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2021 Hustle Belt MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 4

It’s a wide-open league, and our Power Rankings prove it once again, as there’s yet another new leader this week.

Tyler Carlton

12. Ohio Bobcats (Last Rankings: 12)

  • High vote: 10 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (five)
  • Average vote: 11.5

The Ohio Bobcats lost again, and unless they suddenly find Michael’s Magic Stuff and run the table, they’re well on the way to their first losing season in over 12 years.

This latest loss was a particularly draining one, as it was a 35-0 thrashing prior to the walk-off touchdown to break the shutout by Armani Rogers well after the game had been decided. There just isn’t a lot to cheer for right now, and the pallor around this team is so dark, even a 9.5-point line in their favor over the 1-3 Akron Zips, who they beat by 14 last year, doesn’t feel right.

11. Akron Zips (LR: 11)

  • High vote: 11 (six)
  • Low vote: 12 (twice)
  • Average vote: 11.25

As expected, Akron took an absolute beating against Ohio State, though they took it in an unexpected way, initially taking a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter before it all fell apart.

It’s hard to fault Akron here, they’re simply not talented enough to keep up in a game like this, but the fight they showed early on is very encouraging and there’s some potential stars on the roster with some time to gain chemistry. They’ll face Ohio in the Hustle Belt Certified (tm) Game Of The Century of the Week.

10. Ball State Cardinals (LR: 8)

  • High vote: 7 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (three)
  • Average vote: 9

The benefit of the doubt is absolutely gone for the defending MAC Champions, as Ball State has suffered three straight losses, including a loss this week to the Toledo Rockets, which was an absolute must-win to stay in the West division race.

The team has regressed fairly quickly, suddenly struggling to pull together consistent offensive performances, a trait they relied upon in the 2020 pandemic season. The defense has also been lackluster, giving up 33 points and 438 yards of offense per game on average. It’s truly a shock for a team that returned 92 percent of their roster.

It doesn’t get any easier, as they face the surging Army Black Knights this week to round out their non-con schedule.

9. Miami RedHawks (LR: 6)

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (twice)
  • Average vote: 8.37

Speaking of Army West Point, they completely took Miami’s lunch and then some on Saturday, taking the RedHawks for a 23-10 result which wasn’t as close as it appeared.

Miami only ran for 28 yards of offense and converted 2-of-11 third downs on the day, while simultaneously allowing Army to run for 384 rushing yards and to convert on 3-of-3 fourth-down conversions. An 80-yard wheel route from Brett Gabbert to Kevin Davis early in the fourth quarter put Miami in the double digits, but it was otherwise a miserable experience on that front, with Gabbert finishing 11-of-25 on pass attempts in a game where the RedHawks were forced to pass. They’ll play an explosive CMU team to try and rebound.

8. Northern Illinois Huskies (LR: 9)

  • High vote: 2 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (twice)
  • Average vote: 7.12

NIU took home a nice win against FCS Maine at home, as expected, and finish their non-conference season at 2-2, a mark that not many people probably expected, considering where this team was in the 2020 season.

NIU has shown some great fight in three of their four games (we’re not gonna dwell too much on that Michigan game), and have shown a propensity for generating running yards, much like the Huskies of old. Clint Ratkovich and Harrison Waylee are a nice one-two unit that the Huskies have leaned on this season, while Lance Deveaux Jr. and Jordan Hansen are building blocks for a potentially great defense.

We’ll get a sense of what they’re capable of when they go up against Eastern Michigan.

7. Bowling Green Falcons (LR: 10)

  • High vote: 3 (twice)
  • Low vote: 12 (once)
  • Average vote: 7

No one saw this type of performance coming for BGSU going into the season, but here they are, sitting at 2-2 after doing everything they needed to do to take home an upset victory against Minnesota on the road. If a walk-off field goal by South Alabama doesn’t ring true, we’re looking at a 3-1 squad.

It can’t be said enough how much potential BGSU has shown in recent weeks, striking gold in Washington transfer receiver Austin Osborne and getting some welcome development from QB Matt McDonald on offense, and Darren Anders and Brock Horne has proven to be a tough linebacking duo. The Falcons look to keep their two-game winning streak going against MAC East favorite Kent State.

6. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LR: 7)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 9 (once)
  • Average vote: 5.5

EMU gobbled up another cupcake in the Texas State Bobcats at The Factory with a 59-21 victory on Saturday, moving up to a 3-1 record overall.

