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2020 Hustle Belt MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 3

Buffalo seems nigh on unstoppeable as we near the midpoint of the season, while there’s suddenly a battle for the bottom spot.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Central Michigan at Buffalo Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

12. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 11)

  • High vote: 10 (one vote)
  • Low vote: 12 (four votes)
  • Average vote: 11.28

There is no other way to describe BGSU’s performance last week in a way other than “lifeless,” as the Falcons were buried six feet under at the hands of Anniversary Award rival Kent State in Week 2’s action.

In media availability the next day, Scot Loeffler was a man on fire, saying the team he inherited was mismanaged and absused by previous regimes, and that it would take years to rebuild the team to be remotely competitive. He’s certainly not wrong.

The Falcons have been taken for a ride in most every game dating back to 2019, with ESPN Stats and Info relaying the ignominious marks they set after the game in one devastating tweet:

There’s nothing really left to be said, other than that BGSU gets the privilege to play perhaps one of the best MAC teams on paper in nearly a decade in the Buffalo Bulls.

11. Akron Zips (LW: 12)

  • High vote: 10 (three)
  • Low vote: 12 (four)
  • Average vote: 11.14

For the first time in over a year, Akron has crawled out of the last spot in the standings, crawling out of the basement and climbing the stairs while blindly pawing for the lightswitch.

It’s been a long time coming for the Zips, who are in the rebuild of rebuilds under second-year FBS coach Tom Arth, but there’s finally palatable results to glean from in Week 2 of the 2020 season.

Akron was noticeably more competitive against Ohio this week, even holding a lead in the first half to force Ohio into a more aggressive style of play. They only broke late in the game, due in part to a less-than-ideal five giveaways, ultimately taking away a loss from the jaws of victory in a 24-10 result.

The Zips have found a talisman in Teon Dollard, who rushed for 165 yards on 22 carries, an output which nearly matched last season’s leading rusher— in one game. The Zips also had decent success spreading the ball, with three receivers pulling in three receptions and 59 yards or better, with Nate Stewart catching the pass that started Akron’s rally.

They’ll need to cut down on mental mistakes as they move forward, but the struggle is starting to look like it was worth it. They next play Kent State on national TV for the Wagon Wheel.

10. Northern Illinois Huskies (LW: 10)

  • High vote: 9 (one)
  • Low vote: 11 (four)
  • Average vote: 10.57

The Huskies are saved from falling out of the 10th spot by the grace of a lone ninth-palce vote, but there’s a not to be confident in regarding this team moving forward after two extremely tough games to start the season.

This time around, the Huskies managed to keep things sweaty at the start, holding CMU to a 9-0 lead at halftime despite giving up a late safety on an illegally-batted ball following a fumble. But the second half was a cacophony of horrors for the Huskies, as they were gashed for 24 unanswered second-half points before kicking a field goal to finaly get on the board with 8:23 remaining— only to give up a rushing touchdown to backup QB Ty Brock with CMU’s second unit in on the next drive.

There are no easy answers for these Huskies, with question marks and inexperience all over the board in all three phases of the game. And the path doesn’t get easier either, as Ball State and their explosive offense are next on the schedule.

9. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LW: 9)

  • High vote: 9 (seven)
  • Low vote: 10 (one)
  • Average vote: 9

“What the hell, Eastern?”

That was the question on most Eagles fans’ minds after yet another confidence-shattering loss in MAC play in Week 2. This time, EMU couldn’t maintain its composure late against Ball State, allowing the Cardinals to crawl back into the game in the second and third quarters thanks to a 21-3 run in the middle section, and force yet another one-score game.

Every week, EMU is fighting for their lives, and we’re honestly not sure at this point if it’s healthy for the team long-term to deal with such emotional play on a week-to-week basis. Preston Hutchison was lights out once again, going 17-of-29 for 250 yards and a passing touchdown to go along with a certifiably ludicrous three rushing touchdowns on 17 rushes and 103 yards to single-handedly drag EMU into contention this week.

The defense, however, let Hutchison’s efforts go for naught, as they allowed an appalling 584 yards, four total touchdowns and all three of Ball State’s fourth-down conversions in the late going to give the game away. Granted, they were playing with a lot of injuries on that side of the ball, but at this point, the cuteness of one-score games is getting old, and the defense will have to hold themselves accountable for this one.

