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2020 Hustle Belt Mid-American Conference Power Rankings: Week 4

There was a lot of shuffling in the Top 5 this week, after a number of teams clarified their paths to Detroit.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Buffalo at Bowling Green Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

12. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 12)

  • Unanimous #12

We called BGSU “lifeless” in last week’s Power Rankings after a thrashing at the hands of Kent State, but to their credit, they played their best game of the season against Buffalo, a team who got some Coach’s Poll love prior to the game last week.

Sure, they still lost, and lost by a lot, but in a season which always felt doomed due to a combination of circumstances, sometimes the best thing you can ask for is to look marginally competitive, and that’s what BGSU did in their latest game.

They look to take on a well-rested Ohio team on Saturday afternoon.

11. NIU Huskies (LW: 10)

  • High vote: 9 (one)
  • Low vote: 11 (three)
  • Average vote: 10.71

Remember what we said last week about NIU being at #10 by the saving grace of a single vote? Well, that isn’t the case any longer.

NIU once again let a competitive game slip from their hands, falling to Ball State in the last quarter to fall to 0-3 on the season. In this one, the Cardinal defense hopped on an inopportune Ross Bowers throw and stunted the Huskies’ momentum in the middle frames to force NIU to once again put them behind the eight-ball, thanks in part to a 21-0 run to put BSU up 28-14.

To their credit, NIU didn’t give up pursuit, as the game ended with a final score of 31-25, but the effort wasn’t enugh to change their outlook. They next face WMU, who they upset in 2019 to tip the scales of the MAC West race.

10. Akron Zips (LW:11)

  • High vote: 10 (four)
  • Low vote: 11 (four)
  • Average vote: 10.42

Another week, another promotion for the Akron Zips, who played a role in one of the most entertaining weeknight games in the 2020 season, holding Kent State to a 35-28 lead at halftime before the floor ultimately fell our from under them.

Even giving up 69 points to Kent State in a rivalry game can’t take away the positive contributions from the Akron offense in this game, as Teon Dollard picked up nearly 200 yards and four touchdown to buoy the Zips single-handedly. Akron’s got a nice foundation if they can just avoid unforced errors on both sides of the ball.

The Zips also get a bit of a benefit from NIU falling to 11th and BGSU holding a firm grasp on 12, as Akron didn’t have a 12 vote for the first time in over a calendar year.

They face a Miami squad who has been awaiting a chance to play after their game from last week was cancelled due to COVID.

9. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LW: 9)

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

EMU fell to 0-3 as a result of a listless loss to Toledo in weeknight action last week, but remain at the #9 spot, as they did show some talent in the garbage time hours to make the box score more respectable.

The Eagles are very clearly missing some key pieces, which has affected their ability to run as smoothly as they would like. The run game (34 yards vs. Toledo) was especailly non-existent, as Preston Hutchison was called upon early and often to try and keep EMU in the game, while the defense struggled to keep a high-octane Rockets offense in front of them.

EMU will face Michigan MAC peer Central for some Black Friday afternoon action.

8. Ohio Bobcats (LW: 7)

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 8 (twice)
  • Average vote: 7.14

Not much to report here for Ohio, who had their game last week cancelled due to COVID protocols, except that they fall as a result. Not unexpected, necessarily, but still no fun. It’s a bit early to know what to feel about this team.

They’ll have a good chance to see if they worked out the kinks against BGSU.

7. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 8)

  • High vote: 6 (two)
  • Low vote: 8 (three)
  • Average vote: 7

Another week, another one-score thirller to take home a win for the team from the Crown Jewel of Indiana. As mentioned in the NIU section, Ball State flipped the switch with a clutch AJ Udozinma pick-six in order to jump-start a points rally that would ultimately give them the edge in the Bronze Stalk rivalry game.

They managed to pick up the victory despite some relative adversity, as the NIU defense limited Caleb Huntley to just 105 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries, forcing Ball State to rely on their short passing game to maintain possession. It was an expected win for the Cards, but it was likely a bit closer than fans would have liked. They next face Toledo on Saturday afternoon.

6. Miami RedHawks (LW: 2)

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

Like rival Ohio, Miami had the week off due to COVID protocols, thanks to the first cancellation of the Battle of the Bricks since 1944. They didn’t have a chance to salvage their bad performance vs. Buffalo, so they’re stuck in #6, where they were last week.

