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Ye Olde Roundtable: NIU or WMU a bigger concern?

Hustle Belt staff talks Kent State’s improvement and the concerns of several 0-2 MAC teams.

James H, Jimenez

Through two weeks of college football, it’s been quite a disappointing season for the MAC. The conference has registered just two FBS wins, although both victories occurred on the road against Power 6 opponents. Several of the conference’s perennial bowl participants are struggling with 0-2 starts.

Conference play kicks off in Week 3 with matchups between disappointing 0-2 teams (Northern Illinois and Central Michigan) and up-and-coming 2-0 teams (Buffalo and Eastern Michigan). Members of the Hustle Belt staff discuss some of the conference’s burning topics heading into the third week of action.

Two weeks in, we have yet to see solid performances by the Northern Illinois offense (scoring 6.5 PPG) or the Western Michigan defense (allowing 52 PPG). Which unit is more concerning right now?

James Jimenez (@AVKingJames): The NIU offense. This has been a problem for the last several years under Rod Carey and there doesn’t seem to be a readily available solution at the moment. The offensive line has been all right, but there seems to be an issue in chemistry between Marcus Childers and the receivers. The running game has also been effectively stuffed and the playcalling extremely predictable. There will be plenty to look at prior to their game vs. CMU.

Steve Helwick (@s_helwick): Western Michigan’s defense has been absolutely horrendous through two games, but it seems that the unit will have a game to experiment with new defensive play-calling and make necessary improvements when a bad FCS team in Delaware State comes to town. Meanwhile, NIU gets no easy games for experimenting thanks to a tough out-of-conference schedule. The Huskies’ defense put NIU in position to beat both Iowa (3-0 at halftime) and Utah, but the offense’s inability to avoid three-and-outs and make intelligent play-calling decisions is extremely concerning.

James Snyder (@morefball): The NIU offense. They looked terrible against Utah.

Dave Drury (@ddrury86): The NIU offense is the biggest concern. The Huskies can’t seem to get anything going in the second half and, when they do move the ball, it’s only for 20-30 yards and they still can’t could be a looong season.

Jordan Rinard (@JordanRinard): NIU’s offense is more concerning right now. You have to rack up points to win in this league.

Kent State nearly knocked off Illinois for its first-ever Big Ten win and then destroyed Howard, an FCS team that nearly upset Ohio. With two data points, what are your expectations of year one of the Sean Lewis era in Kent?

Jimenez: My expectations are that growing pains will happen in the next two weeks and then they’ll start to develop quickly in the conference season. This offense looks completely rejuvenated under Lewis and the defense has been fairly solid thanks to much of Haynes’ recruiting at that side of the ball (which was his best aspect even if the stats didn’t necessarily show it). A 4-8 or 5-7 season is not unreasonable at this juncture.

Helwick: Kent State typically struggles with FCS opponents, so Saturday’s performance against Howard was very satisfying. It was evident against Illinois that the Golden Flashes would be unveiling a new brand of offense this year, one that favors the pass more than Paul Haynes’ style. Auburn transfer quarterback Woody Barrett III already looks like one of the most talented passers in the conference, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he is able to squeak out four or five wins — which is worth celebrating after all Kent State has gone through.

Snyder: I see a much improved team, especially on offense. Their tempo is good, and the play at quarterback will allow them to win some games. Stopping the run still might be an issue.

Drury: Kent State has looked really solid this year. I think they’ll still struggle against some MAC squads and lose a game or two that they should have won, but I would say a 5-7 or 6-6 record looks really plausible.

Rinard: Kent State has looked really, really good the last two weeks. All they needed to be successful in the past few years was productivity on offense and now they have it. They’re going to be a tough out in the East.

Will there be a bigger upset by a MAC team this year than Eastern Michigan edging out Purdue on the road (spread was Purdue -16.0)?

Jimenez: Gonna go ahead and say no. About the only one which could be as impressive is Toledo upsetting a flailing Miami (FL) at the Glass Bowl, and that’s, uh, quite the demand.

Helwick: I’d love to say Northern Illinois can upset Florida State, but the Seminoles can’t possibly keep playing this poorly. If Miami plays the way it did against LSU, Toledo could surge past them in the Glass Bowl, but we haven’t seen the Rockets play a real team yet. So I think Eastern Michigan continues to hold the title for most impressive MAC victory this year.

Snyder: Toledo has a chance to knock off Miami in the Glass Bowl.

