Week 1 of #MACtion in 2020 absolutely delivered, with plenty of warm and toasty moments, including a season-opening onside kick, back-to-back 50+ yard touchdown tosses, and the movement of several rivalry trophies.
Our voters in the Power Rankings watched every game and once again ranked the 12 MAC programs. This week, we broke at least one tie, but somehow engineered another, as the teams are still finding it difficult to pull away from one another in the middle.
Without further ado: the Hustle Belt preseason power rankings:
12. Akron Zips (LW: 12)
- High vote: 11 (two votes)
- Low vote: 12 (six votes)
- Average vote: 11.74
Two of our voters were brave enough to rank Akron 11th in the MAC, propelling the Zips out of the unanimous 12th basement.
One could certainly make a reasonable argument for it, as Akron showed some moxie in a game against WMU where they were entirely overmatched, holding an early lead on the Broncos and even getting tricky on the opening kickoff of the season (even if it was ultimately called back due to penalty.)
There’s some positives to take away from the win, including the fact the Zips have seemingly found a ground game, with former receiver Jeremiah Knight and Independence [KS] CC product Teon Dollard combining for 141 yards against one of the tougher front sevens in the MAC. That defense is still woefully lacking, though, and that will keep the Zips from being competitive for awhile.
The Zips face Ohio on the road on Tuesday night.
11. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 11)
- High vote: 11 (six)
- Low vote: 12 (two)
- Average vote: 11.25
The same two voters who ranked Akron #11 also ranked BGSU #12 after a rough loss to Toledo which showed a lot of regression from the 2019 matchup, even given the circumstances of the season.
Unlike the Zips, the Falcons were nowhere near competitive in this one, with an embarassing offensive display to start the game they were never really able to recover from, with two of their first three drives ending in fumbles and Matt McDonald completing a mere eight passes on the night. The ground game was non-existent as well, with Andrew Clair only posting 37 yards.
The defense, predictably, was unable to hold up, giving up 38 points to the TOledo Rockets, after being put into corners early and often. It’s not going to be any easier, as BGSU immediately goes into another rivalry game with Kent State this week.
10. Northern Illinois Huskies (LW: t-9)
- High vote: 7 (one)
- Low vote: 10 (six)
- Average vote: 9.57
NIU looked pretty competitive, even despite the final score, in their opening match against Buffalo, but that didn’t save them from a double-digit beatdown at the hands of the MAC favorites.
For as much intrigue as they showed offensively, especially in hurry-up situations, they also had issues holding on to the ball, coughing up two fumbles and an interception, all of which were returned for touchdowns. It’s hard to dig yourself out of that, but NIU showed fight all the way up to the end to make the score respectable.
NIU will get battle-tested once again, facing CMU on Wednesday night.
9. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LW: t-9)
- High vote: 9 (six)
- Low vote: 10 (two)
- Average vote: 9.14
It’s pretty hard to tell if this EMU team is good or bad, mostly because they keep ending up in one-score games where one or two bounces can determine the outcome.
It happened once again this week, as EMU found themselves narrowly losing to Kent State in dramatic fashion by a final score of 30-23 on the road. On paper, EMU is a team in transition at most of its major positions, but the team showed flashes of progress on the field, looking like a well-oiled machine late in the game. Preston Hutchinson picked up where he left off from last year, with decnt 241 yard, two touchdown day, while Darius Boone is looking as advertised, with a 68-yard day on just nine carries.
But once again, EMU let a winnable game slip away, thanks in part to two costly interceptions. At some point, you have to start wondering if this team has reached its ceiling or not. They face Ball State, a team asking a lot of similar questions.
8. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 7)
- High vote: 7 (two)
- Low vote: 9 (two)
- Average vote: 7.85
Speaking of Ball State, they come in at #8 in the Power Rankings, one step down from their preseason ranking.
Our voters have been fairly skeptical of BSU for the most part, even despite the amount of returning talent they brought back for the 2020 season, and Week 1 was a good indication as to why that was, as the Cardinals blew yet another double-digit lead and lost in the waning seconds to a Miami squad missing many of its key contributors due to injury.
Granted, Miami is the defending MAC champion, but a team shouldn’t lose a Freshman of the Year at QB in Brett Gabbert and still be able to slice through a defense with ease quite like AJ Mayer (233 yards, three TD’s) did, especially when the latter had never attempted more than three passes prior to being pressed into service.
t-6. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: t-5)
- High vote: 4 (two)
- Low vote: 8 (two)
- Average vote: 5.71
Kent State was the only team to win their game and fall in the rankings, which isn’t something that happens terribly often. It can be credited to a numbers game in the middle, as three teams in our rankings—a quarter of the teams in the league (!)— are within three-tenths of a point in the “average vote” category.
The way in which they ended up winning might ultimately be the demerit, as KSU wasn’t exactly dominant in the late going, allowing EMU the opportunity to eke back into the game with a two-point conversion to bring the score to a 23-20 EMU lead with 11:55 to go in a game Kent State led 20-9 at one point.
They’ll have a chance to break the tie with the next team in our rankings against BGSU.
t-6. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: 8)
- High vote: 3 (one)
- Low vote: 8 (two)
- Average vote: 5.71
WMU passed the Akron test with flying colors, showing dominance in all three phases against the hapless Zips in a 58-13 trucking on the road.
