MAC Football: Who Is King of the Hill?

Has Kent earned our top ranking? Or is it too soon to apply that tag? - Alex Trautwig

We take a look at what each of the top five teams in the MAC have done to justify being called the best in the conference thusfar, and whether they are likely to wind up there at season's end. We even let Matt talk about Bowling Green, since they're winning and stuff.

Kent State

The Best: They have Dri Archer in the backfield, who just might be the most explosive player in the MAC. No, he's not given the ball every play, but if he's on the field, you know who the defense is watching. Kent has outscored their opponents by over 15 points a game in their wins (17.5 aside from the close one over Ball State).

Their defense has been great as well, tightening up in the red zone and ranking 10th in the country in that area. Of course, when your team convincingly knocks out a top-15, previously undefeated BCS squad, you probably don't care about the numbers.

Not The Best: Their lone loss is also Kentucky's only win, and that's a team that has been manhandled by everyone else on their schedule. The game was on the road, and Kentucky plays in the SEC, so take that as you will. In the end, though, their remaining schedule may be what prevents them from claiming the MAC title in this dream season.

How They Can Seal It: They have the inside track to the conference championship game, thanks to Miami's win over Ohio, though both of those teams are tough and still loom ahead for Kent. The Ohio game will decide the division winner, assuming both run the table the rest of the way. As long as Dri Archer stays healthy and the defense keeps playing at their current level, they will be booking a trip to Detroit in December. --Mike Paquette

Toledo

The Best: Toledo is also a one loss team, but their loss came week one in overtime against a very good Arizona team (they just knocked off #9 USC). They've since ripped off eight straight wins, including a slugfest with then #18 Cincinnati.

The offense has been great this season; they are scoring over 36 points per game since the loss, including two 50+ point performances. As long as Toledo keeps putting points on the board, no one should be surprised seeing them in the Championship game.

Not The Best:Toledo's defense has a little more "bend don't break" philosophy than the other teams on this list. They've let up almost 27 points a game and currently rank 107th in the country in total defense - this includes a five-point win over EMU, whom they let score 47 points. If Toledo can't control the scoring of their opponents, such as upcoming NIU, they are going to let one slip away.

How Can They Seal It: Toledo is tied with NIU atop the MAC West, and it looks like their matchup against Norther Illinois in a couple weeks will again decide the division champ. Though NIU has the easier schedule moving forward, Toledo could still make the title game with a loss to either Ball State or Akron, as long as they take down the Huskies on the 14th. Given how they've played to this point, that looks more than possible. --MP

Northern Illinois

The Best: The Huskies have been monsters on both sides of the ball. Jordan Lynch has been as good as if not better than Chandler Harnish - the kid is second nationally in rushing yards, for crying out loud. They have won eight in a row and have not been held under 30 points in that span. They also, over those eight games, have outscored their opponents 79-19 in the fourth quarter, showing themselves to be strong closers.

Not The Best: Their defense has shown flaws, as last week was the second time this season they also surrendered 30+ points. That fourth quarter dominance has been necessary to pull away or, in the case of the Kansas game earlier this season, to erase a mistake-prone deficit.

Their schedule is a little stronger than Ohio’s right now, but there’s no real signature win unless a) they beat Toledo or b) Ball State finishes strong rather than regressing to the mean.

How They Can Seal It: The Huskies have an explosive offense, and their defense has shut down the teams they should, so remaining games against UMass and EMU should pose little challenge. However, that same defense has shown little sign that this year’s game against Toledo won’t be another shootout, and all bets are off there - assuming no losses happen beforehand, I might feel O.K. considering the NIU-Toledo winner "best in conference." --Doctor Geeves

OHIO

The Best: Up until about four days ago, the Bobcats were the only undefeated team left in the conference. That has to count for something. Beau Blankenship has slowed a bit, but is still 10th nationally in rushing yardage. OHIO also has the second best pass defense in the conference.

Not the Best: This is a much easier case to make. The Bobcats beat a Penn State team that looks better every week, but their other six wins are against opponents with a combined record of 8-42. Blankenship might be tenth nationally, but he's only third in his own conference. If this team surrenders one more TD per game, they're 4-4 and we aren't even having this discussion.

How They Can Seal It: The Bobcats are certainly a very good team, and last week exhibited a small shift from playing just well enough to win towards playing just poorly enough to lose. The offense isn't dominant, nor is the defense.

They need to use this game against Eastern Michigan to re-establish their foothold atop the conference heading into a (relative) murderer’s row against Ball State, Kent State, and Bowling Green. -- DG

[Ed's note: BOWLING GREEN

The Best: Defense, defense defense. They gave up 33 points in five games, with the most coming against Miami (12). Chris Jones, whose 11½ sacks is tied for the most in the country, is en route to being the runaway MAC Defensive Player of the Year, and as an interior lineman they've had to double team him routinely.

They lead the MAC in total sacks (25) and points allowed (15.2 per game) and are in the top three in tackles for loss, interceptions. Their offensive line is also playing well, keeping them in the top five in the MAC in sacks allowed and rushing yards per attempt — the latter also being a testament to their running back depth, since reigning Freshman of the Year Anthon Samuel has been dinged up yet again.

The Worst: Most of the offense, actually. The Falcons passer rating is ranked 105th nationally and 11th in the MAC. With just 11 passing touchdowns — one by a running back — they have half as many as Akron in that regard. The wide receivers, thought to be a red flag on this team, have been that way. Also, um ... their field goal situation. The main issue is they, how do you say, don't kick them very well.

How They Can Seal It: It's pretty simple: beat Ohio, beat Kent State, don't blow it against Buffalo. They will catch the Bobcats on their third game in 12 days, albeit at Peden Stadium. The defense must continue to be relentless, and at this point I'm not seeing the offense start to become a 30-point-a-night laser show, so if they remain sound on offense, put up about 21 points and limit the turnovers, they could have the inside track to the MAC championship.]

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