana, FAU and NC State, they got back-to-back upsets at Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan. And then they decided to prove a point. Over the course of three hours on Saturday, October 19, they essentially launched the Toledo Rockets into space with a 52-14 hammering at home. Even with a tough schedule remaining (Ohio, WMU, CMU, Kent State and Miami), I have full confidence in this team to get bowl eligibility and book their tickets for Detroit in December.
Western Michigan – 4-4 (2-2)
With quarterback Jon Wassink healthy and back under center, Western Michigan looks like a legit contender this season. Starting 2-2 in non-conference play with losses to Michigan State and Syracuse, it beat CMU before falling to Toledo in the Glass Bowl. Blowing out Miami the week after may have dulled the pain of that loss, but another narrow loss this past week to Eastern Michigan put the Broncos clearly off the pace in the race for the West title.
Central Michigan – 5-3 (3-1)
While Ball State may be the sneaky surprise, the Chippewas are the Cinderella story of this season, and I like that. Predicted to finish dead last in the West, they started conference play with a comfortable win over Akron before playing Miami (FL) close in a five-point loss. A blowout upset over Eastern Michigan and a dominant performance against New Mexico State has put CMU in position to make a bowl game this season, though, and with another big win over BGSU behind them, the Chippewas should easily grab enough wins to make a bowl game and potentially represent the West come Championship Week.
Toledo – 4-3 (1-2)
Coming off a 7-6 season (5-3 in the MAC) and a Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl loss, the Toledo Rockets were expected to take the next step and advance to the MAC Championship game in 2019. Receiving 15 of 24 first-place votes in the MAC West preseason poll, they started well, following a loss to Kentucky by rolling off four straight wins, including an upset over BYU and a victory over the then-second in the West, Western Michigan. However, a loss in the Battle of I-75 to Bowling Green on Oct. 12 is threatening to be the beginning of the end, with their humiliation at the hands of the Cardinals last weekend being a seeming case of “looking backwards.” I fully expect the Rockets to recover, though. This offense is explosive enough that they should get, at minimum, three more wins.
Eastern Michigan – 4-3 (1-2)
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Eastern Michigan football is an interesting case. Projected to finish fourth in the East, the Eagles’ win over Coastal Carolina followed by a close loss to Kentucky was exactly how they expected to start the season. Then, they went to Champaign and upset Illinois, 34-31. That game was remarkable in and of itself (and gave EMU its third Big Ten win in three seasons, more than Illinois has in that time), but what was more remarkable is how the Eagles’ season has gone after that. A last-second miracle of a home win over FCS Central Connecticut State followed by a blowout loss to Central Michigan and a tight loss to Ball State? Not ideal. A great upset of Western Michigan at home has set them back on track, however, and they have the opportunities available to earn six wins and a bowl berth.
Northern Illinois – 2-5 (1-2)
NIU is, quite probably, the most unknown quantity in the MAC so far. Having gone 1-3 in non-conference play (with losses to Utah, Nebraska, and Vanderbilt), the Huskies started their conference schedule with a disappointing loss to Ball State before bouncing back and defeating Ohio in Athens on a late field goal. A loss at Miami has put them back in trouble and needing four more wins to make the postseason. The Huskies are in serious trouble of missing out on December play for the first time since 2016.
And now the East Division.
Ohio – 3-4 (2-1)
Hey boss! Do I have to talk about these guys? I don’t really want to… ugh, OK fine. I’ll do it. You better get me some Pulley’s after this.
The Bobcats were the consensus pick to top the MAC East, receiving all 24 votes in the preseason poll. So far, they haven’t looked like the world-beaters talked about at the start of the season. Close losses to Pittsburgh and Marshall followed by a blowout loss to Louisiana made for a rough time in non-conference play, and a one-point overtime win over Buffalo, thanks to a missed Bulls extra point and a heartbreaking loss to NIU, has undermined them as the team to fear in conference play. A tight win over Kent State proved they still have what it takes, but with Ball State, Miami and WMU still to play, they’ll need to play at the top of their ability to reach a bowl game or the MAC Championship.
Miami – 3-4 (2-1)
Miami football can currently be described as “achieving expectations.” Not surpassing, but achieving nonetheless. Blowout losses to Iowa, Cincinnati and Ohio State really didn’t show anything about this team, but a dominant performance in a home win over Buffalo showed what the RedHawks can do when they get hot. A loss to Western Michigan indicated some of the problems the RedHawks face, as freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert threw three interceptions in a performance marked by defensive pressure and little time in the pocket. After a gutsy home win over Northern Illinois, the RedHawks need three more wins if they want to play in December, and with Midweek MACtion play upcoming, there are no guarantees.
Kent State – 3-4 (2-1)
Kent State is the only team in the MAC giving NIU a run of their money for the “Most Unknown” title right now. Three losses to Power Five teams (including two top 10 teams) and a squeaky overtime win against FCS Kennesaw State marked Kent as the dead or dying of the MAC, but strong performances against Bowling Green and Akron proved that, while it still may fall, it isn't the worst. A tough loss to Ohio slowed the Golden Flashes’ momentum, and with MACtion nights coming up, they should have a tough time achieving their desired bowl eligibility.
Buffalo – 3-4 (1-2)
The Bulls were predicted to finish third in the preseason polls, but all signs point to them not living up to that. After getting upset by Liberty, Buffalo rattled off a 16-point win at Temple to give it hope of a strong season in MAC play. But the wheels seem to have fallen off, as the Bulls lost to Miami by 14 and in a heartbreaker against Ohio to start their MAC schedule. They can still get a few wins to bookend the season, but three wins seems like a tough ask, and Buffalo may come to regret those early-season losses.
Bowling Green – 2-5 (1-2)
I don’t know what Bowling Green is doing this season. Getting blown out in four straight games (two of them by 50+ points, including a 62-20 loss to Kent State) really didn’t help its cause of saying, “We’re not dead yet.” And then. AND THEN. They come out and beat their hated rival, Toledo, holding the second-best-in-the-MAC Rockets offense to just seven points. AND THEN, they get blown out by Central Michigan at home. They could go 1-4 to end the season. Or they could go 4-1. Who knows?
(It’s going to be the former.)
Akron – 0-7 (0-3)
I don’t have much good to say about these guys. I mean this in no uncertain terms or hyperbole, but the Akron Zips might just be the worst team in Division I-A college football right now. According to the Sagarin rankings, they wouldn’t be in the top 100 of Division I-AA football. And just to prove their quality – they played UMass, the only team trying to give them a run at their unwanted “glory” – and the Minutemen slapped them around for 60 minutes. I’d be surprised if this team doesn’t go 0-12. Sorry, Zips.
I’ve made predictions of dubious quality throughout this article. But knowing the MAC and following Chuck Martin’s words about its parity, all of them will be incorrect by Decembertime and I’ll have to apologize for making a fool of myself.