With bowl season officially over as of Monday evening’s national championship game, and a week removed from the last MAC team to play in a bowl game, we here at Hustle Belt look anew at the power rankings for the MAC.
Seven of the MAC’s 12 teams went bowling in 2019, finishing with a 3-4 record, the first time the conference had won multiple games since 2015, an incredible accomplishment which could have looked much better had a few bounces gone the right way.
Of course, no look at how the MAC went would be complete without recamping to discuss the end of the season, so let’s dive right into it.
Without further ado: the rankings!
12. Akron Zips (Last week: 12)
- Unanimous #12
As expected, Akron finishes at the bottom in our final rankings of the year. It’s hard to go 0-12 and not be at the cellar. At least they seem to have a bright future ahead of them, as they showed plenty of fight right to the bitter end.
11. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 11)
- Unanimous #11
BGSU pulled off some pretty good results out of nowhere in 2019, and wasn’t always a pushover in conference play. Scot Loeffler did an incredible job in coaching up a young, depleted roster to 3-9 in 2019, and even gave fans a keen result in Year 1 by winning the Battle of I-75. Nothing but good here!
10. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 7)
- Average vote: 9.5
- Highest vote: 9
- Lowest vote: 10
Ball State cratered at the tail end of the season, even with a brief reprieve in the final game of the year against MAC champion Miami. There’s no exusing three-straight losses after a 3-0 conference start, or for multiple lackadasical performances up double-digits which likely took the Cards out of title and/or bowl contention. They look even worse now that Miami won the MAC, and are now the only conference member left without a bowl win. It’s not often you see a 5-7 team two spots from the bottom of a conference ranking, but the voters felt they severely underperformed.
9. Toledo Rockets (LW: 8)
- Average vote: 9
- Highest vote: 8
- Lowest vote: 10
Toledo, the preseason darling to win the MAC West, didn’t come close to the feat, battling both injuries and general malaise en route to a 6-6 season. For whatever reason, the pieces never quite fit together on offense, and the defense eventually couldn’t hold up due to sheer exhaustion. Jason Candle cleaned house after the season officially ended, so we’ll see if 2019 was just a lost year, or if it’s indicative of a bigger problem.
8. Northern Illinois Huskies (LW: 10)
- Average vote: 8.5
- Highest vote: 8
- Lowest vote: 9
The Huskies performed admirably at the end of the year, knocking off WMU in one of the wildest games of the conference season to give CMU the opportunity to take the division. They did so even as players were transferring or rumored to be leaving the team, showing a togetherness to be commended.
Their record, at 5-7, isn’t the greatest, but there were expected growing pains with a first-year head coach. If their defense had held up to full health, the Huskies could have comepted for a bowl bid at the very least. Our voters gave them the benefit of the doubt.
7. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LW: 9)
- Average vote: 6.75
- Highest vote: 6
- Lowest vote: 7
EMU was one of the most volatile teams in the conference in 2019, as you never knew which EMU team you were getting on a weekly basis. Perhaps not surprisingly, they ended the year 6-6 (3-6 in conference play!), and had to depend on a bowl bid going up for grabs to make it to the postseason.
Once they got there, they showed they could play as well as any team in the country, going up against a notoriously chaotic Pitt team. They never trailed in the Quick Lane Bowl until the final minute, when the Panthers pulled a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy catch out of thin air to take it at the finish line. It was an effort which didn’t go unnoticed by our voters.
6. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: 6)
- Average vote: 6
- Highest vote: 5
- Lowest vote: 7
The Golden Flashes defied all expectations and qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2012, briefly flirting with the MAC East division title along the way. It was thanks in part to the emergance of the #FlashFast offense under Dustin Crum and the leg of Matthew Trickett, as the Flashes went from 3-6 to 6-6 at the end of the season to qualify for their bowl berth.