The break should give Miami a chance to get back healthy, as they were missing a number of contributors in their last performance. They’ll play Akron on Saturday to get back on course.

5. Central Michigan Chippewas (LW: 2)

  • High vote: 2 (one)
  • Low vote: 5 (three)
  • Average vote: 4.42

The biggest drop in the standings belongs to the Chippewas, as they ultimately couldn’t keep pace in what turned out to be a shootout with blood rival Western Michigan on home turf.

CMU got off to an excellent start, jumping out to a 14-0 lead, but WMU came back with a fury, posting 35-striaght on the Chippewas to all but slam the door on a comeback effort. That’s not to say CMU didn’t respond: they brought the score to within eight points and very nearly recovered an onside kick with about 2:00 to go in the game, thanks in part tot he Herculean efforts of Kalil Pimpleton out of the Wildcat formation, who scored three total touchdowns on the day.

It wasn’t meant to be, however, and now the Chips will be dependent on other teams to get to Detroit. They face their other in-state MAC rival EMU for some Black Friday football this week.

4. Toledo Rockets (LW: 5)

  • High vote: 3 (two)
  • Low vote: 5 (three)
  • Average vote: 4.28

The Rockets had a simply humiliating loss in Week 2, and looked to rectify that situation in Week 3. They did so with aplomb, posting a 38-3 lead at one point in a domineering 45-28 victory on EMU.

That game was won through the air, as Eli Peters and Carter Bradley combined for four touchdowns to help the Rockets blast off to a quick and early lead. The Toledo defensive unit also popped up big, with two recovered fumbles and an interception, which turned into 10 points.

They’ll have a chance to keep pace with WMU in the MAC West division if they can win against Ball State on Saturday afternoon.

3. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: 4)

  • High vote: 2 (twice)
  • Low vote: 6 (one)
  • Average vote: 3

The Golden Flashes have bolted up the rankings all the way to #3, thanks to perhaps the most efficienct offense in the Mid-American Conference. They tied program records for total offensive yards (750) and total points (69) in last week’s banner win against Akron in the Wagon Wheel rivalry game.

The lone concern to have as a KSU fan would be their seeming ability to keep offenses from staying in games. Even in their beatdown of Akron, the second-worst offense in the MAC, the Zips still found 35 points.

As one of three undefeated teams in the conference, Kent State finds themselves in a position the program hasn’t felt since 1958 with their 3-0 start, which they’ll ultimately gamble against fellow undefeated Buffalo next week for control of the MAC East in a de facto elimination game.

2. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: 3)

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

WMU rode the wave of positive momentum into Mt. Pleasant— and nearly sank in it, as they ended up in a 14-0 hole early in the Vicotry Cannon rivalry.

Were this 2019, that might be a bit much for the Broncos to overcome, as they showed execution issues when faced with adversity at parts of last season. But 2020 is a new year, and this is a new WMU team.

The Broncos didn’t let the pressure get to them for the second game in a row, and methodically tore apart the CMU defense en route to what would become a 52-44 victory to retain the trophy. In the effort, they unleashed D’Wayne Eskridge, who tore up CMU for 212 yards and three touchdowns receiving, while the running back corps had three backs pick up 97+ yards, inclduing La’Darius Jefferson’s 33 carry, 153-yard day.

WMU takes on perpetual thorn-in-the-side NIU on Saturday afternoon,

#1. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 1)

  • Unanimous #1

The Buffalo Bulls took care of business against BGSU, a team they’ve more or less had the number of over the last few years, as Jaret Patterson and brother James Patterson picked up offensive and defensive player of the week awards for their respective efforts.

The Bulls have shown the ability, moreso than most other MAC teams, to seemingly shift gameplans with relative ease. This has largely been the difference maker for Buffalo, as they feature one of the deepest teams on both sides of the ball in the conference.

They’re our unanimous #1 for the second week in a row, and will look to defend the crown in Week 4— as well as exorcise some demons— when they take on fellow undefeated Kent State, who defeated the Bulls in dramatic come-from-behind fashion in 2019 in a must-win game for the Bulls.

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!