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2022 Hustle Belt Mid-American Conference Football Power Rankings: Preseason

Our motley crew of bloggers assembles once again to set the preseason table for all 12 member programs as the new season kicks off this week.

2021 Cure Bowl - Northern Illinois v Coastal Carolina Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Hey there everyone, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

With a new season comes new hope, new dreams, and new expectations. It’s no different in the MAC, as all 12 teams start at 0-0 and hope to impress their fans and get the better of their opponents en route to a conference title and/or a bowl game.

As always with every new season, we’re here to track our general feelings about the MAC programs and where we feel they are on the spectrum of progress, setting the table for where we feel each team stands at the end of each week, leading all the way up to the title game.

New to the rankings this year is the inclusion of our anonymized rankings at the conclusion of the sheet! In the spirit of transparency, we’re showing off our whole table, so you can see the logic utilized in compiling the rankings, as opposed to just the high and low votes.

This was difficult to do over the last two years due to the fluctuation of votes from week-to-week, but this year, we will have a fairly stable core, so we feel confident in revealing the tables. We hope you enjoy the behind-the-scene look!

Without further ado: here are the rankings!

12. Akron Zips

  • High vote: 11 (two votes)
  • Low vote: 12 (four)
  • Average vote: 11.6

There’s nowhere to go for up for the Akron Zips... which is something we’ve been saying for a good while, it feels like. But they’ve got to look good some time, right?

First-year head man Joe Moorhead arrives from Oregon with a bevy of Power Five experience and connections, utilizing them to aggressively rebuild the depths of the roster, on-boarding over a dozen transfers to give instant juice to a group which struggled to compete against the Bryant Bulldogs and UMass Minutemen of the world.

They face a chippy FCS team in St. Francis [PA] to start the season.

11. Ohio Bobcats

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

Ohio had some transitional pains in 2021, as leadership of the team passed from legendary patriarch of the Bobcats program Frank Solich to his right-hand man Tim Albin.

The team finished 3-9 in 2021, rotating between quarterbacks and trying to find answers at positions of import. That same rebuild will continue once again in 2022, but there is at least a handful of reasons to have optimism, including the emergence of running back Sieh Bangura in the offense.

They’ve a tough road ahead, though, as they open the year as host a fierce Florida Atlantic team who just demolished Charlotte in Week 0 action.

10. Bowling Green Falcons

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (once)
  • Average vote: 10

The BGSU Falcons also face a tough uphill battle before the season even starts, losing running back Terion Stewart for the season with just a week before their first game. Fourth-year head coach Scot Loeffler will look to guide the team amidst a sea of doubts, as the the AD who hired him, Bob Moosbrugger, resigned recently, which casts his job security in doubt.

All said though, there is a good number of individual talents who, if they hit their best potential, could elevate the Falcons to a team to be competitive in a way they haven’t seen in awhile.

A loss against UCLA seems all but certain on paper, but then, they were also expected to lose to Minnesota in 2021... can the Falcons do it again in a hostile environment?

9. Ball State Cardinals

  • High vote: 8 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (once)
  • Average vote: 9.5

Ball State ran out of gas in 2021 after a miracle 2020 run which saw them claim the MAC title.

Now, as the 2022 season begins, this is a team with perhaps the most questions surrounding it, as lots of unfamiliar names find themselves in important roles and they are seemingly falling out of the MAC West arms race at current. They do return former Mr. Indiana Football Carson Steele at running back, which should certainly help, and a pair of receivers in Yo’Heinz Tyler and Jayshon Jackson.

They’ll get acquainted with the southern hospitality of the Tennessee Volunteers to start the season.

8. Buffalo Bulls

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 9 (three)
  • Average vote: 7.83

The Buffalo Bulls are a unit which are also undergoing a shift in culture and coaching, much like Ohio, BGSU and Akron.

Mo Linguist is in his second year in Buffalo, and the roster is still taking a bit of shape, but they can at least depend on a fairly decent running attack, highlighted by Ron Cook Jr., an all-MAC receiver in Quian Williams and an attacking defense featuring a trio of potential all-MAC players in LB James Patterson (brother of former UB back Jaret), and DLs Max Michel and Daymond Williams.

They’re hoping to surprise some teams along the way in the 2022 campaign in a wide-open MAC East, and look to catch Maryland off-guard first this weekend.

7. Western Michigan Broncos

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 8 (three)
  • Average vote: 7.33

It’s not typical fare to see a team which finished 8-5 the previous season, but Western is not your typical 8-5 outfit.

The Broncos went 4-1 in their first five games, seemingly in position to dominate the MAC West, but then railed off a 1-3 performance over the next four games, with all three losses to divisional opponents, leaving the door open once again— something NIU would go on to take advantage of by season’s end.

The 2022 Broncos will be missing the vast majority of 2021’s key players, and with no depth charts to glean from, there’s a lot of uncertainty as to how the team will look. They play in-state power program Michigan State this Friday, and we’ll know more about them then.

6. Kent State Golden Flashes

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 7 (twice)
  • Average vote: 6.16

WMU has a kindred spirit in the MAC East, as Kent State was the MAC East representative in 2021, but has a lot of questions to answer when it comes to how 2022 will look for them.

Sean Lewis’ unit has looked great going into his fifth season, with the cultural change clearly apparent on-campus. But this season will be the first real test of the Flashes as a potential favorite, as Dustin Crum departs for the NFL and a number of key pieces graduate on both sides of the ball.

