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2023 MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 6

The reality is starting to set in for a handful of MAC programs at the bottom of the league table.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Buffalo at Akron Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week 5 was pretty much chalk when it came to favorites winning over dogs— except in one case in western New York, as the Buffalo Bulls ran rough-shod over the visiting Chippewas, who came into the contest as three-point road favorites.

Even with that in mind, there was still a lot of movement, as narratives surrounding certain teams were solidified, while other teams dropped performances which deserved re-examination.

Our voters this week were extremely quick with submitting their rankings, an indication of agreement on where all the teams currently stand.

Without further ado, onto this week’s rankings:

12. Akron Zips (LW: 10, down 2)

  • High vote: 11 (four)
  • Low vote: 12 (three)
  • Average vote: 11.42

It all finally fell apart for Akron against NIU, as they couldn’t stop a Huskie team which committed to a ferocious ground attack. The Zips were absolutely gashed in this one, giving up 571 total yards (including 280 rushing yards by Antario Brown) and 55 points, forcing just two punts on the afternoon.

They’ve been terribly unlucky all season, and injuries have finally caught up to them as well. 2023 has been an unfortunate, soul-sapping campaign for Akron they probably can’t wait to get out from under.

11. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: 9, down 2)

  • High vote: 10 (four)
  • Low vote: 12 (three)
  • Average vote: 10.85

Well, Kent State has had a tough go of it all season, and league play has not been terribly friendly to them either.

After starting the MAC slate with a three-score loss to Miami, the Flashes had to turn around and face a terrifying Ohio squad which posted 42 points on them. It was a thorough dismantling, as the ‘Cats nearly doubled KSU’s offensive yards and reeled off five straight touchdown drives to really seal the deal.

This team is a clear work-in-progress, and this season will be more about finding out who is buying into the culture than anything. Watching KSU games will be more about finding tangible improvements and establishing culture than winning this season— which is fine as long as they don’t lose heart.

10. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 11, up 1)

  • High vote: 10 (three)
  • Low vote: 12 (once)
  • Average vote: 10.71

Ball State was a bit of a mystery squad coming into the 2023 season, and most of the intrigue was at the quarterback position. There was also optimism that Marquez Cooper would be a one-for-one fit for the departing Carson Steele, and in the defense taking steps forward with a young core of linebackers.

Unfortunately for Ball State, none of that has really materialized through six weeks. The QB situation is a nightmare, the offense has a hard time moving the ball and defensive injuries and shuffling has taken its toll on the whole operation. They’re already one loss away from losing out on the postseason, and running out of excuses for poor performance.

9. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 12, up 3)

  • High vote: 7 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (twice)
  • Average vote: 9.71

Just when you think you’ve figured out this Buffalo team, they find new ways to shock-and-awe you.

They certainly did just that against Central Michigan, as safety Devin Grant the CMU attack single-handedly, with three INTs and two pick-sixes— nearly outscoring the Chips on his own. His performance was enough to win National Defensive Player of the Week honors, and it was much-needed, as the offense struggled when it wasn’t gifted short field.

It’s genuinely a job well done by the Bulls to be 2-0 in the MAC after a disaster of a non-conference slate, but unless they continue to prove it week in and week out, there will be skepticism about just how serious of a contender they are.

8. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 6, down 2)

  • High vote: 4 (once)
  • Low vote: 9 (once)
  • Average vote: 7.28

Bad Bowling Green showed up once again this past weekend, getting shut out by the same amount of points they gave up against Georgia Tech in their upset win the week prior.

It’s just really strange to watch this team in action; it does feel like they show up when the spotlight is biggest and flounder when there are no expectations. Is that a symptom of coaching over-emphasizing certain games and not understanding how to manage the flow of emotions or is it a young team learning how to win the hard way?

Either way, the team works in spite of itself at times; the running game has gotten significantly better over time, and has helped to carry an otherwise pedestrian passing game, which is still suffering from a QB rotation. At its best, the defense is an aggressive unit who can generate takeaways. We’re going to get some weird games in conference play with this squad.

7. Northern Illinois Huskies (LW: 8, up 1)

  • High vote: 6 (twice)
  • Low vote: 9 (twice)
  • Average vote: 7.14

The NIU Huskies exorcised some demons this week, and the Akron Zips happened to be the poor team who had to face them this go-around.

It was a great day for the Huskies, who had nearly 600 yards and 60 points on the scoreboard; they looked good doing it too, as Rocky Lombardi found Kacper Rutkiewicz for a 64-yard strike less than three minutes into the contest and the running game would produce six touchdowns on the day. It’s their first win since the Week 1 upset vs. Boston College, and ought to allieviate some concerns for at least a week or so. They’ll see if they can replicate that performance against Ohio this weekend.

6. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: 7, up 1)

  • High vote: 6 (three)
  • Low vote: 9 (once)
  • Average vote: 7

The Broncos have been one of the more pleasant surprises in the 2023 season, even despite the 2-4 record. They’ve looked pretty competitive in league play, forcing Toledo to earn a win three weeks ago and demolishing Ball State afterwards. They’ve got the league’s third-leading rusher with Jalen Buckley (557 yards in five games) and the defense has settled in pretty nicely outside of a few big plays (a classic Lou Esposito issue, but you can live with it when it works.)

