Hello again, loyal readers!
We’re getting to the final stretch of what has been a long, grueling season of MAC football. The divisions have been decided with a week to go, and all but a bow spot or two are in the rear view mirror.
A bloody and wounded Rountable returns to break down what they discovered on reconnaissance in what was a frank week of play on the gridiron.
Let’s get right into it:
Northern Illinois vs. Western Michigan observations
James H. Jimenez: It feels like we circle between two different points of view with NIU. One week, they can’t move the ball without dropping it like it’s covered in lard. The next week, they’re the 1985 Chicago Bears. Their game against Western was definitely the latter scenario, as the Huskies just dominated the Broncos on defense, with WMU running just seven plays in the first quarter. It was NIU’s first shutout since 2019, and comes on the heels of fanbase dissatisfaction with the direction of the program in recent weeks. This game is one of results which feels so out of left field considering the trajectory of the two programs it feels almost unreal. I have no idea what this means moving forward, but they got a much-needed win at a vital time.
Drew Pearson: Western Michigan got bullied. The defense wasn’t the problem for Western Michigan, but they couldn’t force Northern Illinois into passing the ball. Antario Brown ran the ball 21 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns prior to leaving the game and as a team, the Huskies ran the ball 50 times. On offense, Hayden Wolff had time but didn’t push the ball downfield. NIU probably gets bowl-eligible in their next game, while killing the bowl hopes of WMU.
Keith Gregorski: Most enigmatic team in the MAC this year by far. More precisely, I should say the most enigmatic offense. The defense has generally played well for significant stretches, but which offense will show up: the one that struggled last week against BSU and earlier this year against Tulsa or the one this week against WMU that held onto the ball and ran it enough? Should be able to win in back-to-back game to get bowl eligible unless a meltdown happens against a rebuilding Kent State team that is 0-7 in the MAC and was on its third string QB last week due to injury.
Alexis Baker: This was a particularly bad night for the anti-Northern Illinois agenda, of which yours truly might be the only member. This team gives me fits. Why can’t they just be good, or be bad, and stick to that? Why the hot one week, frozen the next, overachieving, underachieving cycle? Why is this necessary? I have never seen a college football program that gives me a near-aneurysm every week like Northern Illinois. They are hot and cold in the most frustrating of ways.
Bowling Green vs. Toledo observations
James: This was hands-down the best MAC game of the season. There was a lot of hype coming into this one as BGSU finally looks competitive for the first time in a long time, while Toledo came in on a nine-game win streak with a potential national ranking on the line. I really loved BGSU’s moxie playing in front of the home crowd to start the game. It was clear they had a set gameplan and executed it to perfection... which makes the second half performance all stranger, as they went away from what worked and played right into Toledo’s hands. This is noting against Toledo, who played up to the moment when they needed to most— especially with a bold choice to go for two to try midway through the comeback— but a lot of what happened does ultimately fall on BGSU for wasting several offensive possessions in the second half they really could have used.
Drew: Toledo almost found out, instead they are still in the hunt for the highest-ranked G5 conference champion and a New Year's Six bowl game. The Rockets got the big play when they needed it most against their biggest rival. This is a perfect example of why I never count on wins in rivalry games. Take the team names out of this game and “Toledo” is a heavy favorite that probably rolls to the win. The rivalry game element brings extra juice that makes the game get weird.
Keith: Easily one of my favorite games of the year, a real back-and-forth game by two good teams with a fantastic finish. That the Falcons jumped out to a big first-half lead against a 9-1 team in Toledo showed how far BGSU has come this year as a team. BGSU featuring some really good talent like TE Harold Fannin Jr. who finished the day with 89 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Toledo did what champions do-finding a way to win despite maybe not playing their best game. Undaunted by a 28-10 halftime deficit, the Rockets chipped away in the second half with the knockout blow late in the fourth.
Alexis: Holy schlamoley was this a game. Truly a showcase of contrasts between a team that wants to be good, and a team that is. I have no words besides Toledo really earned that win by delivering when it counted most.
