Chris Fowler (not that one) fills up a passing lane - USA TODAY Sports
The surprise of the season so far has been Central Michigan, who has a new coach and many new players that are playing well. With the 18th ranked strength of schedule (ESPN) in the country, they currently sit at 6-4.
While most teams have not yet completed the non-conference portion of their schedule yet, most will be finished soon. It's been sort of a down year in the MAC, as there hasn't been that many big wins. But, on the bright side, the bad losses have been minimized and the conference is solidifying itself as pretty high up on the mid-major food chain. Let's get into the report cards:
Gold Stars: Penn State (W), Middle Tennessee State (W)
See me after class: Detroit (L), Coastal Carolina (L)
Comments: Zips fans were told to #thinkbigger this season, and through nine games the team has failed to live up to the think bigger philosophy. Good wins against Middle Tennessee and Penn State help things out, but a bad loss in Detroit last week and the season opening loss to Coastal Carolina needed to be wins (and probably should have been). Save for the Creighton loss, you could say that Akron should have won all the other games they have lost this year. They had Oklahoma State in overtime before succumbing and had led much of the way in the Detroit and Coastal Carolina games. Akron's been beating themselves in these games, and they can't afford to do that during MAC. Cleveland State is up next on Friday, and after that a pu-pu platter of cupcakes including Texas Southern, Princeton and Coppin State close out this part of the schedule.
Ball State (5-5)
Gold Stars: South Dakota (2x) (W)
See me after class: Cleveland State (L)
Comments: Another ho-hum non-conference showing for the Cardinals. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat, and lost to those they should have lost to. A 20-point blowout loss to Indiana State and a 48 (!!!) point loss to then #1 Indiana aren't impressive at all. The one they should have won was at home against Cleveland State, when they were up 8 with eleven minutes left. The Vikings then dominated the last eight minutes and pulled away for a six point victory. Sweeping South Dakota was the only real positive thing about the season so far, as the Cardinals showed they could at least beat someone on the road. Winnable home games against IUPUI and Norfolk State round out the non-conference schedule.
Bowling Green (5-5)
Gold Stars: Detroit (W), Wright State (W), Michigan State (L)
See me after class: IUPUI (L)
Comments: Detroit and Wright State are both above-average Horizon League teams, and an eleven-point home loss to Michigan State is something to be proud of. I thought the Falcons would be one of the surprising teams in the MAC this year, but they aren't really helping out my prediction. A loss to IUPUI stings and a home loss to Youngstown State isn't ideal, but nothing screams "major issues" with this team. They weren't playing with the full complement of players in the beginning of the year, which probably contributed to their 1-3 start. Once Jordon Crawford and A'uston Calhoun get going, though, they should be a tough team to beat.
Gold Stars: Evansville (W)
See me after class: Temple (L), Yale (L), Princeton (L)
Comments: Before the season started, I noted that Buffalo had the toughest non-conference schedule in the MAC this year. Their 4-7 record reflects just how difficult life has been for the Bulls. After losing as many high-impact players as they did, it would make sense that it may take awhile for this team to jell. Losses to Ivies Princeton and a bad Yale team show the early struggles the Bulls went through. Plus, it took them 17 minutes to score 10 points against Temple, and they couldn't make it to 40. It was the lowest scoring output for Buffalo since 2002. They have a chance to bump up their grade tonight, when they face Washington State out in Seattle.
Central Michigan (6-4)
Gold Stars: Wright State (W), Pepperdine (W)
See me after class: None
Comments: How about some love for the Chips? I sure didn't think they'd be at 6-4 at this point in the year. After losing their best three players and head coach, I thought they would be in the 2011-2012 Northern Illinois 5-win territory. But, they've played well and have some quality wins. UNC-Greensboro transfer Kyle Randall has been instrumental in the Chips rise to semi-relevance. Keno Davis has his team beating inferior opponents and playing well against higher level teams. This team could make some noise in the MAC West this year.
