This conference has too much parity at the moment.
Throw Buffalo, Ohio, Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo in a round-robin bracket, and no team escapes unscathed. Each of the top five teams in the MAC has looked like the best team in the conference at times, while fitting the role of a 4-8-caliber team at other times.
Buffalo’s 52-17 walloping, courtesy of Ohio, really shook up the Bulls’ nearly perfect season. Lance Leipold’s team looked completely outmatched and his typically stellar offense only recorded two touchdowns in the beatdown. Ohio’s lopsided victory comes just one week after Miami (OH) upended the Bobcats in the Battle of the Bricks, leading by as many as 21 points at the break.
That same Miami team has yet to qualify for bowl eligibility thanks to a disastrous 0-3 start, but the RedHawks stormed into DeKalb and knocked off the West’s top dog Northern Illinois — without even scoring an offensive touchdown. That makes two perfect conference records that were destroyed this weekend.
Finally, Western Michigan lost to a slumping Ball State team, extending the Broncos’ losing streak to three after a 6-game winning streak midseason. On Saturday, Akron — the same Akron that beat current AP #20 Northwestern on the road — lost 21-6 to Bowling Green at home.
Heading into the week, there were three matchups where the win disparity between the teams was three games. The team with the three fewer wins (Ball State, Ohio, Miami) triumphed each time. Bowling Green’s upset over Akron was shocking, given all the Falcons have gone through this season, and Toledo provided us the only really predictable result of the week by silencing Kent State on Thursday night.
Parity is at an all-time high in the conference, for this decade.
Ohio retains its 2017 identity
What are you, Ohio?
The Bobcats finally entered a season with through-the-roof expectations. Pegged the preseason MAC favorites at media day in August, a 12-0 record seemed like a realistic expectation for Frank Solich’s team and his explosive offense.
Instead, Ohio stumbled out of the gate and required a comeback to beat FCS foe Howard on Week 1. Then, the Bobcats dropped out-of-conference games to Cincinnati and Virginia — both of which turned out to be better teams than expected. In conference play, the inconsistency has only been magnified.
The Bobcats lost their first MAC game in DeKalb thanks to a Northern Illinois fourth quarter comeback effort. Just one week before, Ohio had to stage a comeback of its own to avoid a devastating defeat at Kent State. But, Ohio then regained its mojo by winning its next three games by a combined 118 points.
With three-straight dominations under their belt, the Bobcats looked poised to challenge Buffalo for the MAC East crown, but Ohio collapsed in Oxford against Miami, falling 30-28 after a late safety secured a RedHawks win. Then, Ohio defeats 9-1 Buffalo, 52-17, in one of the year’s most shocking blowouts to improve to 7-4.
There are so many parallels from this year to last year with this Ohio team. At many moments last year, the Bobcats looked like the strongest team in the conference. They gobbled up the eventual conference champion Toledo, 38-10, in primetime MACtion, which is eerily similar to their shellacking of Buffalo last Wednesday night. But, Ohio still loses the games to middling opponents, like it did against last November against Buffalo. And because of that, the team is a Buffalo win over Bowling Green away from its 50th-straight year without a MAC title.
It’s gotten ugly in Akron
Akron fans will remember the 2018 season by what transpired on the night of September 15 at Ryan Field. The Zips leaped over Northwestern in Evanston thanks to three defensive touchdowns and an all-time performance by cornerback Alvin Davis. Since, Northwestern has risen to #20 in the AP Poll, won seven Big Ten contests, and called Lucas Oil Stadium for a Big Ten Championship reservation on December 1.
And Akron has done the exact opposite. Despite knocking off their toughest competition of the year, the Zips are 2-6 with three-straight losses. None of Akron’s six defeats have been by single-digits either. But the reigning MAC East champs hit rock bottom Saturday when they lost by 15 points to Bowling Green in InfoCision Stadium — and Akron didn't score a single touchdown on arguably a bottom-five defense in college football.
The Falcons have improved on that front since defensive coordinator Carl Pelini assumed head coaching duties. Bowling Green is on a mini two-game win streak, holding its last two opponents to a combined 19 points.
But still, with Kato Nelson returning from injury, this game should have been a breeze for Akron, considering the Zips downed Northwestern and lost at Iowa State by a respectable margin. Instead, barring two miracle wins against Ohio and South Carolina, Akron will find itself watching bowl season from afar for the 24th time in 27 seasons as a member of the MAC.
Northern Illinois’ offense is a serious issue
Northern Illinois scored seven points at BYU on October 28, and won the football game, 7-6.
It’s been that kind of season for Rod Carey’s Huskies, who have scored more than three touchdowns in just two games this year. Wednesday night’s loss to Miami was NIU’s first non-Power 5 loss of 2018, ruining a 6-0 MAC record.
Worst of all, Northern Illinois didn’t give up a single touchdown. If it weren’t for a third quarter pick-six by Miami cornerback Ja’don Rucker-Furlow, the Huskies could have claimed a 7-6 victory for the second time this season. Their defense has been dominant for a majority of the season, as the unit exhibited in its MAC West-clinching effort against Toledo two weeks ago. This seemed destined to occur after the team’s 16-7 loss to Utah back on Week 2. Any semblance of an offense could have upset the Utes that game, but racking up first downs and landing in the end zone are struggles for NIU.
Following the pick-six, NIU forced six Miami punts, including five three-and-outs. On the flip side, Northern Illinois only had one possession of more than four plays after its go-ahead Marcus Jones rushing touchdown in the early second half. The team failed to cross the 50-yard line on each of its last six possessions, often resorting to a recurring handful of play calls that weren’t working. The Huskies averaged nearly an entire yard more on runs (5.7) than passes (4.8).
The defense has shown it can compete with teams of Utah’s caliber, but the offense will need to finally regroup and deliver a performance of a lifetime to ensure a victory over the MAC East champion (likely Buffalo) on November 30.