WMU showed they had not one, but three running backs they can lean on at any time, including Sean Tyler, Jaxson Kincaide and La’Darius Jefferson, as they rushed for 182 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Kaleb Eleby also looked fantastic, with a 12-of-16, 262 yards, three touchdown stat line.
The defense was swarming as well, with seven tackles-for-loss and three sacks on the day, to go along with an interception and a forced fumble.
They face Toledo on Wednesday night.
5. Ohio Bobcats (LW: 4)
- High vote: 4 (one)
- Low vote: 7 (one)
- Average vote: 5.42
The Bobcats took a slight stumble in the power rankings, but they don’t have anything to be ashamed of, as they took a stout Central Michigan squad right up to the last eight seconds of a wild weeknight #MACtion game which could be considered an instant classic.
Their two-quarterback system will need some refinement if they hope for more success, but it showed some potential, as Kurtis Rourke (231 yards, two touchdowns) and Armani Rogers (34 rush yards) both showed unique skillsets in their packages. Rogers’ use will be especially intriguing, as the zone read offense he ran was noticeably faster and more crisp at points, but also limited the Bobcats to being a one-dimensional unit, as he struggled to be a dual threat, finishing 1-of-4 passing. De’Montre Tuggle is a star in the making as well, with 239 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including a 93-yard kickoff return.
One concern for Ohio was the inability to get pressure on CMU in the passing game, with no sacks on the day and only 1 QB hit. They did manage to log four tackles-for-loss in the running game though, so it wasn’t all negatives.
They’ll have a chance to work out the kinks against Akron this week.
4. Toledo Rockets (LW: t-5)
- High vote: 2 (one)
- Low vote: 6 (one)
- Average vote: 4
2019 was an uncharacteristically down season for the Rockets, and they decided 2020 was not going to be a similar story, trouncing rival BGSU in Week 1’s action.
Eli Peters, who dropped 232 passing yards and four touchdowns on the Falcons, seems to be cemented in as the Rockets QB, and the stability will be very nice for a unit which struggled with Mitchell Guadagni out in ‘19. Bryant Koback looked healthy after spending most of last season injured as well, with 77 yards.
The Toledo defense caused major ruckus early, and put the game away late, forcing two fumbles (recovering one), nabbing two interceptions, gaining five tackles-for-loss and breaking up an incredible seven passes as a unit.
They next face Western Michigan on Wednesday night, which should prove to be quite a test.
3. Central Michigan Chippewas (LW: 3)
- High vote: 2 (twice)
- Low vote: 5 (one)
- Average vote: 3
CMU secured their grip on the #3 position in the Power Rankings thanks to their narrow—if exciting— win over Ohio.
The Chippewas offense looks as efficient as ever, even with “backup” quarterback Daniel Richardson in and a makeshift offensive line, which is introducing three new starters. The running attack has somehow only gotten stronger after losing Jonathan Ward to the NFL, with Kobe Lewis and Darius Bracy picking up Wildcat QB duties in a certain package, while Lew Nichols and WR Kalil Pimpleton have also become complimentary rushers. The passing offense onve again relies on the big play, which could take a bit to get installed, but looked good for at least one 50-yard touchdown from Richardson to Pimpleton.
The defense didn’t look half-bad either, allowing 0 points and recovering two fumbles in the second half after a huge momentum swing at the start of the second half on special teams. They also picked up an incredible five sacks on the day, with the end duo of Amir Siddiq and MAC West defensive player of the week Troy Hairson Jr. wrecking havoc on the backfield.
They look to continue their momentum vs. MAC West foe NIU.
2. Miami RedHawks (LW: 2)
- High vote: 2 (four)
- Low vote: 5 (one)
- Average vote: 2.85
The RedHawks’ average score dipped slightly, and they lost a #1 vote, but they still retain the second spot in our Power Rankings after a gritty, come-from-behind victory against Ball State with their backup quarterback leading the way.
It was a hard-scrabble effort, as Mayer engineered a passing attack made up primarily of Jack Sorenson (seven receptions, 139 yards) and Jack Coldiron (three receptions, 29 yards, two touchdowns), and backup RB Zach Kahn (nine receptions, 42 yards, two touchdowns) behind him in the rushing game to keep Miami competitive against a feisty Ball State team, which held a 21-10 lead early in the third quarter.
The defense also looked excellent, with five sacks, seven tackles-for-loss, six pass break-ups and an interception as a unit. Their defense was part of the reason BSU had to settle for a field goal late, which opened up the ability to win the game for Miami.
Miami gets a massive test this week, playing MAC east foe Buffalo.
#1. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 1)
- Unanimous #1
Buffalo was an absolute bully to NIU in Week 1’s action, with four touchdowns on offense and three touchdowns on defense to put away the Huskies and establish themselves as the most complete team in the MAC, in our voters’ eyes.
The offensive stats aren’t remarkable in the way of total yards—NIU actually outgained Buffalo— but it did the trick, as Jaret Patterson picked up 143 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while Kyle Vantrease picked up two total touchdowns and went 12-of-18 for 178 yards through the air to give Buffalo a strong attack.
The defense efficiency was simply unbelievable, as it converted all three of their forced turnovers into points, while also picking up three sacks and six tackles-for-loss.
They can take control of their MAC East destiny against defending MAC champion Miami this week.
Did we get it right? Did we get it wrong? Be sure to sound off in the comments section below, or at us on Twitter @HustleBelt!