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2021 Hustle Belt MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 10

NIU and Kent State duked it out on the field last week— and they’re duking it out in our Power Rankings this week as well.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 NIU at Kent State Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hello all, it’s been awhile!

If you’ve been looking for Power Rankings in recent weeks, our usual writer (myself) has been dealing with a family emergency and couldn’t update as frequently as usual. So, for the “last week’s” rankings, we’ll be using Week 7’s rankings, which are from the tail end of October, to reflect the rise and fall of the teams in the MAC.

Thank you all for your kind words over social media the last few weeks, and for your continued readership of these rankings and all out other content here at Hustle Belt!

Without further ado, it’s what you’re here for: the Power Rankings!

12. Akron Zips (Last Rankings: 12)

  • Unanimous vote: 12

Things haven’t gotten better for Akron since we last checked in on them. They still only have the one league win against BGSU (the only FBS opponent they’ve defeated in the last three years), and a goal-line fumble by Zach Gibson which cost the Zips a chance to play in OT at home was ultimately the death knell for Tom Arth, who received about as unceremonious of a firing as one could get on Thursday.

They’ll look for a dead cat bounce against WMU this week under interim coach Oscar Rodriguez Jr., but chances are it’ll be an 0-fer season moving forward.

11. Bowling Green Falcons (LR: 11)

  • High vote: 9 (once)
  • Low vote: 11 (four)
  • Average vote: 10.6

Good news: BGSU picked up a win against Buffalo! Bad news: they got their coach ejected during the game and were basically on the Bill O’Reilly strategy. They racked up a lot of penalties in the game, and Buffalo just kept hanging around because BGSU just couldn’t prevent their offense from doing much. It’s generally hard to see a team score 28 points in a half (well above the team’s average for a game) and say they could have won with their usual head coach at the helm for the second half.

This team is a very frustrating one to watch at times, with uneven performances (they were blown out by EMU 55-24 and lost to NIU 34-26 the weeks before), but at the very least, you can say that Scot Loeffler has been a keen evaluator of talent, especially at the offensive skill positions and linebacker. There’s a lot of hope to be had if you’re a BG fan.

10. Ohio Bobcats (LR: 11)

  • High vote: 10 (twice)
  • Low vote: 11 (three)
  • Average vote: 10.6

This time a couple weeks back, we were talking about the emergence of Armani Rogers, the former UNLV transfer, and how he took control of the offense. Well, that didn’t last very long, as Kurtis Rourke took the job back prior to the end of October in relief and never looked back.

The ‘Cats have looked feisty with Rourke’s dual-threat ability in recent weeks, and his resurgence has made Ohio a very dangerous spoiler candidate, with their last four league games— and their last victory against Miami— all decided by one score or less. Out of bowl contention, they can still have a hand in deciding the West division race with upcoming games vs. EMU and Toledo.

9. Buffalo Bulls (LR: 6)

  • High vote: 8 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (two)
  • Average vote: 9.2

Well, simply put, you can’t lose to BGSU without their head coach and expect to be a contender in the MAC East. It was yet another strange performance by the Bulls in a season full of them, as they never looked to be in control last Saturday.

Realistically, with the amount of talent this team has, they shouldn’t be wallowing in the mud as they are. Dylan McDuffie has emerged as a surprising successor to Jaret Patterson in conference play, and the promise of Dominic Johnson as a WR1 is finally coming to fruition as well now that he has a complimentary piece in Quian Williams.

It’s a worrying habit the Bulls are starting to develop in regards to second-half performances, often blowing double-digit leads or otherwise finding ways to lose. That ultimately falls on coaching, and UB fans can only hope it gets better from here.

8. Miami RedHawks (LR: 7)

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 9 (once)
  • Average vote: 7.2

If it weren’t for the heroics of Jack Sorenson, it’s hard to imagine where Miami’s offense would be right now. Sorenson picked up 283 yards and two touchdowns on 14 receptions in their weeknight game last week and yet still came out on the losing end to a then 1-7 Ohio squad in the Battle of the Bricks. The rushing game, once the RedHawks’ bread-and-butter, has really struggled to find its footing all season, rotating between four different backs to frustrating results.

The defense has been a bright spot, at least, and has kept Miami in the good majority of its games in 2021, so that’s something which can be built upon for the future of the team. For now, they’ll try to play spoiler to both Kent State and Buffalo, the MAC East leaders, in two of their next three games.

7. Toledo Rockets (LR: 9)

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 8 (once)
  • Average vote: 7.0

Toledo, once considered a favorite to win the division, is languishing at the mid-table and pretty much out of the MAC West race after taking bad losses to NIU, CMU and EMU. It’s astonishing, really, because there’s a lot of good talent there on both sides of the ball.

At one point, the defense was considered a Top 30 unit in the country, and took a nationally-ranked Notre Dame down to the wire. The offense also has workhorse back Bryant Koback and a versatile Dequan Finn to depend upon. But for whatever reason, it’s simply not working in league play, as teams have found ways to clip the Rockets in close games. All three league losses were within a field goal or less, while their wins have come in double-digits.

They’ll have a great chance to finish out the season as winners, with their three cross-over games remaining against Akron, Ohio and Bowling Green.