Drury: Sadly probably not. But Toledo can keep it close against Miami and they way FSU is playing...if the Huskies can fix their offense in the next two weeks...who knows what could happen there. Fingers crossed.

Rinard: No.

Chuck Martin’s two greatest struggles have been winning one possession games (5-18) and beating Cincinnati (0-5). So far, both have happened in 2018. Will Saturday’s 21-0 shutout versus the Bearcats seal his fate, or could Miami quickly regroup?

Jimenez: I’ve gone on record multiple times both here and other outlets as saying this is Chuck Martin’s make or break season. These stats only really show his ineffective leadership aspects. Miami has consistently been winning the recruiting battles over the last five years but that talent has done next to nothing since arriving in Oxford of note and Martin’s pretty questionable situational game calling has hamstringed any potential this team has.

Helwick: Going into the season, I thought Miami would rebound from 5-7 and qualify for bowl season. Marshall and Cincinnati looked like winnable games back in August, but the RedHawks inability to establish a rushing game or avoid incompletions hasn’t looked promising. A 21-0 shutout against Cincinnati is not a good look for Martin, who now sits at a dreary 0-5 against his team’s most hated rival. The RedHawks should win some games in the MAC East, but this start to 2018 probably swings them out of bowl season and possibly marks the end of the Chuck Martin era.

Snyder: They made a bowl game after starting 0-6 so it’s still a little early to be throwing in the towel.

Drury: Miami should be able to rebound some. The weather played a large effect on the poor showing for the RedHawks against Cincy. As for the one possession games, Miami will eventually find a way to get on the winning side.

Rinard: Their goal of winning the MAC East is still on the table, but if they lose to Bowling Green at home to start 0-4, it might be the end. Martin’s recent extension makes this decision really tricky.

Central Michigan stooped to a new low on Saturday. Kansas won its first road game in nine years by beating the brakes off of the Chippewas, 31-7. Just one week after the Jayhawks lost to an FCS team, how concerning is this loss to Central Michigan?

Jimenez: This loss is extremely concerning. Blame injuries and departures all you want, but considering how great the returning defense is and how much faith the coaching staff has shown in the young guns at key offensive positions, the results have been less than ideal. Tony Poljan has looked shaky in two starts, while Jonathan Ward has been limited to under 50 yards in both games. The introduction of more run-pass option looks has made it difficult as well, as Poljan consistently makes bad reads or does a bad job of selling the fake. CMU should be 1-1 at least, 2-0 if the offense gets it’s act together. This was not the plan.

Helwick: Nobody wants to be the team that allows Kansas to win its first road game in nine years. Central Michigan beat the Jayhawks comfortably last year, and losing to a Kansas team that was the butt of jokes after a Week 1 FCS loss is very disheartening. I’m curious to see how the team responds to a 31-7 home defeat to the FBS laughing stock, because the Chippewas looked respectable against a decent Kentucky team two weeks ago. But just because losing to Kansas kills your reputation, it’s very concerning. Ask Texas.

Snyder: Glad I am not a CMU fan. I’d be very nervous.

Drury: We all thought CMU would pull it off last Saturday, so it is concerning to see them lose to Kansas if you’re a Chip fan. My biggest concern is that this game motivates CMU for this week when the play the Huskies.

Rinard: Not that concerning. CMU’s still in the process of putting all the pieces together and we’ll get a better sense of the team in conference play.

The MAC is a disastrous 2-12 this non-conference season against FBS teams, only claiming road wins against Purdue and Temple. Is this the worst conference in college football in 2018?

Jimenez: I raise you your MAC and call “Conference USA”, which features some of the worst teams in the FBS, including UTEP and Rice, amongst others. The floor of C-USA and the MAC is similar, but the ceiling of the MAC is much higher.

Helwick: This season, I’m going with the C-USA at the bottom of the barrel. Florida Atlantic doesn’t look like one of the Group of Five kingpins this year, but the Owls are probably still the top team there. But the bottom of the conference is even more horrendous than the MAC’s cellar. The MAC’s worst teams right now look like Bowling Green, Central Michigan, and Miami. Conference USA’s are UTEP, Charlotte, Old Dominion, and Rice.

Snyder: No.

Drury: No. The MAC will always be better than the Sun Belt. It’s just a fact of life. And then it goes C-USA and then the MAC. James is right, the MAC has a much higher ceiling than C-USA (and the Sun Belt).

Rinard: No, the MAC could possibly have two Top 25 teams in Buffalo and Toledo/EMU sometime this year.