1. Toledo still has Buffalo and road games against Western Michigan and NIU left on the schedule. After a 3-3 start, are the defending conference champs a bowl team in 2018?
James Jimenez (@AVKingJames): Toledo *should* be okay to reach a bowl game so long as they win at least one of the three games listed above. I’m really excited to see this week’s game, as I think it’s a MAC Championship Game preview.
Steve Helwick (@s_helwick): Toledo’s offense possesses too much talent to miss out on bowl season. Mitchell Guadagni is one of the best at his position in the conference and he has a plethora of First Team All-MAC caliber wideouts. I actually projected a rough start for Toledo, but I think they’ll bounce back with wins over Kent State, Ball State, Central Michigan, and also, win at least one of the games against Northern Illinois or Western Michigan.
Jordan Rinard (@JordanRinard): Absolutely. None of the teams left on their schedule are infallible, and with the rock-solid quarterback play they’ve been getting, they have a chance in all of their games.
Dave Drury (@ddrury86): For sure they’re a bowl team! Even if they fall at Buffalo, NIU, and WMU they should be able to handle Kent State, Ball State, and CMU… and with as many bowl games as there are now, a 6-6 Toledo team (even though they’ll most likely have more than six wins) should snag a post-season game.
2. Sutton Smith (NIU), Mike Danna (Central Michigan), and Chuck Harris (Buffalo) have been dominating in the sack category with 7.0, 6.0, and 6.0, respectively. Is defensive line the best position group in the MAC, and if so, is any other position group’s caliber close?
Jimenez: They’re so dang good. All of them. I’ve been especially impressed with Danna, whose emergence has been particularly surprising. We always knew Smith and Harris were names to look out for, but Danna has been a big bright spot on an otherwise dreary season for the Chips. Perhaps linebacker and running back are the closest position group to the defensive line in terms of quality.
Helwick: The conference lost Joe Ostman and Anthony Winbush and still have a slew of elite defensive ends. Sutton Smith might be the best pass rusher in the country, and Mike Danna and Chuck Harris have been dominant sack masters as well this year. Don’t forget Eastern Michigan’s duo of Maxx Crosby and Jeremiah Harris either (5.5 combined sacks). In regards to the second best position group, I’ll go with the linebackers in a close second. Inside linebackers Khalil Hodge (Buffalo) and Malik Fountain (Central Michigan) are some of the best tacklers in the nation, and outside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III can do it all on Akron’s defense.
Rinard: Yes, the defensive line in this league has been stellar this season, especially so at the top. The only position group that might come close is linebacker with Khalil Hodge and Brad Koenig, but the defensive linemen have been on fire.
Drury: Those players can dominate games…but a lot of teams have great groups of linebackers too. As a Huskie fan, Antonio Jones-Davis is killing it and Kyle Pugh is really solid. Plus let’s not forget Malik Fountain (CMU), Brandon Harris (BGSU), Khalil Hodge (Buffalo), and the list goes on and on… I might say that LBs are deepest group in the MAC.
3. Mike Jinks now holds the title of first FBS coach fired this season. Was Bowling Green’s timing on the move right or should have the Falcons been more patient with the situation?
Jimenez: There’s a certain phrase my papa used to say before he passed away regarding making a tough decision. It amounts to “poop or get off the pot.” Bowling Green decided to poop. And while there may be questions about if it was proper timing or not, the way I see it is this: if they were going to do it at the end of the season anyway, what’s the harm in letting Jinks go now and extending the search timeline?
Helwick: The only issue Bowling Green might have with firing Jinks so early is repaying that buyout over $1 million (unless Jinks claims another coaching job before 2020, it will be reduced). It was clear the Falcons weren’t improving under him after regressing for the third-straight season, and he had already lost the trust of the boosters of the athletic department. There was no harm in pulling the plug on Jinks in October when it seemed destined to happen in late November anyway, after another dismal 1-6 start.
Rinard: Eh. Bowling Green wasn’t going to gain much by having Jinks hang around, but this year isn’t going to be salvageable even with Carl Pelini running the show. We’ll see what kind of names pop up as far as coaching rumors go, but the rest of 2018 looks bleak for the Falcons.
Drury: Might have been a little premature. I’m not saying let him finish his contract out but doing it halfway through the season just doesn’t seem necessary. The Falcons could have waited a little bit longer, even until the end of the season, before getting rid of Jinks. I mean, let’s be real, at 1-6, the season is already pretty much shot… might as well just play it out.
4. Northern Illinois is 4-0 in MAC play heading into the bye week. Could the Huskies actually be the best team in this conference and just victims of a challenging non-conference schedule?
Jimenez: I’ll put this in the plainest terms possible: NIU honestly doesn’t care about the out-of-conference slate. The goal is always “win the West and win the MAC.” So I don’t put a lot of stock in those results outside of “did they look competitive?”
