We’ve already made it to the tail end of non-conference season. While midweek games await for another month, the MACtion is finally brewing with a season-high three conference matchups this week.
Western Michigan’s offense has revived and the Broncos aim to win their third-straight in the Miami RedHawks’ den. Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois butt heads in a battle of potential MAC West contenders, and lastly, Kent State and Ball State fight to escape putrid 1-3 starts.
The one team that’s drawing all the attention in the conference this year is the program that lies just outside of the Rust Belt. Buffalo has breezed to a 4-0 record after destroying Rutgers by 29 points in Piscataway last Saturday afternoon. The Bulls also defeated Temple and Eastern Michigan — two teams with road wins over Big Ten teams — to preserve an undefeated record. This week won’t be an easy test against the Army Black Knights though.
Don’t fall for Army’s 2-2 record. The Black Knights faced two difficult opponents in Duke and Oklahoma, both of which remain undefeated and ranked. Army’s triple option nearly upset the No. 5 Sooners in Norman last weekend, and Oklahoma had to prevail in overtime in order to pull off the victory.
Starting with the 4-0 Bulls, here is our staff’s takeaway on hot topics within the conference.
1. Buffalo is off to a masterful 4-0 start, winning seven in a row dating back to last November. Currently with 6 votes in the AP Poll, how do you expect the rest of Buffalo’s season to play out?
Steve Helwick (@s_helwick): Buffalo should be favored in all of its remaining games, but going undefeated is HARD. Western Michigan (2016) and UCF (2017) remain the only Group of Five programs to achieve the feat prior to bowl season since 2010 TCU. That being said, I think Buffalo is a 10-win program under Leipold. This week’s game against Army will be a good benchmark to measure the Bulls, but Buffalo already has registered quality road wins over decent opponents like Temple and Maryland. They're bound to have at least one slip-up in MAC play though.
Jordan Rinard (@JordanRinard): If UB can find a way to get past a really good Army team, it would not be surprising to see the Bulls run the table in MAC play. Their remaining MAC West crossover games are against a bad CMU team and a talented Toledo team that has given up 40+ points in back-to-back weeks. If UB can get past the Rockets, it should be smooth sailing to Detroit.
Dave Drury (@ddrury86): The Bulls have sure looked good so far this year. But their biggest tests still remain. This week they have Army, whose triple option attack has the ability to stall team’s momentum (just ask Oklahoma) and a few weeks after that, a big showdown with Toledo. But, right now, it looks like they’re the clear-cut leaders in the MAC East. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the MAC Championship game right now.
Randy Carpenter (@randycarp): Biggest hurdle for Bulls will be at Toledo in possible MAC Championship preview. Bulls could run table if they get by Rockets. Akron and Kent State are no pushovers, but the Bulls get both at home.
2. In the last two weeks, Western Michigan QB Jon Wassink has completed 43-of-55 passes for five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Toledo QB Mitch Guadagni passed for 211 yards, rushed for 131, and accumulated six total touchdowns last Saturday. Which MAC West quarterback would you rather have leading your team right now and why?
Helwick: This is tough for me. When Wassink gets hot, he gets hot. We saw the quarterback’s true potential during the latter half of the Syracuse game and throughout the last two games, albeit against cake opponents. He’s had his fair share of rough outings, including the 49-3 loss against Michigan. He’s not as mobile as Guadagni, but he’s proven he’s a tough runner, and his passing ability is much better than that of Guadagni. It’s very close because I love Guadagni’s mobility, but I’ll go with the better passer, Wassink, for now. A larger sample size contributed to my pick too.
Rinard: I’d prefer Guadagni because of his efficiency and his ability to make plays on the ground. Those two things put a lot of stress on a defense, and Wassink isn’t the running threat that the Rocket QB is.
Drury: Both have played really well…that said, I’d want Guadagni. Having a quarterback that can beat you with both his arm and his legs is a huge advantage. It gives you multiple options of offense and, if he can scramble away from a pass rush, it keeps negative yards to a minimum. Give me a mobile QB any day of the week.
Carpenter: Wassink didn’t play well against Syracuse or Michigan, but Guadagni played decent against Maimi... so I’d go Guadagni based on Power 5 game performances.
3. Bowling Green lost a home game to a previously lifeless Miami (OH) team. In three years at the helm, Mike Jinks is 0-10 in September against FBS teams with a cumulative record of 7-21. What has contributed greatest to the downfall of the Falcons, who won the MAC East for three-straight years before Jinks took over?
Helwick: Since winning the MAC title in 2013, Bowling Green’s defense has always been a problem. Heck, the Falcons even won the MAC East in 2014 yielding 500 yards per game. Bad defense is a staple at Bowling Green, but what’s new is that the offense isn’t doing enough to make up for it. This year, the running game has struggled and Jarret Doege isn’t getting enough protection in the pocket. The offensive line has made Bowling Green quarterbacks look bad since Matt Johnson left. Also, Bowling Green has done a mid-year quarterback change each year in the Mike Jinks era. The Falcons’ offense has no stability at all, and when paired with a horrendous defense, results like 7-21 happen.
Rinard: Their inability to develop players on both sides of the ball. Their struggles on defense are well documented and they have not had a real dynamic All-MAC type player since Jinks has been there, which is really baffling considering Jinks’s recruiting classes have been pretty good.
