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2021 Hustle Belt MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 12

NIU clinches their division and remains atop the rankings after completing an improbable ascent to the top vs. Buffalo.

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

12. Akron Zips (Last Rankings: 12)

  • High vote: 11 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (four)
  • Average vote: 11.8

Typically, teams save their best performances for their trophy games, but this week, Akron simply had nothing left in the tank for the overwhelming Flashes offense.

The Zips looked fairly dangerous against WMU in the week prior, so there was some thought lent to the potential they would be just as aggressive over the rest of their season, but Saturday bore out the opposite.

Akron played not to lose several times on offense, and it cost them dearly. Even their better drives resulted in nothing, with one fourth-down conversion failed by a drop in the endzone, and two half-ending drives which had a missed field goal and a botched time management strategy.

They end the year against Toledo.

11. Bowling Green Falcons (LR: 11)

  • High vote: 9 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (once)
  • Average vote: 10.8

BGSU, much like Akron, has regressed to normal form over the past few weeks. Also much like Akron, they served as the appetizer to a better team in Miami before the de facto MAC East championship game this week.

They struggled to even put up much of a fight past the first quarter, allowing 28 unanswered points after an initial 7-6 lead. The BGSU team which is front of us now is barely recognizable from the one we saw in the non-conference slate, and it’s a genuine wonder how they’ve looked so disjointed since then.

It doesn’t get any easier for them, as they face an Ohio team that’s 2-1 in their last three contests.

10. Ohio Bobcats (LR: 9)

  • High vote: 9 (twice)
  • Low vote: 11 (once)
  • Average vote: 9.8

Speaking of Ohio, they ran into a rising Rockets team last week, giving them a pretty good show last week in a game which they ultimately lost by 12 points.

In the effort, they held dual-threat QB Dequan Finn to just 150 passing yards and one touchdown (great!) but also got scorched by Bryant Koback for four touchdowns and 203 yards (bad!), which is to be expected of a team trying to figure it out. They even had a late rally to place pressure on Toledo.

After initial struggles to start the season (which will tend to happen when there’s coaching turnover a month before kickoff), they finally seem to know more or less how they want to play, even if the results aren’t there currently, and that’s great news for the 2022 campaign.

9. Buffalo Bulls (LR: 10)

  • High vote: 9 (twice)
  • Low vote: 10 (twice)
  • Average vote: 9.6

The Bulls put up an admirable effort against NIU on Wednesday night, coming back late to force NIU to try and earn the win in regulation. It almost worked, as John Richardson missed a kick which would have clinched the game in walk-off fashion and the game went to overtime—with Buffalo having first possession and the wind at its back.

Sadly for them, on what could have been a touchdown from the NIU one-yard line, Matt Myers (in relief of Kyle Vantrease) botched the handoff exchange, and the Huskies would win via walk-off touchdown.

Struggling to end games has been a pattern this year for Buffalo, and it’s too bad, because they have the talent to be able to make teams sweat. They play Ball State to try to get to 5-7 for potential APR bowl eligibility.

8. Western Michigan Broncos (LR: 8)

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 8 (four)
  • Average vote: 7.4

WMU has been the most frustrating team to cover since the start of the MAC league season, as they are, on paper, the most balanced and complete team in the conference. And yet, they lost once again to a MAC West opponent this week in Eastern Michigan.

It wasn’t just a loss, it was an implosion, having blown their lead thanks to committing two turnovers late in the fourth quarter, allowing the Eagles to claw back and win on their senior night. The loss drops their league record to 3-4, with the three wins against their MAC East crossover opponents in 1-10 Akron (by 5), 4-7 Buffalo (by 7) and 6-5 Kent State (by 33.)

It’s yet another season in the 5-7 win range for WMU under Tim Lester, and they’ll fight for their bowl lives against MAC West division champion NIU.

7. Ball State Cardinals (LR: 5)

  • High vote: 7 (four)
  • Low vote: 8 (once)
  • Average vote: 7.2

The Cardinals continue their steep decline down the rankings once again, this time falling to #7. The good news is this is likely as far as they fall, unless something catastrophic happens. The bad news is they were the MAC West favorites at the start of the season and the defending league champion, so, it’s been a fairly disappointing season.

Ball State had a chance to get bowl eligible against CMU in a matchup which has traditionally been been competitive in recent years. Instead, they were plastered 37-17 on their home grounds— and gave up a first quarter lead in the process.

They’ll have to get one over in their 2020 MAC Championship Game rematch with Buffalo to get into the postseason. How the mighty fall, eh?

