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2022 Hustle Belt MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 4

The power rankings are tightening up, and there’s no more consensus. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The MAC simply refuses to be normal this year, it seems.

The more we think we know about teams, the more they turn around and throw us all a curveball, rendering whatever we may have thought previously straight out of the window. As we’ve progressed so far, the middle of the table has greatly expanded— to the point where even the top teams can’t escape the pull.

Not one team took solid grip of #1; many even struggled to have a grip at #2 and #3... it’s going to be one of those cannibal seasons in conference play if this pattern holds up. But then, we were pretty assured Toledo was a unanimous a few weeks back. It is what it is!

Let’s get into this week’s rankings:

12. Akron Zips (Last Week: 12)

  • Unanimous #12

The Zips, perhaps predictably, are still the #12 team in the conference. They’ve had their moments of brightness in a out-of-conference season which would be a tough ask for a lot of teams, but they’re still struggling for a variety of reasons.

A winnable contest against Liberty saw the Zips give the Flames several scares, but failure to convert in the red zone ultimately doomed them. They’re still in the “learn how not to lose” stage of their rebuild, so they’ll likely be here for the foreseeable future.

Akron next plays BGSU to open up the conference season, which presents an opportunity for another win, as the Zips have had the Falcons’ number in recent years.

11. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 8, down 3)

  • High vote: 10 (four)
  • Low vote: 11 (twice)
  • Average vote: 10.33

BGSU fell back down to earth after a shocking win over Marshall at home, though this was, admittedly, an expected loss to a superior team in Mississippi State.

It was hard to really take a lot of lessons away from the resultant action, as Matt McDonald was out with an injury, leaving a backup QB with short prep to be fed to the (Bull)dogs. This is a team who is still trying to find what they’re good at and be consistent at it. Perhaps conference play will allow them an opportunity to show a proof of concept. It’ll be a sea of chance, otherwise.

10. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 10)

  • High vote: 8 (once)
  • Low vote: 11 (three)
  • Average vote: 10

Ball State showed some moxie in a road contest against a fellow rebuilding Group of Five team in Georgia Southern, traversing a close game flow before taking a multiple-score lead in the second half. They ultimately fell due to some late-game heroics from the Eagles, placing BSU at 1-3 with one last non-con game in front of them.

It’s still strange to see this Cardinals team slide so low compared to their peer MAC teams considering how they performed in 2020 and how a lot of those contributors are still around. But at least they seem to be more consistent than the two teams below them, so that’s something going in their favor.

BSU plays NIU in the Bronze Stalk game, already down 0-1 in the MAC West. A win here would be critical for team morale.

9. Ohio Bobcats (LW: 9)

  • High vote: 4 (once)
  • Low vote: 11 (once)
  • Average vote: 7.83

The Bobcats are a feisty group, we know that much so far in 2022.

They took some lumps against two Power Five teams, as expected, but in their two contests with peer programs (and yes, Fordham can be considered a peer program), they’ve been every part the offensive dynamo even despite major injuries, showing they can hold their own in a shootout situation. Defensively, there are certainly a lot of improvements to be made, but there’s signs of promise with this unit overall as long as they clean it up.

For now, though, that defense is going to be a major concern until proven otherwise. Ohio will take on Kent State, in an immediate test to prove their worth in the MAC East race.

t-7. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LW: 2, down 5)

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 9 (twice)
  • Average vote: 7.5

Much like fellow Week 3 surprise team BGSU, the Eagles also faltered the next week, suffering a bad hangover loss to the Buffalo Bulls to start the MAC slate 0-1. It’s not what you want to see after such a legitimizing victory the prior week.

It wasn’t just the fact they lost, it’s how they lost, allowing Buffalo to jump out to an early lead on the road while simultaneously letting Buffalo stay in the game with multiple defensive breaks while trying to keep up punch-to-punch. Eventually, they were figured out, and Buffalo stampeded the EMU attack in the second half.

This has been a major issue in the Creighton era, and unfortunate, as this team seems to have finally figured out an identity which works for them. They take on UMass in their last non-con game of the season this week.

t-7. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 11, up 4)

  • High vote: 6 (twice)
  • Low vote: 9 (twice)
  • Average vote: 7.5

Speaking of Buffalo, the Bulls did very well for themselves against EMU on the road to pull off a shocking win which will send reverberations in both divisions. It was a much-needed win for a coaching staff which has been trying to instill some kind of identity on this program after seven straight losses. To spoil the spoiler team in their own building is pretty good!

They looked excellent in doing it as well, with Cole Snyder accounting for four total scores and no turnovers, while Mike Washington also ran in twice to assist the effort. Their second-half adjustments really turned the tide of the game, which was 30-24 at the halftime whistle, stealing the momentum right as the buzzer played.

They take on Miami this week, looking to show they can maintain this pace.

6. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: t-3, down 3)

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 9 (once)
  • Average vote: 6

Under Tim Lester’s leadership, this WMU team oscillates between being good and being bad, and unfortunately, the bad Broncos came out to play against San Jose State on Saturday.

