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Ye Olde Roundtable: Buy or Sell 4-2 Western Michigan?

Our panel of writers dive into the MAC game of the week, the dominance of Akron CB Alvin Davis, and more!

James H, Jimenez

1. Toledo and Ohio are both 3-2, still holding perfect 1-0 marks in the conference. Which team is in better shape to make a MAC title run right now, and which one has been more underwhelming?

James Jimenez (@AVKingJames): Toledo is in better shape and always has been. I had misgivings prior to the start of the season about whether or not Ohio could bring all that talent together and healthy and they have laid quite a few stinkers this season. Even with Mitchell Guadagni down with a head injury, the Rockets are so stacked in the skill positions it doesn’t matter almost.

Steve Helwick (@s_helwick): Buffalo is in control of the MAC East and Ohio has looked anything but great through five games this year, so I’m starting to have high doubts about the Bobcats ending up in Detroit this December. Ohio stood just 90 seconds away from losing to Kent State. Meanwhile, Toledo’s MAC West seems as wide open as ever, and when Mitch Guadagni is healthy, the Rockets’ offense can be lethal. Also, Rockets’ toughest two games in Miami (FL) and Fresno State are well behind them, while Ohio seems to play to its level of opponent each game.

Dave Drury (@ddrury86): I would say Toledo has the better chance right now. Ohio has looked meh in their wins and barely beat a struggling Kent State team. The Rockets, on the other hand, have looked much more solid in their wins and their two losses were to very good teams. Plus, this week is a huge game for the Bobcats as they have to travel to DeKalb to take on the Huskies who are (somehow) sitting pretty at 3-0 in MAC play.

Jordan Rinard (@JordanRinard): Toledo’s in better shape because of quarterback play and a relatively down year for the rest of the MAC West.

2. Remember that mini-Kent State hype train we had rolling when the Golden Flashes were 1-1, narrowly losing at Illinois and blowing away an FCS team? Now at 1-5, is this indeed the same old Kent State team?

Jimenez: I think it was a previous roundtable where I said that the Flashes were going to have to go through a few growing pains. That’s largely proven to be true thus far. You have to learn how to compete before you learn how to win (ask EMU about that) and I think, long-term, the Flashes will be just fine.

Helwick: Record-wise, it’s going to be the same Kent State team, finishing with 2-4 wins. But the on-field product is much improved. Remember, Kent State kept things interesting with Penn State in the first half and actually were within striking distance of Ole Miss in the fourth quarter. With Woody Barrett at QB and Sean Lewis on the sidelines, we’re already seeing a culture change at Kent State. I’m not saying this is team is going to annually compete for MAC titles in the near future, but I’ll point to P.J. Fleck’s 1-11 season in his first year in 2014. It was clear Western Michigan was going to be on the upswing after that, and I think Kent State could head in a similar direction after this struggle in 2018.

Drury: Yes, it certainly seems like Kent State has reverted back to their old ways. Sure, they almost knocked off Ohio — the favorite in the East — but they also got whomped on by Ball State and have yet to beat an FBS team this season. It sure seems like the Flashes have fizzled out.

Rinard: Kent State has shown some signs of being a good football team but the defense has let them down in a lot of games. They’ve given up over 500 yards of offense per game and the second-most touchdowns in the MAC with 31, so they need to find an identity on that side of the ball.

3. Western Michigan is quietly 4-2 with a very winnable game vs. Bowling Green looming on the schedule? Who do you credit the most for the Broncos’ improvement from last year?

Jimenez: HOT TAKE: the Broncos aren’t actually good. They’ve played extremely undisciplined football up to this point and have luckboxed into at least one win (vs. Miami) if not more. The offense has looked about the same as last year with a few new pieces, so not much has changed there. I don’t trust that defense right now, though, especially in the Red zone and on the goal line. I think WMU has taken advantage of opponent mistakes and a bit of a soft schedule. Their two big wins were Georgia State and Delaware State, who combined are 2-10. The other two wins were by six combined points. Let’s slow down on the Broncos for at least a couple weeks.

Helwick: Western Michigan will be 5-2, barring a disaster this weekend at Bowling Green. Yes, the scheduled has simplified for the Broncos, but we’re seeing major strides in the offense. Jon Wassink is a completely different QB than he was before in the injury last year. He’s exhibiting accuracy and getting more comfortable on deeper passes. The wide receivers, D’Wayne Eskridge and Jayden Reed, evolved from average wideouts to the cream of the crop in the MAC. LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan is the best running back tandem in the conference. Sure, the defense isn’t stellar, but Western Michigan is SO MUCH better than last year.

Drury: Tell ya what…I might have to agree with James here. I don’t think WMU is as good as their record shows. They were barely able to sneak by the RedHawks (who aren’t much of a threat this season) and the Eagles (but everyone seems to do that when they play EMU) and only had solid wins against an FCS school and Georgia State. I need to see more from them in the coming weeks before I can call them improved from last year.