It doesn’t get any easier, as they face a vengence-minded Toledo squad this week.

8. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 8)

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 8 (three)
  • Average vote: 7.42

Ball State seems to only play close games, and this time, they came out on the right side of it, defeating Eastern Michigan by a final score of 38-31.

It was a bizzaro version of their Week 1 tilt with Miami, as BSU fell behind 21-7 early in the second quarter after a Preston Hutchison 10-yard touchdown run, and eventually rallied back to take the lead back at 28-24 with about 11 minutes to go in the game. From there, the game went to form for both EMU and Ball State, as the two teams exchanged potential gme-winning drives right down to the final whistle, before Caleb Huntley (34 rush, 204 yards, three touchdowns) cemented yet another legacy game with a one-yard rushing score to put the Cards ahead for good with six seconds left.

In recent years, Ball State has shown an unpredictable quality, so its hard to evaluate this team due to their volatility. Some days they’ve got everything in order, other days, they ride the emptional waves and struggle to keep afloat. They have a chance to do the former against a flagging NIU squad this week.

7. Ohio Bobcats (LW: 5)

  • High vote: 5 (one)
  • Low vote: 8 (two)
  • Average vote: 6.85

Ohio is a confusing team, but they’re also a 1-1 team, so really, the middle of the standings is a perfect place for them at the moment.

They struggled mightily against Akron last week, finding themselves only up 7 late in the game before riding on the back of De’Montre Tuggle for what would eventually become the game-clinching drive. In Week 1, they took CMU to the very last breath despite a number of flaws in the offensive gameplan which ultimately hindered them down the stretch.

The staff’s indecision on who to start at quarterback seems to have bitten them in the rear in this game, as both Kurtis Rourke (8-of-14, 92 yards) and Armani Rogers (2-of-3, 30 yards; four rush, 17 yards, one touchdown) looked pretty out of rhythm in the passing game against an Akron defense which had just been gashed by WMU the previous week. If it weren’t for an incredible five forced turnovers by the defense and Tuggle’s Herculean effort (22 rush, 139 yards, two touchdowns), we could well be talking about an 0-2 Bobcats squad.

Perhaps it’s for the best their next game was declared a no-contest. They’ll need some time to think (and get back to health after some positive COVID tests) before their next game on Nov. 28.

6. Miami RedHawks (LW: 2)

  • High vote: 5 (two)
  • Low vote: 8 (three)
  • Average vote: 6.42

By far the most precipitous drop in our Power Rankings in some time, the Miami RedHawks find themselves with their backs in a corner, going from the second-best MAC squad to the sixth-best in just one week, with the road getting no clearer any time soon.

The RedHawks got the benefit of the doubt in the early weeks, due in part to being the defending MAC champions. But it’s extremely clear that Miami is ailing without a number of their key contributors, and they were far outpaced by Buffalo in a game they absolutely needed to keep hold of their division hopes.

What makes it more perplexing is that Miami was holding up well in the first half, keeping Buffalo scoreless through one quarter before giving up 14 in the second. The offense scored just before the half to make it 14-7 at the break, but then just... didn’t look remotely competitive after the 11:06 mark of the third quarter, allowing 28 unanswered points before kicking a #SadFieldGoal late in the proceedings.

They weren’t even beat in conventional fashion, as Buffalo scored only two rushing touchdowns. Instead, it was Kyle Vantrease who shredded the normally great Miami secondary for 353 yards and four touchdowns.

They’ll have to stew on this loss for two-and-a-half weeks, as their rivalry game with Ohio was cancelled due to COVID-19 and declared a no-contest.

5. Toledo Rockets (LW: 4)

  • High vote: 5 (five)
  • Low vote: 6 (one)
  • Average vote: 5

It’s not like Toledo played badly by any means. They were, for the most part, fairly good at limiting the Broncos over the first 57 minutes or so of play, keeping the pride of Kalamazoo within arm’s reach.

But football is a 60-minute game, and the Rockets learned that the hard way, losing in monumentally epic fashion on the road to WMU in a game they couldn’t afford to lose if they wished to keep pace in the MAC West divisional race.

