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2021 Hustle Belt MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 5

The first (almost) week of conference games humbled certain teams, while helping make the case for others.

Central Michigan v LSU Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

12. Akron Zips (Last Rankings: 11)

  • High vote: 11 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (six)
  • Average vote: 11.85

Alas, Akron’s tenure in 11th only lasted about a week or so, as they undertook a loss to the previously winless Ohio Bobcats.

The Zips were a nine-point home dog to the visiting ‘Cats, and ended up losing by a final score of 34-17, which to turn a phrase on an old gambling idiom: great teams cover; bad teams don’t.

This loss was particularly brutal, as the Zips held the Bobcats to a 17-17 tie at the end of the third quarter before giving up 17 straight points to lose the game. Akron didn’t seem to have any answer or adjustment they could make to stop Armani Rogers and the Ohio rushing attack, and it’s getting to the point (once again) where it’s safe to ask if Tom Arth is the right person to lead the Zips moving forward.

Akron faces BGSU on the road this weekend.

11. Ohio Bobcats (LR: 12)

  • High vote: 10 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (once)
  • Average vote: 11

We just finished discussing the results of the Ohio/Akron game above, so we won;t ruminate on it too much. But it’s safe to say that Ohio has potentially found a gameplan which could well help them win more games down the road. After Armani Rogers replaced Kurtis Rourke, the ‘Cats only passes three times (completing one attempt) and ran it down Akron’s throats, with the team finishing with 368 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground for the game.

They took care of business, especially in the second half, to get their first win of the season, and the first win of the Tim Albin era. Perhaps Saturday is exactly what they needed to get back on track. Ohio will next play Central Michigan in a cross-divisional game.

10. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LR: 6)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 11 (once)
  • Average vote: 8.14

EMU lived on the razor’s edge once again, allowing NIU to gather a 17-3 halftime lead (thanks in part to a pick-six on the third play out of a three-hour lightning delay) before heading up a 17-10 second-half rally to attempt to steal a win from the Huskies. It was ultimately up for naught, however, as the Eagles simply had no solution for the NIU rushing attack which picked up 242 rushing yards to put any hope of a win away.

EMU’s ability to play themselves into— and out of— games is becoming a real issue, as their record in one-score scores has been, to put it charitably, abysmal under Chris Creighton. Now they find themselves in a 0-1 MAC hole, and face a dangerous Miami team this weekend.

9. Central Michigan Chippewas (LR: t-3)

  • High vote: 7 (three)
  • Low vote: 10 (once)
  • Average vote: 7.85

CMU took a huge step backwards against Miami, as they were simply unable to utilize their gameplan on either side of the ball in a lopsided 28-17 loss to the Miami RedHawks. You can add injury to insult as well, with new starting QB Daniel Richardson (shoulder) questionable for this week’s action, putting the previously benched Jacob Sirmon back under center.

The secondary is the sore thumb on the CMU roster, with the pass defense having given up three 170+ yard receivers in the last two weeks, and five 100+ yard receivers total over the season so far. They’ll face a 1-4 Ohio squad next, and it’s hard to say if they’ll fix what ails them in that time.

8. Miami RedHawks (LR: 8)

  • High vote: 5 (twice)
  • Low vote: 9 (three)
  • Average vote: 7.28

Miami dominated CMU in all three phases of the game on Saturday, limiting a powerful CMU rushing attack to 58 yards, and forcing CMU to settle for three field goals (with the Chippewas missing two) and a fourth-and-six from positive territory to squash promising drives. The offense also seemed to operate without a hitch despite the injury Brett Gabbert took in the first half, with AJ Mayer holding up admirably in his stead.

If Miami can hold up this sort of performance, and Tyre Shelton and Jaylon Bester work their way back into the fold (they made their debuts this week after sitting out all 2020), they’ll have one of the most balanced attacks in the MAC. They play Eastern this upcoming weekend.

t-6. Bowling Green Falcons (LR: 7)

  • High vote: 5 (twice)
  • Low vote: 10 (once)
  • Average vote: 6.85

The Falcons lost to Kent State, as expected, but it was a hard-earned result for the Falcons, who at one point held a one-score lead in the third quarter before falling 27-20 to Kent State.

This is significant progress, as the Falcons were filleted by this same Flashes squad by a score of 62-24 just last season. They were able to contain the famously prolific KSU passing attack to only 134 yards, marking the fourth time in five games they held their opponent to under 150 yards through the air. Kent State would have to rely on the ground this go-around, with 42 attempts between their two primary backs in Marquez Cooper and Xavier Williams.

