We’re already halfway through the regular season? After each August day passed by like second period English class, we now find ourselves in mid-October. We spent the entire offseason breaking down expectations for all 12 MAC programs, but now it’s time to ditch those predispositions and rely on the six data points we have for each team.
But when grading how each team has fared through 2022, preseason expectations certainly play a major factor. Of course, a rebuilding Akron program with a first-year head coach comes with different expectations than reigning MAC champion Northern Illinois, although both programs currently boast the same record. So factoring in expectations, on-field performance, and record, among other variables, here are the current report cards for each MAC team at the regular season midway point:
Record: 1-5, 0-2 MAC
Midseason grade: C
The Zips won three combined games from 2019 through 2021, so this team wasn’t exactly expected to compete for a MAC championship in year one under head coach Joe Moorhead. Akron jumped to a 1-0 start, but an overtime victory over FCS squad St. Francis (PA) was punctuated with more of a question mark than an exclamation point. Akron than took its beatings to Michigan State and Tennessee by an aggregate score of 115-6, but it’s been a different story since.
The Zips have looked far more respectable in the last three weeks than in the first three, coming within nine points of Liberty and demonstrating potent offensive ability in their first two MAC contests. Quarterback DJ Irons rushed for 105 yards against Bowling Green and posted a career-high 418 passing yards on an 80 percent completion rate at Ohio last week. The second-year starter is only getting better and Akron could sneak up on a team in shootout fashion later this season.
As the old adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Akron fans must have faith that Moorhead can turn this program around, especially on the offensive side, after successful coordinator stints at Penn State and Oregon.
Ball State Cardinals
Record: 3-3, 2-1 MAC
Midseason grade: B+
Ball State relied on senior production more than any team in the MAC in 2021, and the Cardinals finished 6-7. So it seemed realistic that the Cardinals could fall to the cellar after losing the likes of former MAC champion stars Justin Hall, Drew Plitt, Bryce Cosby, and a horde of All-MAC linebackers. That has been far from the case.
Ball State established itself as a serious player in the MAC West after knocking down the top two teams of 2021, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan, to usher in the month of October. The Cardinals eviscerated their FCS competition, unlike many of their MAC peers, and held fourth quarter leads in losses to Western Michigan and Georgia Southern — showing how close this team is to 5-1. True sophomore halfback Carson Steele has been sensational with the second most rushing yards in the MAC thanks to four 100+ yard games. John Paddock has also seamlessly replaced Drew Plitt at quarterback, checking in at second in the conference in passing yards in his first season as a starter.
It was more of an offensive team early in the season, but the Cardinals defense stymied Central Michigan in a 17-16 result last week to prove viability on both sides of the ball. Program veterans Clayton Coll, Nic Jones, and Amechi Uzodinma have done a great job at keeping that unit rolling in the midst of heavy turnover.
Bowling Green Falcons
Record: 2-4, 1-1 MAC
Midseason grade: C-
When is the year Bowling Green finally turns it around? The Falcons suffer from the longest bowl drought in the MAC, longing for postseason eligibility every season since winning the MAC championship in 2015. With signs of a turnaround visible in 2021 — such as upsetting Minnesota — and returning more production than essentially every team in the FBS, Bowling Green looked poised to be a dark horse in a wide-open MAC East.
The Falcons trotted out All-MAC talent in all three levels of the defense with Darren Anders manning the linebacking corps, Jordan Anderson holding down the secondary, and Karl Brooks leading the trenches. And the team added established talent such as DJ Taylor and Chris Bacon in the transfer portal. Yet, Bowling Green’s defense shockingly ranks fourth-to-last in the country in yards allowed — 129th in pass defense and 109th in run defense — and third-to-last in points yielded per contest.
The brightest spot of Bowling Green’s season has been the massive improvement of quarterback Matt McDonald, who currently displays a stat-line of 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. Also, the Falcons took out a Marshall squad fresh off a victory at Notre Dame, which has boosted their report card by a slight amount. But dropping a 7-overtime game to an FCS team and experiencing defensive struggles poses the question, when is the year Bowling Green finally turns it around?