Toledo had done a great job of managing the game, with four rushing touchdowns between Bryant Koback (24 rush, 78 yards, two touchdowns), Micah Davis (eight rush, 70 yards, one touchdown) and Shakif Seymour (three rush, 35 yards, one touchdown), while Eli Peters contributed a passing touchdown on 30-of-46 passing for 339 yards.

It was the defense and special teams which ultimately folded like a card table, as Evan Davis had a field goal blocked late in the proceedings to allow WMU to eke back into the game for a quick score, and then Toledo’s kickoff unit got caught sleeping on the ensuing kickoff.

Well, we know the rest of how that game ended. Toledo will play Eastern this upcoming week.

4. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: t-6)

  • High vote: 3 (four)
  • Low vote: 7 (one)
  • Average vote: 3.71

Going into the preseason, MAC media figured Kent State would be a dark horse for contention in the MAC East, with a tough road to climb to get atop the mid-table. But over the last two weeks, KSU has shown they deserve to be in the “Going to Detroit” conversation.

Even granting they were playing the doormat BGSU, Kent State went out and performed as expected and then some, posting 62 points on the hapless Falcons on the road.

Dustin Crum showed off his professional potential with a 18-of-27 for 271 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, while the Flashes have suddenly found themselves an effective backfield in Bryan Bradford (13 rushes, 133 yards) and Marquez Cooper (15 rushes, 57 yards, two touchdowns.)

The defense also exploded for seven tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recoery and five pass break-ups, while limiting BGSU to 2-of-13 on third down and 1-of-2 on fourth down conversions.

Kent State next plays Akron for the Wagon Wheel.

3. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: t-6)

  • High vote: 2 (twice)
  • Low vote: 4 (four)
  • Average vote: 3.28

The biggest riser of all of our teams in the rankings thus far, the Broncos have done as much as they can to prove our voters’ early skepticism wrong.

It was hard to evaluate WMU after an expected thrashing of the Zips in Week 1, but a much closer bout where they faced late adversity showed a team full of character, moxie, and most importantly, one of the most balanced attacks in the MAC.

It all came together in the final three minutes of the game for the Broncos, as they marched down the field for two touchdowns to preserve their undefeated mark against a division rival. This time, it was Kaleb Eleby that came up clutch, as the Missourian finsihed his day 20-of-29 for 284 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, including the final fake spike TD, while also picking up two goal-line scores to finish with five total scores.

Shoutout to Thiago Kapps as well, who made up for a struggle of a performance in Week 1 and a missed PAT late in the game (4-of-4 prior to the fifth PAT) by immediately kicking what turned out to be the most important onside kick in recent WMU history (and the eventual PAT to put the game out of reach.)

They face blood rival Central next.

2. Central Michigan Chippewas (LW: 3)

  • High vote: 2 (six)
  • Low vote: 3 (two)
  • Average vote: 2.28

Central Michigan struggled early against an unexpectedly tough NIU team, but ultimately made the right adjustments and steamrolled the Huskies in what turned out to be a 40-10 victory on the road.

After trying to get the passing game going in the first half, CMU decided to go back to what worked best: a heavy dose of the running game. Lew Nichols III (12 rush, 91 yards, one touchdown) averaged about 7.6 yards per carry, on a day where Kobe Lewis (16 carries, 59 yards) unexpectedly struggled to get going. Darius Bracy also got the offense moving in the right direction in five snaps at quarterback, rushing for 55 yards, including a lovely 43-yard run that nearly went for a score to help break the game open.

The defense looked pretty good as well, picking up a safety before the end of the first half and keeping NIU off the scoreboard until the waning moments of the fourth quarter, well after the game was in hand.

They face blood rival Western in this week’s action.

#1. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 1)

  • Unanimous #1

Last week, we said Buffalo could take firm control of the MAC East with a win against Miami, and boy howdy did they do just that.

Buffalo took the defending MAC champions to the cleaners, taking a 42-10 win to defend home turf. It was no contest right from the word go, as the Bulls got the job done in all three phases. This time, it was Kyle Vantrease taking center stage, firing off for 353 yards and four touchdowns to put the RedHawks on the defensive in the second half after a quiet first 30 minutes.

The Bulls now have control of their division destiny, and next play Bowilng Green for the opportunity to go 3-0.

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!