Eastern Michigan (6-4)
Gold Stars: Purdue (W)
See me after class: Illinois-Chicago (L)
Comments: Props to the Eagles for pulling the Red Line Upset over Purdue in the ultimate Eastern Michigan style. Any win over a Big Ten team is a good one, no matter how bad they are (re: Akron over Penn State). They've beaten who they have supposed to, but the scoring is not there. The Eagles are averaging just 57.2 points per game, good for 300th in the nation. While 2 of their 3 losses have been blowouts, the 26 point loss at Illinois-Chicago is puzzling. UIC is pretty good this year, but Eastern should be able to hang with them. A huge game against Oakland will be the barometer for just how good this EMU team is, and oh yeah they still have to play at Kentucky.
Kent State (6-5)
Gold Stars: Nebraska (W), Youngstown State (W)
See me after class: Princeton (L), Bethune-Cookman (W)
Comments: What a weird Kent State team. They beat a supposedly good Drexel team at home to start off the season. The Flashes need a buzzer-beater to beat lowly Bethune-Cookman at home, then they take out Nebraska in Lincoln. Follow that up with losses to Princeton, Bucknell and Xavier and you have a very average team. Chris Evans is making his case for player of the year, but he needs some help.
Gold Stars: William & Mary (W)
See me after class: Evansville (L), IPFW (L)
Comments: So, we maybe should have seen this coming for the Redhawks. Losing do-it-all Julian Mavunga to graduation and legend coach Charlie Coles retiring will do that to you. The schedule hasn't been as hard as normal, but the loss of Bill Edwards to a season ending injury certainly hasn't helped matters. William & Mary will be a decent CAA team, but you can't lose by 26 at Evansville and to a 5-7 IPFW team. This will most likely be a rebuilding year in Oxford.
Northern Illinois (2-8)
Gold Stars: DePaul (L)
See me after class: Seattle (L), Nebraska-Omaha (L)
Comments: Not a lot to see here. This is still probably one of the worst teams in Division 1 even with a new cast of characters. Nebraska-Omaha isn't even eligible for postseason play yet, but they've beaten the Huskies the past two seasons. Seattle is also at the tail end of reclassifying, and they just smoked NIU by 27. One bright spot was only losing to DePaul by 5, but again, it's still a loss. But, did we expect anything different from them? I'm not giving them an F, because I expected them to be pretty bad. And they've met my expectations.
Gold Stars: St. Bonaventure (W), Richmond (W)
See me after class: Winthrop (L), Robert Morris (L), UMass (L)
Comments: The class of the MAC has been somewhat disappointing this season. No, I wasn't expecting a perfect season, but I never would have imagined the Bobcats losing their last 4 of 5. The loss to Winthrop is the most puzzling, but you can probably chalk that up to the Bobcats playing their worst game. Remember, Winthrop only lost to Ohio State by ten a couple days ago. Robert Morris and UMass are good teams, but if they want to be considered one of the best mid-majors, they have to win those road games. Beating St. Bonaventure and Richmond are quality wins, but Ohio needs a signature road win. They can do that December 29 at Oklahoma.
Gold Stars: Northern Iowa (L)
See me after class: Florida Gulf Coast (L)
Comments: Not exactly a banner season for the Rockets after many thought they'd be perched at the top of the MAC West. Granted, they've played a sneaky tough schedule featuring pretty good mid-majors. The Panthers are a perennial top team in the Missouri Valley and Toledo did well to take them to OT. Rian Pearson and Juice Brown have been their usual selves and freshman Nathan Boothe has been a pleasant surprise. Toledo's next contest is a home match-up with surprise team Illinois-Chicago. A win there may give them the boost they need going into conference play.
Western Michigan (7-4)
Gold Stars: South Florida (W), Loyola-Illinois (W)
See me after class: Cornell (L), Illinois State (L)
Comments: The Broncos have been impressive as ever, including a big win over South Florida in their place. The Cornell loss to open the season was regrettable, but after taking into account that seven newcomers were playing their first game as a Bronco it's not terrible. Illinois State is a good team, but losing by 22 isn't pretty. They've lost three of their last four, but the team is coming together at the right time. What they lack in experience they make up for in potential, and the athleticism on this team is off the charts. They just need to put it all together to make noise in the next couple months.