So about last week...
There were a lot of intriguing league matchups over the weeknights, and the table is now set for some absolutely popcorn-worthy season-ending slates.
Rivalry trophies, bowl eligibility and tickets to the Championship Game are still all in the air with just two weeks remaining! Where do all the teams stand in the eyes of our voters, at current?
Without further ado, it’s what you’re here for: the Power Rankings!
12. Akron Zips (Last Rankings: 12)
- High vote: 11 (once)
- Low vote: 12 (four)
- Average vote: 11.8
In their first game under interim head coach Oscar Rodriguez Jr., the Akron Zips came out with as massive an effort as I’ve ever seen in the last three-and-a-half years in what was very nearly an upset victory against the Western Michigan Broncos.
The Zips had the Broncos on the ropes basically from the start, and never let WMU get terribly comfortable throughout the proceedings, even after WMU took the lead back with a long, unanswered run of points. Akron even got into WMU territory on the game’s final drive to attempt a Hail Mary toss for the game’s win.
They haven’t given up on this season yet, and that is an admirable trait for a team which has looked uncertain in their movements recently.
11. Bowling Green Falcons (LR: 11)
- High vote: 9 (once)
- Low vote: 12 (once)
- Average vote: 10.8
A week or so removed from their epic win against Buffalo, the Falcons crash-landed back to reality, suffering a 49-17 loss to rival Toledo in the Battle of I-75.
When the Buffalo win happened, it was in part because of BGSU’s offense starting aggressive in the first half and bursting into bloom in the second half, with 484 yards of total offense and 56 points despite only possessing the ball for 21 minutes. There was no such luck in their effort this time around, as they didn’t even reach 70 passing yards or have a single rusher go over 53 yards.
While it may not be time to put Scot Loeffler on the hot seat, and even understanding the situation he inherited, at some point, you have to look at the effort against Buffalo with and without Loeffler, as well as their other results this season, and wonder if something needs to be changed from a coaching and personnel standpoint.
10. Buffalo Bulls (LR: 9)
- High vote: 9 (twice)
- Low vote: 10 (four)
- Average vote: 9.8
Buffalo has regressed mightily in league play after starting the 2021 non-conference campaign with a lot of admirable performances, taking another bad loss last week to the Miami RedHawks and essentially playing themselves out of the MAC East race.
With how desperate Miami’s offense has looked at points all year, allowing 45 points is a bad look for Buffalo. Those initally worrisome performances vs. Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion could be initially overlooked with the end result of those games, but now, it has to be addressed that their defense has struggled to hold opponents in front of them.
It certainly is no help that the offense has looked just as bad, with neither Kyle Vantrease nor Matt Myers looking terribly good at the quarterback position. It’s the first year for head coach Mo Linguist, and they lost a lot of talent to graduation or transfer, but UB fans have a right to be frustrated here.
9. Ohio Bobcats (LR: 10)
- High vote: 8 (once)
- Low vote: 11 (once)
- Average vote: 9.4
So uh, are we gonna overlook the Bobcats’ recent run?
The Bobcats have picked up two straight wins, jumping up to three overall in league play after their surprise result against EMU on the road last week, and now they have a chance at the MAC East division (despite a guaranteed losing record!) if they win out while Kent State loses out and Miami goes 1-1 over the final two games.
They finally look fully healthy after enduring some initial injuries early in the season and have found a sudden burst of chemistry over the last month, looking especially dangerous on offense with Kurtis Rourke finally finding his passing stroke. They’ve got two winnable games against an uneven Toledo side and a declining BGSU side, and if they can get those victories, this ‘Cats team will have a fighting chance, which wasn’t expected at all after their 0-4 start.
8. Western Michigan Broncos (LR: 6)
- High vote: 4 (once)
- Low vote: 9 (once)
- Average vote: 7.2
The Broncos’ slow decline to the bottom of the table has been a very frustrating one for a team which carried so much promise going into the league season.
Special teams and turnover margin has been the undoing of the Broncos, who were considered a potential MAC title game favorite in the preseason. Lack of confidence in placekicking and some of the country’s worst kickoff and punt return coverage has resulted in a team which feels as if they have to play not to lose— which leads to turnovers on the offensive side of the ball. WMU has had a turnover margin of three gained to 10 lost over the last five league games, forcing them into uncomfortable situations.
At points last week, WMU looked simply outcoached by a man who was in his first-ever action in charge, as Akron played the Broncos unafraid and nearly came away with a win to boot. MAC teams hae more or less figured out this Broncos squad, and with the impending retirement of Kathy Beauregard as athletic director, Tim Lester’s job security is certainly in danger.
7. Toledo Rockets (LR: 7)
- High vote: 6 (once)
- Low vote: 8 (once)
- Average vote: 7.0
Toledo took care of business as expected in their win against BGSU, and will now look to wards securing their best possible postseason future in their two remaining contests.
Dequan Finn has taken over the starting QB job with authority, and after a few shaky starts to begin his career, he’s been on fire over the last two games, going 48-of-69 for 731 yards, six touchdowns and one interception to go along with two rushing touchdowns. It adds an extra dimension to an offense which, at full health, was great enough to be considered the favorite team in the MAC West.
They face Ohio this week, looking to solidify a potential eight-win season.
6. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LR: 4)
- High vote: 6 (three)
- Low vote: 8 (once)
- Average vote: 6.6
EMU, once again placed in a position to push the program forward with one (1) good result, didn’t play up to the moment, losing to the Ohio Bobcats on the road by— you guessed it— one score.
But don’t let the box score deceive you: EMU was flat-out dominated by the inferior ‘Cats. EMU coughed up two turnovers, while gaining none, couldn’t get to 100 rushing yards despite their bevy of rushing talent, and allowed 265 rushing yards and three passing touchdowns on nine completions.