Record: 3-3, 3-0 MAC
Midseason grade: B+
Honestly, the difference between a B+ and A rating for Buffalo at midseason comes down to one Hail Mary. Out of the eight times an FCS team upset an FBS program this year, the Bulls were the victim of the most surprising outcome. Holy Cross utilized a 46-yard heave to the end zone to defeat Buffalo 37-31 on the game’s final play. One week later after falling at Coastal Carolina, the Bulls were one of six remaining winless FBS teams.
But the good news: the college football season doesn’t end after Week 3. Second-year head coach Maurice Linguist and his Bulls have experienced one of the most impressive turnarounds from the regular season’s first quarter to the second. Buffalo is now 3-0 in MAC play with a commanding lead in the East division, earning quality wins over .500+ teams such as Eastern Michigan and Miami (OH).
Just like the days of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, the Bulls have built an offense on a dynamic running back duo. Mike Washington and Ron Cook Jr. have propelled the Bulls to 37.3 points per game in MAC play, and the James Patterson-led defense has looked sensational in its last two outings. The FCS loss remains astonishing, but Buffalo has the look of a well-balanced team capable of punching a ticket to Detroit — one year after registering a 4-8 campaign.
Central Michigan Chippewas
Record: 1-5, 0-2 MAC
Midseason grade: D-
Jim McElwain took over a 1-11 Central Michigan prior to the 2019 season, and since, the Chippewas have not seen a losing season. Central Michigan compiled the MAC’s best overall record last year at 9-4 and staged the conference’s first-ever win over the Pac-12 by edging Washington State in the historic Sun Bowl. With the 2021 national rushing leader in Lew Nichols returning to the backfield with quarterback Daniel Richardson, the Chippewas were expected to do more of the same in 2022.
But with six games remaining in the season, Central Michigan is at severe risk of missing out on bowl eligibility. The Chippewas faced an uphill battle in the non-conference schedule with road trips to current top 10 programs Oklahoma State and Penn State, and they looked as good as advertised in the second half of the former and the first half of the latter, but there hasn’t been any consistency. The Chippewas have yet to beat FBS competition in five tries this year, and things completely unraveled in Toledo when facing a 31-3 halftime deficit.
Lacking its two offensive linemen selected in the NFL Draft last April, Central Michigan has yet to establish a juggernaut of a rushing attack with Nichols and the passing game has been inefficient ever since the opener at Oklahoma State. The Chippewas were a far better team in November than September last season, and they’ll need to make a drastic improvement to salvage what’s left of 2022.
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Record: 4-2, 1-1 MAC
Midseason grade: A-
Chris Creighton took over a perennial cellar dweller, a team that typically posted nine or more losses in a season, and he still has Eastern Michigan in good shape in his ninth year at the helm. The Eagles have gone bowling four times since 2016 after failing to qualify from 1987 to 2015, and Creighton has them on track for the postseason once again. Eastern Michigan is tied with Toledo for the best overall record in the conference and the Eagles generated some chaos by doing so.
Behind running back Samson Evans’ 258 rushing yards (third in program history), they took out Arizona State in a “Pac-12 After Dark” contest which ultimately resulted in the firing of Herm Edwards — the second instance of a MAC team defeating a Pac-12 team in history. Then the Eagles proved superiority over Western Michigan for the fourth consecutive season in a 45-23 thrashing in Kalamazoo. The Evans-led offense is exciting while the defense spearheaded by Jose Ramirez has thrived in opposing backfields.
Yes, Eastern Michigan had a head-scratching 49-21 loss to Louisiana, which looks more questionable as each week passes, but the Eagles have been stellar for the most part. Sporting a 4-2 record with four of six remaining opponents faring below .500 is a great place to be.