6. Western Michigan Broncos (LR: 2)

  • High vote: 4 (once)
  • Low vote: 8 (twice)
  • Average vote: 6.6

No team has fallen off their pedestal more this season than WMU. With their firecracker 4-1 start, WMU was expected to fight with Toledo to decide the West. That didn’t happen, as NIU emerged from nowhere to lead the division at 4-0, including vital wins in comeback fashion over CMU and Toledo to take control.

In that time, WMU has fallen to 2-3 in league play, with their latest game against rival CMU emblematic of the issues plaguing the Broncos to this point. They’ve committed eight turnovers since the start of MAC play, including two last week to CMU, and they’ve had direct hands in giving WMU losses. The offense has also had immense struggles in the redzone, while special teams has been one of the worst units in the country, both in field goal kicking and kickoff/punt coverage.

They’re virtually eliminated form MAC West contention (unless a convoluted amount of circumstances happens), but can still decide the winner of the division, with games vs. EMU and NIU left on the docket.

5. Central Michigan Chippewas (LR: 5)

  • High vote: 4 (three)
  • Low vote: 6 (once)
  • Average vote: 4.6

Speaking of CMU, the Chippewas earned their way into the MAC West title race with an electric performance vs. WMU in a must-win situation under the lights last week. It was truly a #MACtion moment for the ages, as Kalil Pimpleton single-handedly sparked CMU to victory via special teams, and the rest of the team put away a clearly stunned WMU side.

Their validity as a team was brought into question after taking a bad loss to a middling Miami team (which, admittedly, has had the better of CMU for whatever reason in recent years,) but with wins over Toledo and WMU, they’re now in prime position to sneak the division away if they can get through the gauntlet of Kent State, EMU and Ball State.

It’s a tall ask, but CMU has one of the best offenses in the MAC, headed by Pimpleton through the air and Lew Nichols, who crossed the 1,000-yard threshold on Tuesday, on the ground. They’ll be able to post points, it’s just a matter of stopping some of the top attacks in the MAC, as they’ve been prone to the big play on the outside all season.

4. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LR: 8)

  • High vote: 3 (once)
  • Low vote: 5 (three)
  • Average vote: 4.4

No team has risen up the ranks in recent weeks quite like EMU.

The meme with the Eagles is that they’re especially adept at finding themselves in one-score games, but unlike recent years, EMU is actually starting to find themselves on the right side of such coin-flip outcomes, winning four of their league games by seven points or less (including two decided by three points or less), while beating up on a bad BGSU side 55-24.

It is an ascent aided by their prolific offense, which currently has one of the league’s top passers in Ben Bryant, a first-team all-MAC receiving candidate in Hassan Beydoun, and a balanced run game featuring the duo of Samson Evans and Juwon Hamilton.

EMU will next face Ohio in a must-win cross-divisional game to keep their title aspirations alive before taking on WMU and CMU at season’s end for control of the Michigan MAC trophy. If EMU can keep the momentum going, they’re looking at a potential 2019 Miami scenario.

3. Ball State Cardinals (LR: 3)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 3 (three)
  • Average vote: 3

After a slow start to the season which called into question whether BSU extended Mike Neu too early, the Cards have been on a roll, winning four of their last five games. It’s been an effort sustained thanks to their defense, which is a Top 5 unit in the conference with 401 yards and 27.6 points allowed on average per contest.

Their offensive savvy has slowly re-emerged as well, with Drew Plitt connecting with Justin Hall early and often, while Carson Steele has effectively taken over lead back duties in Muncie. They’re still the second-worse offense in the MAC, but if they can do what needs to be done and give their defense points to depend upon, they can set themselves up well.

Their inexplicable (and early) loss to Toledo really hurt them early, as did a just-as-strange loss to Miami two weeks back, but there is still a chance for them to pull even for the division lead should they beat NIU under the weeknight lights. They can compete for the division title if they win out as well, with a chance to eliminate CMU next week (should CMU beat Kent State) if the Cards take care of business in the Bronze Stalk rivalry.

2. Northern Illinois Huskies (LR: 1)

  • High vote: 2 (four)
  • Low vote: 3 (once)
  • Average vote: 2.2

NIU finally lost a conference game last week, and it was, coincidentally, to the MAC-East leading Kent State Golden Flashes.

NIU had to adapt to a fast-paced game in this contest, something they haven’t particularly been accustomed to all season, and Trayvon Rudolph’s historic 309-yard, three-score evening (to go along with Rocky Lombardi’s ridiculous passing numbers of 33-of-57 for 532 yards) just weren’t enough, as their defense, which is second-worst in the MAC, gave up 31 points in the second quarter (and an additional 14 in the third quarter) to force NIU to damn the torpedoes early and often and get away from their usual ball control offense.

They’re still in control of the MAC West division, but the margin of error is getting smaller, as they face one of the MAC’s best defenses in Ball State and one of the MAC’s most explosive offenses in WMU to round out the calendar.

1 Kent State Golden Flashes (LR: 4)

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

Kent State just keeps finding themselves atop the Power Rankings as the weeks go by, and it’s hard not to believe in them, as they weathered yet another “MAC Championship Game Preview” game to get another victory and put them one game away from clinching the East division.

The FlashFast offense is doing exactly what it was meant to do, forcing teams to play up to their offense’s level in order to win, and that blueprint was clearly established here. Admittedly, their defense could probably use some amount of ball control, as NIU got back into the game late with 20 fourth-quarter points, but over and over again, KSU has proven their muster, and validated its preseason hype, showing they should be thought of as the favorite, even with the West being the more competitive division.

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!