6. Toledo Rockets (LR: 7)

  • High vote: 4 (once)
  • Low vote: 6 (twice)
  • Average vote: 5.2

Toledo has won the last two games after suffering a tough loss to EMU, and good on them for going through the adversity and not giving up on the season after getting eliminated from the MAC West race early.

The Rockets have gone back to their running roots and relied a lot more on Bryant Koback lately, and it has worked out for them, as they’ve beaten their last two opponents by 32 points and 12 points. If you go back to their 34-15 win over WMU prior to the slip-up against EMU, that’s yet another double-digit win. They get another chance to dunk on an opponent for a double-digit win, as a drained Akron is next on the schedule.

5. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LR: 6)

  • High vote: 3 (once)
  • Low vote: 6 (twice)
  • Average vote: 5

Much like Toledo, EMU was eliminated in the MAC West race with a slip-up loss to Ohio by— wait for it— one score two weeks ago.

But fret not, Eagles fans: your team has clinched at least a seven-win season with a valiant victory against rival Western Michigan to remain in the running for the Michigan MAC Trophy for the first time in nearly a decade. They can also get their eighth win for the first time since the heralded 1987 team, which finished 10-1, if they beat the Chippewas this week.

2021 will be the fourth time the Eagles have been bowling since the hiring of Chris Creighton, and it’s great to see the standard for success is starting to change after decades of mediocrity.

4. Miami RedHawks (LR: 8)

  • High vote: 4 (four)
  • Low vote: 7 (once)
  • Average vote: 4.6

Miami has always been a thorny side, but they’re looking especially so this year, sneaking through the conference slate to emerge at 5-2 going into this week’s game against Kent State— despite their 6-5 overall record.

They’ve got one of the better defenses in the MAC, coming in at #3 in the league in total yards (348.3) and tied for first in scoring defense (21.6.) It’s helped the RedHawks to stay in games while the offense figured itself out, and once that started happening, Miami started to become a contender, scoring 27.5 points per game despite being mid-table in total yards.

They’ve stuck to their 2019 blueprint in grinding out efficient drives and getting opposing offenses off-kilter to propel them to wins. It got them a MAC title that season; can they win their next two games and follow the blueprint once again?

3. Kent State Golden Flashes (LR: 3)

  • High vote: 3 (four)
  • Low vote: 6 (once)
  • Average vote: 3.6

Kent State took care of business against a burnt-out Akron as mentioned prior, and they did so using the run game.

The Flashes collected four touchdowns and 410 rushing yards against Akron, attempting only 15 passes throughout the game. It was an effort which showed Kent State’s versatility as an offense, capable of both throwing the ball and running it with shrewd efficiency. KSU is at their best when they’re able to get a quick start, and if they can blitz a capable RedHawks defense early, they’ll be in good shape to win.

If they do get to Detroit, they’ve shown the ability to win against NIU in the past.

2. Central Michigan Chippewas (LR: 2)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 2 (four)
  • Average vote: 1.4

CMU trounced Ball State 37-17 in a must-win game in order to keep pace with NIU. Unfortunately for them, their efforts were for naught, as Buffalo couldn’t seal the upset bid in overtime.

It’s too bad if you’re a Chippewa fan; CMU has arguably looked like the best team in the MAC in recent weeks (or, if not the best, certainly the most improved), and had one or two games gone differently, they might have clinched the West. They’re all left to wonder how the season may have looked if they made their QB switch quicker.

But they’re still one of the most dangerous and dynamic teams in the league, and will give their remaining two opponents fits on both sides of the ball. They’ll play EMU for the rights to the Michigan MAC Trophy on Black Friday.

1 Northern Illinois Huskies (LR: 1)

  • High vote: 1 (four)
  • Low vote: 2 (once)
  • Average vote: 1.2

NIU has clinched the MAC West division title, and once again, had to earn a one-score win to be able to do so, taking down cross-division Buffalo on the road in overtime to seal the deal.

Had they lost, they would still have a fairly good chance at winning the division so long as they beat WMU in the next game, a testament to how seriously they took their mission to go from last-to-first in the division. (With the win, they became the third team in as many years to complete the last-to-first jump in the MAC West, with CMU doing it in 2019 and Ball State in 2020.)

They’ve found ways to win games all season, whether it’s by mounting furious comeback rallies or stemming off late runs from opponents. They’ve won shootouts, but they’ve also grinded out close ones. The Huskies have been the most flexible team in the conference, and in a year which saw as much parity in the league as ever, this turned out to be the best quality to have.

They’ll be a tough out for their remaining opponents, including WMU this week.