They blitzed Utah State on all three sides of the ball in the Frisco Bowl, sealing the win with an incredibly aggressive fourth-down touchdown run by Crum to clinch KSU’s first bowl game in their 99-year program history. The sky is the limit for head coach Sean Lewis and his crew.
5. Central Michigan Chippewas (LW: 1)
- Average vote: 4.5
- Highest vote: 4
- Lowest vote: 5
CMU foundered their last two games in very different ways after achieving the #1 rank at the end of the regular season.
In the MAC title game, their aggression on offense and special teams, combined with a lack of pressure on the defensive side, cost them in a close loss against underdog Miami. In the New Mexico Bowl, CMU was flat-out dominated in every aspect by a better squad in San Diego State.
Their end-of-season results shouldn’t count as a demerit, though; this was a team that went from 1-11 in 2018 to 7-6 in 2019, defying all media and fan expectations. If there’s any reason to be hurt, it’s because of the brief hopes being quashed in heartbreaking fashion. But it’s a feeling CMU fans will remember going into 2020. and I’m sure the players will want to give them the result the fanbase craves.
4. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: 3)
- Average vote: 3.5
- Highest vote: 3
- Lowest vote: 4
WMU, much like their rival CMU, had a strange and perplexing ending to the season.
WMU blew a lead against NIU in the loss which ultimately took them out of MAC title contention, and was then promptly outsmarted in a bowl game loss to WKU, partly due to their own turnover problems. It’s a bit of a dud, certainly, and it will bring into question whether Tim Lester is ultimately the right person for the job. That said, our voters believed WMU was one of the most talented teams in the MAC in 2019, and kept them in the top 5 as a result.
3. Miami RedHawks (LW: 2)
- Average vote: 3.5
- Highest vote: 2
- Lowest vote: 6
Miami scrapped their way to the MAC title game, much like they had scrapped all year to get into that position, punching CMU in the mouth several times and setting the standard for pace of play early.
They found themselves once again playing an ugly game vs. UL-Lafayette in Mobile, Alabama, but ultimately couldn’t win it in the end, notably fumbling their final offensive snap of the game on the Ragin’ Cajun one-yard line. They had looked fairly sloppy all game, but had recovered towards the end to lead a comeback attempt.
At 8-6 with a MAC title in hand, they’ll definitely feel good at the end of this season. But, voters weren’t sure they deserved to be as high as #1 or #2, given their bowl game performance and the quality of their wins.
2. Ohio Bobcats (LW: 5)
- Average vote: 2.75
- Highest vote: 2
- Lowest vote: 3
Ohio lost their national showcase game against hated rival Miami on the night they expected to corronate Frank Solich as the winningest MAC coach of all-time. Miami pulled off what they had been doing all season: winning by the margins. The game put Ohio in a bad spot, and the pressure was evident, as they lost to WMU the next week, putting them at 4-6 with games vs. Akron and BGSU to go.
Knowing the stakes, the Bobcats would proceed to beat Akron and BGSU by a combined score of 118-27, clinch bowl eligibility and take home a bowl win to get to a 7-6 record. They showed their potential in those games, and proved their slow start in out-of-conference play was just that. They raced out to a big lead in their bowl game before holding off a furious rally, but did more than enough to show our voters how talented they were in the process.
1. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 4)
- Unanimous #1
All our voters voted for Buffalo as the #1 team in the MAC, and the reason was because they were the most complete team in the conference, proving so in a dominant performance against Charlotte in the Bahamas Bowl.
They rostered two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in program history in Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, and featured one of the best defenses in the country on both sides of the ball. The Bulls, outside of a handful of games, were indomitable, and their hot streak at the end of the season showed what the team looked like at full strength.
It’s the voters’ belief that if Buffalo would have qualified for the MAC title game, they would have won it handily, regardless of the opponent. They just lost to the wrong teams at the wrong time. That’s why they’re #1 in our rankings. (It also cetainly helps they finished with an 8-5 record, the best in the conference.)