This past week, they gave Mississippi State all they could handle in a game where the stats indicated a closer game than the scoreboard suggests.

We’ll get a real test of what this team is capable of over the next three weeks, as they take on an absolute gauntlet of a schedule with co-MAC East leaders Miami and Ohio back-to-back, followed by a road contest in Ypsilanti with EMU to potentially fight for their postseason lives.

5. Central Michigan Chippewas (LW: 4, down 1)

  • High vote: 4 (twice)
  • Low vote: 7 (once)
  • Average vote: 5

Central will certainly hope that the first conference loss is free, as they laid down a squalid performance against Buffalo on the road last weekend.

The Chips looked like the undisciplined, self-defeating team from their first two weeks in Week 5, as opposed to the team which limited turnovers and got clutch points when necessary in Weeks 3 and 4, and the box score reflected it. On the day, CMU had four turnovers, three interceptions, two pick-sixes, a fumble lost (with three overall), seven penalties and eight (!!!) drops on the day. Bad, bad and also: bad.

They’ll look to shake off the bad performance and rebound against Akron. Should they win, their path to the MAC West division looks promising as long as Toledo loses at least once.

4. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LW: 5, up 1)

  • High vote: 4 (four)
  • Low vote: 6 (twice)
  • Average vote: 4.71

Eastern Michigan took care of business on Saturday, downing Ball State in front of the home fans on Homecoming weekend. It was a pretty secure effort, as EMU was never in any particular danger of losing at any point in the game.

Their defense and special teams continues to highlight their campaign, with Joe Spiracio playing at an all-MAC level at linebacker and the pair of Mitchell Tomasek and Jesus Gomez continuing to set the standard when it comes to specialist play.

There’s still some issues, however, as the offense has had a woeful time getting the running game going with any consistency. This has placed the pressure on a passing game which is also having struggles of their own in fielding a team capable of making a run. They’ll have to figure it out soon; 17.5 points per game (125th in the NCAA, ninth in the MAC) ain’t gonna cut the mustard long-term.

3. Miami RedHawks (LW: 3)

  • High vote: 2 (four)
  • Low vote: 3 (three)
  • Average vote: 2.42

The RedHawks have been a silent killer this season, choking their opponents on defense and stomping all over opponents on offense. They’re a team in terrifying form right now as they approach the toughest part of their league schedule, and are coming off a win where they blanked the BGSU Falcons. The RedHawks have allowed just three points to opponents in league play, while scoring 50 points. That’ll win you football games if you keep that pace up.

This Miami team so far has been the best unit since the 2019 MAC title version of this team, and in many ways, the current iteration is better, with skill position depth at receiver and back, a veteran QB in Brett Gabbert and a stifling defense featuring the pass-rush pair of Caiden Woullard and Ty Wise (four sacks each) and tackling machine Matt Salopek.

After this week’s road game vs. WMU, they face Toledo and Ohio back-to-back. There’s definitely a chance for the RedHawks to make a statement here.

2. Toledo Rockets (LW: 1, down 1)

  • High vote: 1 (twice)
  • Low vote: 3 (four)
  • Average vote: 2.28

The Rockets are still one of the best teams in the MAC, but at this juncture, other contenders have emerged to cloud the waters as to who is the best.

It’s nice to see Dequan Finn is back and healthy, as this team is built around his being at the center of it. Peny Boone has taken over the MAC rushing lead with another 100+ yard effort vs. UMass, and Junior Vandeross III has emerged as primary weapon on the outside since the start of the conference season. The defense has taken a bit of a step back from the epic 2022 edition, but have made stops when necessary, even if they give up more than they’re accustomed to.

Toledo was the overwhelming pre-season favorite to repeat for the MAC title, and have at points looked like a team capable of doing that. But their slow starts are a bit concerning when you watch the tape. UMass should not have been in that game for as long as they were last week; same deal with NIU and WMU the two weeks prior. The Rockets need to clean up and show dominance in order to get into the good graces of voters again.

1. Ohio Bobcats (LW: 2, up 1)

  • High vote: 1 (two)
  • Low vote: 3 (once)
  • Average vote: 2

It didn’t take long for the Bobcats to pop back up at the top spot in our rankings, needing just one week to reclaim the throne.

They did it with yet another complete and total domination of an inferior opponent in the Golden Flashes, taking care of business as is expected of the best of the best. Part of the reason they’re likely above Toledo is that Toledo has had a harder time putting opponents away (as mentioned above.) Ohio has had no such problems, outscoring BGSU and Kent State 80-24, with the 2-4 NIU Huskies, who have shown a propensity to struggle against even average defenses, upcoming on the schedule.

The Bobcats have been the most complete of the MAC teams so far this season, strong on both offense and defense with a special teams unit which has been adequate. They’ve got a great chance to go undefeated in league play should they get past Miami, as the schedule is favorable the rest of the way.

Anonymized ranking

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

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!