The game was more or less won in the first quarter, when Ohio went up 14-7, in the second quarter, when EMU was stalled in the redzone to force a 25-yard field goal after a 13-play, 68-yard drive at 5:45 of game time, and in the final quarter, when EMU opted to go for two after scoring on a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining and failed, forcing them to onside kick to try and get another possession.
It’s this playing around the margins which has doomed EMU in the past and doomed them once again here, when they needed it most. It’s hard to feel very good if you’re an EMU fan, as the Eagles fell to 6-4, but an eight-win season is still in front of them if they can pull together some good performances.
5. Ball State Cardinals (LR: 3)
- High vote: 3 (once)
- Low vote: 5 (three)
- Average vote: 4.4
Ball State has had a very back-and-forth performance over the last month, going 2-2 in league. But when they’ve played at their best, they’ve been a Top 5 caliber team.
The Cards have depended on an untraditional approach, with Carson Steele as the true, every-down power back (21 carries, 109 yards vs. NIU) and WR Justin Hall getting several looks on jet sweeps, something he used to gain two rushing touchdowns last week. On the passing side, the approach seems to have gone to shot plays, with four of their receivers last week averaging 9 yards or more, with two averaging 11-plus yards per reception.
The defense, however, has struggled to maintain the shape which took it to the MAC title in 2020, currently sitting at second-bottom in the conference, and that showed with a 17-point burst in the second quarter, and 10 more in the fourth quarter while holding a lead which could have put them in control of the division.
They seem to be here if only because there’s still an outside chance they can compete for the MAC West title— despite their most recent 30-29 loss to the NIU Huskies, which was aided in part to some boneheaded defensive penalties at the end of the game.
4. Miami RedHawks (LR: 8)
- High vote: 3 (once)
- Low vote: 6 (once)
- Average vote: 4.2
The team which refuses to die is once again making noise in the MAC East race, dispensing of Buffalo 45-18 last week to climb up to a tie for the first spot at a 4-2 league record.
Miami was definied by an excellent defense held back by an elementary offense in the first part of the season, but those have apparently not been issues in recent weeks, as Jack Sorenson hasn’t had any less than 112 yards over the last five league games, with 27 receptions for 533 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games. Jalen Walker and Mac Hippenhammer have also stepped up in recent weeks to give the RedHawks a suddenly dangerous air attack.
If Miami can win this week against Bowling Green, and take down Kent State in the final game of the season, they’ll be heading to Detroit for the second time in three years.
3. Kent State Golden Flashes (LR: 1)
- High vote: 3 (twice)
- Low vote: 5 (once)
- Average vote: 3.8
Kent State started off hot against Central Michigan, but like a lot of CMU opponents in recent weeks, found themselves in a deep deficit fairly quickly, as the Chippewas rattled off 26 unanswered points in the second quarter to pick up nearly half their points in a 54-30 win.
The Flashes appeared to be fairly shocked at how quickly the tides turned, as they were unable to get their traditionally fast offense going, and their defense had no answers for Lew Nichols III, who picked up 43 carries for 215 yards and four touchdowns. At one point, they even resorted to a ball control offense and grind clock to try and score points on a buzzsaw defense which had taken away their ability to find players deep.
It’s not the worst thing in the world for Kent State to take the loss to Central, as CMU is an excellent team who is on the rise, but it was perhaps the worst timing. With Miami’s win this week, Kent State cannot clinch next week and would have to beat Miami in the final week of the season to book their ticket to Detroit.
2. Central Michigan Chippewas (LR: 5)
- High vote: 1 (once)
- Low vote: 2 (four)
- Average vote: 1.4
Speaking of CMU, the Chippewas have burned their last two opponents to the ground after under-performing against Toledo and NIU at the midway of the season.
CMU has posted 96 points while allowing 60, and they don’t look to be stopping that any time soon. Daniel Richardson has a 10:0 TD-to-INT ratio over the last four weeks, while Lew Nichols III has scored eight touchdowns and ran for 136 yards or more in every game in the same time span. This is even before getting to Kalil Pimpleton’s Swiss Army knife versatility or the suddenly ferocious CMU defensive performance.
They’re in absolute must-win territory to have any chance at the MAC West, but it’s definitely feasible, as they only need NIU to lose out to take the division. CMU has two of the league’s more porous defenses in Ball State and EMU ahead, so they’ll be a must-watch, especially with NIU’s game running concurrent on Wednesday.
1 Northern Illinois Huskies (LR: 2)
- High vote: 1 (four)
- Low vote: 2 (once)
- Average vote: 1.2
The Huskies took a loss to Kent State two weeks ago, putting them in vulnerable territory. And they very nearly lost once again to Ball State in what was a back-and-forth rivalry game which looked more like a heavyweight fight than a football game at points.
However, Ball State made a bad mistake by committing a dead ball foul, and NIU took advantage, with John Richardson kicking the field goal through to win the game at the buzzer. (Coincidentally, Ball State missed a field goal to end the first half earlier in the game, which wound up coming back to haunt them.)
This isn’t to suggest NIU didn’t earn their way into getting the opportunity. Jeyvon Ducker had 24 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown, while both Trayvon Rudolph and Cole Tucker each had over 100 yards receiving, and Richardson nailed all three field goals when called upon. The defense kept BSU to 1-of-10 on third-down and 0-of-1 on fourth down as well, with a nearly flawless defensive performance.
They’ve played every game to a one-score margin, and won the vast majority of them. If they’re able to win out the division, no one will doubt they earned it. The question will become similar to the question EMU has faced in the past: how long can you live in the margins, and what happens if you can’t get there?
For now, they remain P1 by virtue of their current and past performance.
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!