Kent State Golden Flashes
Record: 2-4, 1-1 MAC
Midseason grade: B-
Kent State might have been the toughest MAC team to get a good read on in non-conference play. The Golden Flashes ran through the gauntlet of non-conference schedules, taking road trips to Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia. They pummeled FCS competition 63-10 in their lone home game prior to the commencement of MAC play, and as a result, none of the first four contests were decided by fewer than three scores.
The Golden Flashes demonstrated plenty of promise by remaining within 10 points of No. 1 Georgia in the fourth quarter before falling in 39-22 fashion. They built on that performance by defeating a much-improved Ohio team to open MAC play — extending their home winning streak to a program-record 11 games. Against Ohio, Kent State proved the potency of its skill position players as first-year starting quarterback Collin Schlee attained 398 passing yards, Marquez Cooper rushed for 240, and Dante Cephas totaled 246 receiving yards in the win.
But Kent State could not sustain that momentum last Saturday in Miami, and the inability to spark the run game resulted in a surprising 27-24 defeat. Still, the Golden Flashes have plenty to like on the offensive end as Schlee has shown abilities similar to Dustin Crum as both a passer and rusher. The defense has looked far improved in MAC play, limiting its first two challengers to 25.5 points per game, so if that sustains, this team has potential to repeat its MAC East division title.
Miami (OH) RedHawks
Record: 3-3, 1-1 MAC
Midseason grade: B
The expectations surrounding the preseason MAC East favorites suddenly took a nosedive as soon as Week 1 concluded. In the waning minutes of a 24-point loss to Kentucky, the RedHawks lost starting quarterback Brett Gabbert, and the All-MAC gunslinger has yet to return to the lineup. This resulted in a drastic shift in offensive strategy for Miami, rebranding the unit to a run-heavy scheme in the absence of Gabbert.
The RedHawks lost starting left tackle Sam Vaughan in the opener and without those key offensive starters, it seemed like doomsday for the RedHawks. But the program is 3-2 since that Kentucky game and fields the top defense in the MAC. Miami has won games by countering rushing attacks to a lethal degree, attaining the 10th ranked run defense in all of college football. The return of inside linebacker Ryan McWood, who missed essentially the entire 2021 season, has greatly elevated the level of this defense.
The RedHawks defeated Northwestern in a defensive slugfest in Week 4 to snatch their first Big Ten victory since 2003. After falling short in Buffalo due to a costly offsides penalty, Chuck Martin’s team rebounded nicely with an upset win over Kent State, where it hogged time of possession with a solid run game. Quarterback Aveon Smith isn’t exactly lighting opponents through the air with 300 yards, but Gabbert’s backup has contributed to Miami’s improved rushing attack with 213 yards on the ground in his last two outings.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Record: 1-5, 0-2 MAC
Midseason grade: D
Northern Illinois was one of the most inspiring stories of the 2021 college football season, flipping its 0-6 result from 2020 into a MAC championship under head coach Thomas Hammock. The Huskies seemed to be a team of destiny last year, earning seven of their nine victories by one score. But the tide has completely turned in 2022 and Northern Illinois has already matched its prior year loss total at five, including three one-possession defeats.
The Huskies only win was a Week 1 survival over FCS opponent Eastern Illinois, so the search for a triumph over FBS competition prolongs into the second half of the season. Northern Illinois’ best performance to date was probably its 31-23 defeat at Kentucky, but there have been some real brutal losses apart from that. In the MAC opener, the Huskies squandered a 21-0 lead to fall 44-38 to Ball State in overtime, losing possession of the Bronze Stalk. In the follow-up act, Northern Illinois sustained a high level of offense but losing the turnover battle 4-0 contributed to a 52-32 home loss to Toledo.
Now, the Huskies are 0-2 in conference play and looking for a sign of life. It’s no question the offense misses MAC champion quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who went down with a leg injury in Week 3. But the more concerning aspect of the team has been the defensive side of the ball, where it surrenders the seventh most points per game in the FBS. The Huskies’ primary area of struggle is in the secondary, where they surrender roughly 292 yards and 3.7 passing touchdowns per game — a significant gap from Ohio’s next-most 3.0 per game.