There’s still some trepedation of what this team is truly capable of; their strongest opponent was Wisconsin, and EMU barely made it out alive with less than 60 yards of offense. Their three wins were against an FCS teams and two FBS teams who are more or less bottom-of-the-barrel. But you can only play who’s in front of you, and EMU has done a great job putting away the teams they’re expected to put away, so they sit for sixth at the present until they can prove they’re capable of winning against peer competition. They face NIU next.

5. Buffalo Bulls (LR: 3)

  • High vote: 3 (twice)
  • Low vote: 6 (once)
  • Average vote: 4.375

Buffalo looked convincing as a conquering hero in the first half against Old Dominion, putting it up 35 first half points, including 28 in the second quarter, to get to a commanding 35-7 lead going into the locker room.

That wasn’t the case in the second half, as Buffalo immediately gave up a 27-point unanswered run to bring the score to 35-34 with just eight seconds remaining. Old Dominion got a bit overexcited on the celebration, drawing a 15-yard penalty for the extra point attempt, taking them out of two-point conversion territory. ODU couldn’t get the onsides kick, giving Buffalo a win by the short hairs.

It’s not an encouraging result for the Bulls, who have a had a number of strange results in the first four weeks of action. But there’s great talent and championship pedigree on that roster all over the board, so they’ll get good marks going into the conference season.

t-3. Central Michigan Chippewas (LR: t-4)

  • High vote: 3 (twice)
  • Low vote: 7 (once)
  • Average vote: 4.25

CMU pulled a reverse Buffalo this week, struggling to get going in the first half against FIU, falling 27-10 late in the third quarter before coming all the way back via a 21-point unanswered streak to win by a final of 31-27.

The spark was backup QB Daniel Richardson, who was declared the starter on Wednesday morning as a result of his performance vs. the Panthers. He tossed three touchdowns and zero interceptions through the air, and showed great chemistry with his receivers, showing no hesitancy to toss it deep if he thought the reward was good enough.

If CMU can take Richardson’s arm, and pair it with Lew Nichols’ lead back abilities, they’ll be a dangerous offensive unit. Don’t underestimate the defense, either, as CMU has collected 38 tackles-for-loss and 11 sacks in just four games. They face Miami on the road to start the MAC slate.

t-3. Kent State Golden Flashes (LR: 1)

  • High vote: 1 (twice)
  • Low vote: 8 (once)
  • Average vote: 3.85

So, never mind about our “when in doubt” comment from last week. Kent State once again wilted under Power 5 pressure, this time to Maryland, in a 38-16 result on Saturday.

They’re now 1-3, with only their FCS win against VMI on the left side of the column. It’s hard not to notice that in the three P5 games, Kent State messed up multiple chances to score on drives, and part of it came down to the running game, with a leading back only getting over 40 yards once (Xavier Williams vs. Texas A&M, with 70.)

The situation will certainly change once they start playing teams at a peer level, but the margin for error is starting to get smaller now. Buffalo is looking to come together, and BGSU could be a potential spoiler as well if they keep up their progress. For now, their future projection keeps them atop the charts.

2. Toledo Rockets (LR: t-4)

  • High vote: 2 (three)
  • Low vote: 9 (once)
  • Average vote: 4

Toledo rises up the chart to second after taking home an eight-point win over defending MAC champion Ball State to carry an early 1-0 division lead in the MAC West. It was a must-win game to start the season, as the winner of the West will likely need to win at least two of three vs. Ball State, Western Michigan and Central Michigan to have a chance to go to Detroit.

There’s still a number of issues to resolve, such as if the two-QB system with Carter Bradley and Dequan Finn is working, but the Rockets have set themselves up to defend the top spot in the gauntlet— at least for now. They play UMass in a non-conference game on Saturday.

#1. Western Michigan Broncos (LR: 2)

  • High vote: 1 (five)
  • Low vote: 2 (three)
  • Average vote: 1.375

WMU didn’t just beat defending Mountain West champion San Jose State; they dominated them. The WMU defense was the star of the show, allowing only three points, 119 offensive yards, and creating three turnovers in the effort, which was aided by six sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss.

The Broncos are now 3-1 as they go into the MAC slate, and have shown themselves to be the most balanced team on both sides of the ball, with an ability to adapt and survive depending on the game situation. They have some of the best individual talents in the MAC as well, so there’s a lot of optimism to be had there for the Broncos.

They face Buffalo on Saturday in what could be a potential MAC Championship preview.

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!