Injuries to several important positions certainly played a role, as backup QB Mareyohn Hrabrowski had to lead the offense due to an injury to Jack Salopek, but their performance was so unremarkable, it exposed a lot of flaws which may have previously been able to be dismissed due to competition level.

WMU only managed to score on special teams (in a rare good moment for that unit), while also looking insecure on offense and being prone to the big play all night on defense to a SJSU team which struggled to beat Portland State to open the season.

Even with all these worries, they’re still a team with good top-end potential at their ceiling.; the question at this point is if they’ll get there. They have a get-good game against New Hampshire upcoming to hopefully turn things around.

5. Miami RedHawks (LW: 6, up 1)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 8 (once)
  • Average vote: 4.16

The Miami RedHawks finally got the monkey off their backs on Saturday, picking up their first win against a Big Ten (and a Power Five team) since 2003 in a rock fight against Northwestern. It’s the program’s first win against an FBS non-conference team since 2011 and their first Power Five win since 2003, giving them their best non-conference mark since 2005.

It was an affair which required some luck at the end, as both teams struggled to move the ball effectively. Miami’s scores were on a short field via punt block near the end of the first half, a touchdown set up by a 66-yard big play run in the fourth quarter, and a field goal set up by a 13-play drive stalling out in the redzone. A badly-timed Northwestern fumble after getting into field goal range on a punch-out by Miami also prevented the game from going to overtime, a credit to Miami’s perseverance in adverse conditions.

Can Miami apply these lessons to their affair with Buffalo?

t-3. Toledo Rockets (LW: 1, down 2)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 5 (twice)
  • Average vote: 3.83

The Toledo Rockets had a performance from hell in San Diego, struggling to move the ball into plus territory against the Aztecs a week after giving the first-string Ohio State defense fits.

Toledo has shown a tendency to struggle in close games, and it showed up once again here, as the offense got constipated in short field situations. It certainly didn’t help Thomas Cluckey failed to convert a field goal early after going perfect in 2022 up to this point, giving SDSU the confidence defensively to keep going. The Rockets defense also seemingly had no answers for the running game late. allowing the Aztecs to build up a two-possession lead— and get the game-winning score at the last gasp.

It’s hard to trust this Rockets team at present, as every indication is this teams should be better than it looks. But they’ll have a chance to re-establish themselves against Central Michigan in a home game to open conference play.

t-3. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: 2, down 1)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 4 (three)
  • Average vote: 3.83

Kent State is 1-3, but it ain’t your dad’s MAC team with a 1-3 record... this is a legitimately good KSU team giving several Power Five programs the Saturday Scaries.

This week say them put up a Herculean effort against the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs, the current #1 team in the country. The Flashes didn’t let an early Brock Bowers jet sweep touchdown early in the game affect them at all, getting as close as 12-10 at one point in the first half due in part to special teams gaining KSU possessions and the defense stifling a normally dominant run game, forcing Georgia to air it out.

The final score was ultimately 39-22 in a stilted, back-and-forth contest where the Flashes had a ball-control offense and forced three turnovers. It’s hard not to look at that effort and say you don’t feel optimistic about them, all considered. You’d like to see KSU pull off a win off such performances one of these days, but still, there’s a lot to be encouraged by here.

2. Central Michigan Chippewas (LW: t-3, up 1)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 5 (once)
  • Average vote: 2.83

It’s bizarre to see a team climb up spots after a multiple-possession loss, but it’s been a bizarre MAC season in 2022.

Central Michigan was a team of highs and lows in Happy Valley this week, showing spurts of the promise which made them a MAC West dark horse opposite a very balanced Penn State squad— but also exhibiting some very bad habits which have plagued them since the start of the season. They had PSU on the ropes at several points in the first half and third quarter, but four turnovers (including yet another muffed punt) and two turnovers-on-down effectively killed any chance of an upset.

CMU made a lot of improvements you want to see them make after shocking results against Bucknell and South Alabama, but they’re still 1-3, and they still have major issues going into conference play.

Much like with Toledo and Kent State, CMU seems to be a long-term projection more than a current evaluation of performance from the voters.

1. Northern Illinois Huskies (LW: 5, up 4)

  • High vote: 1 (twice)
  • Low vote: 5 (once)
  • Average vote: 2.5

“When in doubt, vote NIU” has been a meme of these Power Rankings since our site first went live... and well, there was a lot of doubt this week. The Huskies top the charts after an admirable effort against the eighth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats on the road.

It’s a fast rise of four spots, a week removed from a discouraging performance against Vanderbilt. They were never out of competition against a UK squad featuring a potential first-round NFL Draft prospect QB in Will Levis, utilizing two back-up quarterbacks to construct an offense which moved an SEC defense backwards at several points. That’s no small task, and they nearly made it a red alert game by getting within a score late. It was a superb effort, even in a loss.

NIU seeks to get to a fast start and sink Ball State further down the division table this week.

Anonymized ranking

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

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!