Helwick: Northern Illinois only trailed a currently-ranked Iowa team 3-0 at halftime. The Huskies were a possession away from taking down a Utah team on the border of the AP Poll. But NIU has failed to look convincing in a single MAC game this season, winning all of them by just one possession (and yes, that includes games against Ball State and Central Michigan). The Huskies’ defense is elite but the offense, while improving, isn’t strong enough if this team wants to be the best team in the conference. NIU is solid and could win an open MAC West, but I’ll stick with Buffalo for top MAC team for now.
Rinard: They could very well be the best team in the MAC. With Sutton Smith, they’ll have an opportunity to win every game the rest of the way, and they can be dangerous if Childers can develop into an efficient passer.
Drury: I would love to say 1000% yes on this… but the Huskies have found ways to do JUST enough to get out of their conference games with a win. They certainly have one of the best defenses in the league and that has saved them every week but offensively, it’s hard to say NIU is the best when most teams have held them under 300 yards. So, while I will say that they are the best… I don’t know how much faith I actually have in that statement. We’ll find out next month.
5. Which team has made the greatest strides in the past several weeks: Miami-OH (started 0-3, now 3-4), Western Michigan (started 0-2, now 5-2), or Northern Illinois (started 1-3, now 4-3)?
Jimenez: I’m gonna go with Miami. They looked so sloppy and uninspired in the first three weeks, I was beginning to get concerned with whether or not Chuck Martin was going to be the first MAC coach fired. They’ve rebounded nicely (and very quietly) since then and have a clear shot at the MAC East now that Akron and Ohio are clearly struggling.
Helwick: That Miami (OH) team that lost 21-0 to Cincinnati and looked lifeless against Minnesota is long gone. The RedHawks have transformed once again, just like they did in 2016 when winning 6-straight to end the year. Miami nearly eked out a win over Western Michigan, but even in that loss, it was clear that Chuck Martin’s offense has been revitalized. In the last four games, the team scored 38, 39, 41, and 31 after scoring a combined three points in the two games prior. Miami is back, folks!
Rinard: Miami really is a sleeper team in this league. After looking completely lethargic in non-conference play, they are a few made kicks against Western Michigan from being 4-0 in MAC play. After this week’s matchup with Army, they’ve got showdowns with Buffalo, Ohio, and NIU on the horizon, so the goal of getting to Detroit is still on the table.
Drury: I try not to answer these with a bias… but I have to say NIU. The biggest reason is how their offense has grown over the past few weeks. They’ve gone from averaging just 220 yards to now putting up 370 and 400 yards in their past two contests. If the offense can keep finding ways to gain yardage, the Huskies will be a very tough team to face.
6. Bonus: Week 7 was the wildest week in college football, with four top 10 teams falling victim to upsets. Although no MAC teams can possibly be involved this year, who are the four teams in your current college football playoff prediction?
Jimenez: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame. The PAC-12 and Big 12 cannibalize themselves as always and Notre Dame goes undefeated to take that potential slot. Georgia loses to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game to end up at 2 losses and be left out, opening the door for undefeated Ohio State out of a weakened Big Ten.
Helwick: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame. It’ll be another boring set of four, predictable teams since the committee is adamant on preventing UCF from receiving a bid. Clemson and Notre Dame probably aren’t two of the best four teams in the country, but I don’t see either team losing two games given their upcoming schedules. We all know a one-loss Notre Dame team that doesn’t have to play in a conference championship is a lock because of the Irish brand. No. 5 and No. 6 in the final poll will be Florida (if the Gators beat Georgia) and Oklahoma (still think the Sooners win the Big 12).
Rinard: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, LSU. Bama and Ohio State boast two of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country this year (though the Buckeyes’ defense has been really inconsistent) and Clemson should roll through a weak ACC with a (hopefully) healthy Trevor Lawrence. LSU has been one of the biggest surprises this year in the Power 5, and a playoff matchup between former Athens Bulldog Joe Burrow and his former team Ohio State is awfully intriguing.
Drury: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, LSU. I hate that I have to have Alabama and Ohio State in there but they’ve both looked really good (ugh!). But I’m giving it to LSU over Notre Dame. Notre Dame is not a good team… I’ll say that again. NOTRE DAME IS NOT A GOOD TEAM! They barely beat Ball State, they barely beat Michigan, they barely beat Vanderbilt, they barely beat Pitt… yes, Stanford and VT are good teams but not playoff worthy wins. At least LSU has a hellacious conference schedule to navigate through. Then, my next two in are UCF and NC State… I know the Wolfpack aren’t that good of a team but I’m sick of the same four teams making it, so I say give them a chance!