This BGSU team only has two wins on the year, but they could well be 4-1 if a handful of plays go their way. There’s a lot to be happy about in Bowling Green, Ohio.

t-6. Ball State Cardinals (LR: 10)

  • High vote: 5 (twice)
  • Low vote: 9 (three)
  • Average vote: 6.85

The Cardinals surprised Army West Point with a Justin Hall game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown, and then added on 14 more points in the first quarter to put away the Black Knights early in a 28-16 victory.

It was a return to form for the Cardinals, who looked a lot closer to the 2020 team which won the MAC title than the team we’d seen in 2021 up to this point. Ball State forced Army to throw for 66 passing yards (a rarity!) and nabbed two interceptions to end drives, while also relying on the passing offense to maintain ball control in a sort of bizzaro-Army fashion.

They’ll try to gain ground against Western Michigan in a must-win MAC game on Saturday.

5. Northern Illinois Huskies (LR: 8)

  • High vote: 2 (once)
  • Low vote: 9 (once)
  • Average vote: 5.42

NIU makes the jump after fending off the Eagles under unique circumstances on Saturday, winning 27-20 in a game which lasted over six hours due in part to a lightning delay. The Huskies jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead, one which was preserved until a Chad Ryland field goal with :02 left in the first half.

NIU ended up giving up 17 points to the EMU offense in the second half, but kept enough pace on the offense to widen the gap when necessary. The Huskies’ resume has looked fairly good outside of an expected blowout loss to Michigan, and they’ll now face Toledo (which is arguably a rivalry, depending on who you ask,) to try and get to 2-0 in a young MAC season.

t-3. Buffalo Bulls (LR: 5)

  • High vote: 3 (twice)
  • Low vote: 6 (once)
  • Average vote: 4.14

The Bulls held their own against a tough WMU squad on their home grounds, leading the Broncos 10-7 going into the fourth quarter.

But those fourth quarter woes sprung to life once again, as Buffalo allowed 17 points in the final frame (while scoring zero) to lose their second home game in a row by a one-score margin. They also played a one-score game against Old Dominion on the road in a game which they could have lost were it not for a celebration penalty, so there’s some concern as to whether or not this team is playing up to its full potential.

However, when this team is on, they’ve really looked the part of a talented team whcih has the confidence to face any foe in their way, and that is a dangerous thing, especially in the MAC East divisional race.

t-3. Kent State Golden Flashes (LR: t-3)

  • High vote: 2 (once)
  • Low vote: 8 (once)
  • Average vote: 4.14

KSU’s offensive struggles have continued into the conference season, posting only 134 passing yards against BGSU, a defense which was the worst in the country last season. They had to rely on the ground game this time, posting 262 points and four touchdowns to earn the victory.

KSU even found themselves trailing the Falcons at one point in the second half, but they managed to gather themselves up and score 14 unanswered to take home the win and start MAC play at 1-0. There’s still a lot of potential in this side left to be uncovered for the Flashes; it’s now a matter of whether or not it shows itself. They’ll next play Buffalo to establish who is tops of the East division.

2. Toledo Rockets (LR: t-4)

  • High vote: 2 (three)
  • Low vote: 7 (once)
  • Average vote: 3.28

There wasn’t a lot to take away from an expected 45-7 throttling of UMass in terms of what it says about the Toledo Rockets, but what’s clear is that this is a Toledo team who will rely on a changing to the style of play from week-to-week as the season goes on.

Dequan Finn once again proved to be UT’s best playmaker under center, but he will continue to be the backup for the foreseeable future, splitting time with Carter Bradley. That situation and how it plays out will have a lot of say in how Toledo will ultimately perform this season. For now, however, it’s working. Toledo faces NIU next weekend to determine which team will stay at 2-0.

#1. Western Michigan Broncos (LR: 2)

  • High vote: 1 (six)
  • Low vote: 2 (once)
  • Average vote: 1.14

WMU was in a bit of a hole against Buffalo for three quarters, with a number of miscues on special teams costing the Broncos valuable points early on. They were ultimately able to figure things out in the last 15 minutes, leaving Buffalo with a much-needed MAC victory.

It was a superb defensive effort by the Broncos which propelled the rally, as timely turnovers and a ferocious defense on key downs gave WMU more opportunities to maximize their points, which they did. They’re 4-1 now, and there really aren’t a lot of weaknesses outside of the placekicker position to attack. They’re likely going to be #1 until they suffer another loss— or if it happens, at the rate they’re playing.

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!