Rinard: Jon Wassink has been really good this season as he leads the MAC in passing yardage with 1,658 to go with his 14 TDs. The passing game has been really explosive and serves as a nice complement to Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy on the ground.

4. What is the most compelling game on the Week 7 MAC slate and why?

Jimenez: Ohio vs. NIU, easy. This was the runaway preseason selection for the MACCG, which I thought was a tad silly. Both these teams, have had a, uh, bumpy road to get to this point. NIU seems to have gotten the best of it, jumping to a 2-0 MAC record with a few early wins. Ohio, meanwhile, worry about the health of many of their best players, including Nathan Rourke and AJ Ouelette as they try to go to 2-0. This could very well be the difference in both teams’ divisional chances.

Helwick: It’s Northern Illinois and Ohio. NIU is 3-3 but with three very quality losses (Iowa, Utah, Florida State) that even the College Football Playoff committee would dearly appreciate. Ohio is a pedestrian 3-2. Both teams are undefeated in MAC play and control their own destinies to Detroit. I’m curious to see if NIU’s offense (hasn’t scored above 26) finally wakes up and can compete with Nathan Rourke (assuming he plays despite shoulder injury) and the Bobcats’ offense (hasn't scored below 27). Or will this be a lower scoring affair with Sutton Smith and the NIU defense imposing their will in the Ohio backfield? Endless possibilities in DeKalb this Saturday.

Drury: No question here – NIU/Ohio. This could easily be an early preview of the MAC Championship game. The winner of this controls their destiny going forward as the Huskies could get to 4-0 with a win while an early MAC loss for Ohio could be detrimental later on.

Rinard: Akron at Buffalo has huge MAC East implications on Saturday. The Zips were battling with Miami until they imploded in the fourth quarter, so they’re still a very capable team. If UB comes out flat against Akron, it can open up opportunities for almost everybody in the division to take the mantle.

5. Alvin Davis recorded his fourth interception of the season last week in his fourth game. Do you think the Akron cornerback can garner enough recognition for All-American status?

Jimenez: We had Alvin as a top 25 player in the MAC in the preseason and frankly, we underrated him. There’s no question he should get looks for both the All-American list and the award for best corner, especially if he keeps up this pace.

Helwick: If you’re a Group of Five cornerback looking for an All-American status, there’s one simple solution to garnering All-American votes: lead the nation in interceptions. Just ask former Northern Illinois cornerback Shawun Lurry, who led the FBS with nine interceptions and 273 interception return yards in 2015. Davis leads both of those categories now with four interceptions and 149 return yards — and he’s only played in four games, while most of the country has played in five or six! Since he’s not in a Power Five conference, his easiest passageway to All-American status is maintaining his position on the top of the leaderboards.

Drury: Sadly I do not. Not a consensus or First Team All-American anyways. DBs in the MAC just don’t get that kind of recognition. Look at Shawun Lurry’s sophomore campaign at NIU. He led the nation in picks and return yardage and still wasn’t able to get more than Second Team status. I just don’t see it happening.

Rinard: If he can sustain his production throughout the whole season, he will absolutely be a consideration for All-American. However, it is hard to get interceptions on a consistent basis as offenses start to gameplan for him, so we’ll see if he can keep it up.

6. Bonus: Outside of the MAC, FIU is piecing together a nice 3-2 season, featuring a handful of decent wins and a close loss at Miami (FL). Their starting QB, benched Bowling Green QB turned transfer James Morgan, ranks 11th nationally in passer rating and has thrown 12 touchdowns on 108 attempts. What does Morgan’s sudden emergence after leaving Bowling Green say about the Falcons?

Jimenez: Honestly, all it means is that Mike Jinks wanted his own guy in. The QB is a natural extension of the head coach, especially is that HC has an offensive background. It would make sense that Jinks wanted a QB in Doege he 1) had more control over in scholarship years, 2) recruited and 3) already had a connection with. And it’s not like he made a bad choice. Doege and Morgan have had comparable numbers so far this season. The problem with BGSU extends far beyond one transfer QB.

Helwick: Jarret Doege’s a solid quarterback, and the position isn’t Bowling Green’s main problem. Blocking, defense, defense, and defense seem to be the Falcons major issues. But the fact that James Morgan has already thrown 12 touchdowns (9 last year) and has spiked his completion percentage from about 45% to 60%, it’s clear that Butch Davis spent plenty of time working with him and adjusting the former Falcon to FIU’s offense. Also, I think it’s easier to play quarterback when your defense exudes competence.

Drury: Once again I agree with James here. It says more about Jinks than it does about Morgan. Seems like it was just the head coach’s decision more than anything to do with how he played. Just like the former Huskie QB Daniel Santacaterina… who’s doing pretty well at his new school too.

Rinard: It says that Bowling Green is pretty good at evaluating quarterbacks. We could see that Morgan was pretty talented when he was with the Falcons, but Doege is second in the league with 15 touchdowns and third with 1,485 passing yards so it’s not like he’s a scrub. If their defense was better and BGSU had more wins, we’d be talking about how good Doege is.