Record: 3-3, 1-1 MAC
Midseason grade: B+
Ohio was dealt a tough hand of cards last fall when longtime head coach Frank Solich unexpectedly stepped down from the position he held since 2005. The result was a 3-9 record which signified Ohio’s first losing campaign since 2008. But the Bobcats already have matched their 2021 win total through the first half of the regular season in Tim Albin’s second year running the program.
The biggest difference between the 2021 and 2022 Bobcats is the firepower within the passing game. Kurtis Rourke has taken a significant leap from year two to year three as a starter, and the quarterback currently ranks fifth in the nation and first in the MAC in passing with 1,944 yards. Rourke has been exceptionally accurate with the football, exhibiting a 71 percent completion rate with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
But Ohio’s defense hasn’t approached games with the same level of execution as Rourke and the offense. Despite a .500 record, the Bobcats are in the bottom five in scoring defense and rank dead last in total defense. That comes as no surprise considering Ohio dropped non-conference games 46-10 and 43-10 to Penn State and Iowa State, respectively, while emerging victorious in 59-52 and 55-34 shootouts over Fordham of the FCS and Akron. This stellar offense, yet alarming defense version of Ohio is fun and has resulted in wins, so overall, it’s been a successful season for Albin and Co. in Athens.
Record: 4-2, 2-0 MAC
Midseason grade: A-
Considering the Rockets haven’t finished below .500 since 2009, it’s a little stunning they have only qualified for one MAC Championship Game in that time-span, which transpired in 2017. But if the first half of the season is any indication, it’s Toledo’s MAC West to lose in 2022. The Rockets are the only team in the MAC above .500 overall and undefeated in conference play, so Jason Candle’s squad has plenty going in its favor.
Toledo comfortably edged the top two MAC West teams from 2021, handling Central Michigan and Northern Illinois by margins of 21 and 20. The Rockets have breezed through MAC play with relative ease thus far, but not every data point has been perfect this season. Although allowing 77 points to Ohio State wasn’t ideal, Toledo’s most concerning performance of the season occurred when the offense stalled in a 17-14 defeat to San Diego State. But Dequan Finn and the unit rebounded nicely after that defeat and the offense has averaged 45.5 points per game in wins this year.
Defensively, Toledo appeared to find a successor to NFL Draft selection Samuel Womack as well. Cornerback Quinyon Mitchell is the most recent recipient of Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording four interceptions — two of them resulting in touchdowns — against Northern Illinois. There’s a lot of star talent on this defense too, further solidifying Toledo’s status as the current top dog in the MAC.
Western Michigan Broncos
Record: 2-4, 1-1 MAC
Midseason grade: D+
Unfortunately for Western Michigan, providing a bit of a second half scare to Michigan State in Week 1 doesn’t have the same appeal now as it did on Labor Day weekend. Despite losing offensive stars Kaleb Eleby and Skyy Moore this offseason, the Broncos gave the guise of a reloaded team through the first weeks of the season by competing with Michigan State and after defeating Ball State.
But the Broncos have a pair of ugly non-competitive losses now. San Jose State has taken many by surprise with a 4-1 start, but the Broncos couldn’t muster a single offensive point in a 34-6 defeat to the Spartans. And last week was a serious reality check when they dropped their fourth straight game in the series with Eastern Michigan, falling 45-23 at home to their in-state rival.
Western Michigan hasn’t experienced a losing season since P.J. Fleck first arrived in 2013, but that Broncos’ streak of .500+ seasons is in serious jeopardy after a 2-4 start. They’ll hope to utilize their potent running back duo of Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson to turn things around as the second half of the season approaches, while making improvements such as limiting penalties (fourth most penalty yardage in FBS) and fortifying an offensive line allowing more than 3.3 sacks per game.