Drury: Since QB Matt Johnson has left, the Falcons have really struggled to get anything going on offense… and that’s been their biggest issue. In the past 2+ seasons, they’ve only reached 40 points in a game twice…the only team to do it less in the MAC is Miami. Jinks hasn’t been able to find a consistent offense to match the points their defense has given up. It all starts with a solid quarterback, and the Falcons just haven’t found one yet.
Carpenter: Coaching instability. Some of the seniors on this year’s team have played for three different coaches... all with different systems. No continuity.
4. Will Toledo beat Fresno State on the road this weekend? If the Rockets fail to prevail, what does a 2-2 start say about the reigning MAC champions?
Helwick: I don’t think anyone expected Toledo to replicate an 11-3 season without Logan Woodside, Ja’Wuan Woodley or the departing talent from last year’s offensive line. A 2-2 record with losses to tough Fresno State and Miami (FL) teams isn’t much of a concern for the Rockets. As far as we know, Toledo appears to be the top team in the MAC West and that fact doesn’t change if Fresno State rolls through them in California on Saturday night. Maybe this tough schedule better prepares the Rockets for conference season.
Rinard: Fresno State will be a tough match-up for Toledo as Fresno State is coming off of an impressive 38-14 win against UCLA and competed hard in a 21-14 loss at Minnesota. If the Rockets were to lose, the MAC West would be up for grabs with EMU, WMU, and an improving NIU potentially being contenders.
Drury: I think Toledo should be able to escape Fresno with a 3-1 record after a high-flying shootout. But, even if they lose, I don’t think a 2-2 record says anything bad. Their first loss was a valiant effort against Miami and Fresno was really good last year and looks to be the same this year. Both Fresno and Toledo have been putting up big numbers offensively and this game should be fun to watch.
Carpenter: The Fresno State game will be a battle. West coast games at Fresno have always been a struggle for MAC teams going back to California Bowl and Raisin Bowl. No matter the outcome, the Rockets are still team to beat in the MAC West.
5. Which matchup (can be conference or non-conference) are you most looking forward to watching this weekend?
Helwick: Give me Buffalo and Army. I want to see how Khalil Hodge and the Bulls’ defense plans to attack the Black Knights’ triple option attack. Army is no slouch at 2-2, and I think all of America chalks up last Saturday night as a win for the Black Knights because Oklahoma looked unbeatable for three weeks. If Buffalo wins, don’t be surprised if the Bulls are within the top 30 of the AP Poll at a 5-0 record. Tyree Jackson, Jaret Patterson, Anthony Johnson, and crew are putting together a deadly offense up north in New York.
Also, Fresno State and Toledo should be interesting too. Toledo was overmatched by Miami. Fresno State will be a realistic comparison stick to see how good the 2018 Rockets really are.
Rinard: I’m really looking forward to seeing how Western Michigan at Miami (OH) shakes out. It’s been hard to gauge how good the Broncos really are since they’ve either played good Power 5 teams or bad FCS/Group of 5 teams. Meanwhile, the win at Bowling Green might have been the jolt the RedHawks needed to get out of their slump and play good ball offensively in MAC play.
Drury: I would say Toledo/Fresno State and Buffalo/Army are going to be the two most exciting games to watch. I expect a bunch of points from the Rockets and Bulldogs… good ol’ fashion MACtion. And, if that triple option attack from Army is able to slow down Buffalo, that could be another nail biter like the Oklahoma game.
Carpenter: Looking forward to Army/Buffalo game. Might give us more insight to how “real” Bulls are this year.
6. What has been the most pleasant surprise and biggest disappointment in MAC football this season?
Helwick: Buffalo’s been great, but given its last three games of 2017, I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise. The most pleasant surprises for me are Akron and Eastern Michigan knocking off Northwestern and Purdue on the road. I thought both of these teams would slip this year back to the gutter that they sat in for years.
Ohio and Northern Illinois are a combined 2-5, and they’ve looked disappointing doing it. I don't care if the game’s at Cincinnati and the Bearcats are a formidable opponent. Blowing a 24-7 halftime lead is inexcusable. And for Northern Illinois, that offense is borderline unwatchable. The Huskies were handed a difficult deck with their non-conference schedule, but their offense has still underperformed each week.
Rinard: Buffalo has been a pleasant surprise for obvious reasons as Lance Leipold has built a program that can be sustainable like his Wisconsin-Whitewater teams. BG has been equally disappointing in a MAC East that doesn’t really have a dominant program in it.
Drury: Pleasant surprise – EMU knocking off Purdue. Good for them!! A win against a B1G team has been a long time coming for the Eagles.
Biggest disappointment – NIU’s offensive line. They were supposed to be the best in the MAC but have looked very porous this season so far.
Carpenter: Most surprising has been that recent/traditional powers in the MAC (NIU, Western Michigan, and Ohio) have struggled a bit. Teams like Buffalo and Akron are the flag bearers for the conference right now. The most disappointing thing for me personally has been ESPN+. I paid $49 for the yearly subscription and the streaming of MAC games has been very inconsistent from a technical standpoint. A lot of freezing and me having to re-start the feed. Annoying.