Hope is high, as enough contributors return to the fold for the Flashes to make a serious run, but the development of Collin Schlee at QB will determine a lot of where this team goes. They face Washington in a Friday night showdown this week.

5. Eastern Michigan Eagles

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

The Eagles are a scrappy unit in most years, and once again showed promise in a 7-6 campaign in 2021. At some point though, that scrappiness has to turn in to dominance, and Chris Creighton will have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to do that in a tough MAC West which has three teams with reasonable title expectations.

The ever-reliable receiving duo of Hassan Beydoun and Tanner Knue return to the lineup to help ease in transfer QB Taylor Powell to the position after the departure of Ben Bryant to Cincinnati. Defensively, they hope to improve from a pedestrian performance last season which could have been the difference in a few of those one possession games.

EMU starts their season against an FCS opponent in Eastern Kentucky.

4. Miami RedHawks

  • High vote: 3 (four)
  • Low vote: 5 (once)
  • Average vote: 3.5

The RedHawks emerge once again as the favorite in the MAC East and for good reason: they return a good amount of their players who contributed to last year’s success, including third-team all-MAC QB Brett Gabbert, a capable receiver in Mac Hippenhammer and a bevy of running backs who will run behind one of the consistently best lines in the conference.

The defense will replace decidedly more players, but it’s a scheme which has given MAC teams fits in the past and could do so once again in 2022, assuming they keep at about the same level of production. Chuck Martin will guide this squad to at least 7-5, come hell or high water.

They cross the southern border of Ohio to visit the Bluegrass State and face Kentucky this weekend.

3. Toledo Rockets

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 4 (twice)
  • Average vote: 2.66

The Rockets are one of three teams to receiver first place votes, but find themselves third in the power rankings. It’s a fair assessment, given Toledo’s recent performances under head man Jason Candle, who enters his seventh year.

Consistently a favorite on paper, a number of in-game choices usually resulted in Toledo losing games they should have won, giving away key positions in the divisional race several times over the years. That left our voters some pause in terms of ranking them highly once again.

They’ve got talent at every major position, with three all-MAC defensive players in Dyontae Johnson, Desjuan Johnson and Jamal Hines all set to take the stage in 2022, and a young, emergent talent in Dequan Finn at QB who possess great dual-threat ability.

If they reach the top of their potential, this team will absolutely find themselves in potential 10-win territory. They seek to get their first win against FCS opponent Long Island University.

2. Central Michigan Chippewas

  • High vote: 1 (three)
  • Low vote: 4 (twice)
  • Average vote: 2.1

The Central Michigan Chippewas actually finished with the most first-place votes of all the teams listed, but ultimately land down in second after averaging out the numbers.

It’s perhaps no surprise they’re held in high regards considering they roster one Lew Nichols III, who happened to lead the country in rushing yards in 2021. The MAC Offensive Player of the Year had 1,848 yards on the ground (an average of 142.2 yards per game!) and 16 touchdowns last year, and will once again lead the attack for CMU.

Don’t underestimate the other parts of the offense, however. Daniel Richardson narrowly missed out on all-MAC honors after starting the last eight games for CMU at QB, leading one of the MAC’s most efficient offenses, and he’ll be tossing to three intriguing receivers in Jalen McGaughy, Carlos Carriere and Dallas Dixon.

Defensively, there’s some work to be done in getting secondary chemistry, but the front seven returns several key players, including edge rusher Thomas Incoom and the linebacking duo of Justin Whiteside and Kyle Moretti.

CMU has a favorable schedule this season, but will face one of their toughest tests first, taking on Oklahoma State in a nationally-televised Thursday night game.

1. Northern Illinois Huskies

  • High vote: 1 (twice)
  • Low vote: 4 (once)
  • Average vote: 2

Our defending MAC champions— and preseason favorite to win the MAC— find themselves (you guessed it) up top of our MAC Power Rankings.

Thomas Hammock has established a great culture in DeKalb, and the difference between the Carey teams and this squad is night and day. They have pieces all over the field as well, with Harrison Waylee splitting time with Antario Brown after the former spent most of 2021 sidelined with injury, while James Ester, one of the better edge rushers in the MAC, and eighth-year linebacker Kyle Pugh highlight the defensive returnees.

They lost Trayvon Rudolph for the season a few weeks before the start of the season, but the receiving corps is solid with Cole Tucker and former FIU transfer Shermar Thornton expected to contribute there.

The uncertainty of losing Rudolph just before the voting process probably played a factor in making things a bit closer than it needed to be, as did the ever-present specter of luck regression, but until there’s a reason to be concerned, expect NIU to remain the top dog.

They’ll start their championship defense season by hosting Eastern Illinois for a Thursday night throwdown.

Anonymized ranking

Akron Ball State Buffalo Bowling Green Central Mich Eastern Mich Kent State Miami NIU Ohio Toledo Western Mich
11 9 8 12 1 6 5 3 2 10 4 7
11 12 9 5 1 6 7 4 2 10 3 8
12 10 9 11 4 3 6 5 1 7 2 8
12 9 5 10 2 8 7 3 4 11 1 6
12 9 7 11 1 5 6 3 2 10 4 8
12 8 9 11 4 5 6 3 1 10 2 7

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!