EMU vs. Akron observations
James: I was severely down on Eastern coming into this matchup, as they had looked pretty listless over the last few games. Akron had also had some pretty gritty performances coming into this contest, and have played in a lot of close games. This was the best moment for the Zips to finally show off the progress they’ve made as a program and take down a favored team. Instead, the Zips once again found themselves in a back-and-forth grind of a battle, with some mistake-filled football at the end of both halves on defense allowing EMU to stay in the game despite Akron largely dominating. EMU ultimately out-physicaled and out-disciplined the Zips despite their struggles over most of the game, showing their tenacity and experience in the double-overtime win.
Drew: The fact that this game ended 17-17 surprises me very little. EMU has no offense and the Zips are better than you think they are on defense. It’s the same story on the other side of the ball, but it’s less of a surprise. Eastern Michigan snaps a losing streak and needs a win next week to get to a bowl game. They’re showing good fight, despite the season taking a turn that the Eagles didn’t expect.
Keith: Hats off to both teams for continuing to play hard despite things not going well.
EMU entered the contest on a three-game losing streak where they lost by a combined score of 114 to 57. EMU did enough to rebound and squeak past a feisty Zips squad keep bowl eligibility alive in a must win versus Buffalo next week.
The Zips are competitive against the middle-of-the-pack MAC squads and was so in this one, giving EMU all it could handle in the Eagles overtime win. Another close loss for the Zips has them falling short of any rise in the standings.
Alexis: Akron frustrates me to no end, but not in the Northern Illinois “why can’t you just be normal?!” way, in the Disappointed Dad kind of way. This team could have been so much better this year, but just slipped in dog crap at the worst possible times all year. I remain hopeful for their long term future, though.
Central Michigan vs. Ohio observations
James: It’s a pity Ohio couldn’t figure out its offense against the one team they really needed to beat, because this Bobcats team could have been a major contender for a MAC title had they made it to Detroit. I could not help but to keep thinking that as I watched them just take the Chippewas to the woodshed on Wednesday night. Outside of two defensive breakdowns on aggressive playcalls which CMU took advantage of, the visitors had nothing for a Bobcats unit which choked out what they want to do from the very first snap and had no answers for an offense which maintained ball control with relative little objection. The scoreboard was no indication of just how uncontested the game truly was.
Drew: When Central Michigan made it ten points in the second half, it felt like they might make a game out of it. It turned out the pick-six touchdown in the first quarter would ensure the game would never be a one-score game. If CMU could pass the ball consistently, they might be able to hang around in a game like this one. The way that Ohio distributed the ball in the passing game is awesome. Three players had three catches for more than 40 yards. Even if there aren’t big plays in the passing game, it was consistent and varied.
Keith: The game played out about how I figured it would with CMU hitting a few explosive offensive plays and Ohio needing about 20 points on offense to win which they got in a 34-20 win with some defensive points sprinkled in too.
For some Bobcats’ fans, I sense a real struggle with this season. On one hand, this defense has been incredibly fun to watch as it likely one of their best overall defensive units in modern history. Also, they have a chance to win ten games in back-to-back seasons which is likely a program first.
On the other hand, the loss to Miami leaves them without a MAC East crown, so they don’t have the chance of to remove that albatross from around the program’s neck in winning a championship for the first time since 1968. Not this team’s fault it has been that long and they clearly laid it on the line weekly with superb efforts, but it really stings that this team did not get a shot at the title with all it has going for it.
Alexis: Coulda, woulda, shoulda. That’s the motto of this Bobcats team, a program that entered 2023 with such high hopes, only to bottle at the worst possible time and catch fire about two or three weeks too late. If they played every game this year like they did against Central (barring the games where Kurtis Rourke was hurt), this team would be going to Ford Field. But focusing on the past is the doom of programs. There’s only the future, and they did just take Central’s bowling chances and Ol’ Yeller’d ‘em.
Miami vs. Buffalo observations
James: Ultimately, we didn’t really learn a lot in this one. Miami took down Buffalo in the way they have taken down most opponents this season: winning the field position battle, choking the ball on offense and taking away what the opponent does best on defense. The RedHawks have more than earned their ticket to Detroit after a genuinely impressive stretch of play without starting quarterback Brett Gabbert. I had previously left them for dead even with the head-to-head tiebreaker over Ohio given Miami’s’ performance with Aveon Smith under quarterback in 2022, but they proved the doubters wrong. That’s a credit to Chuck Martin and his coaching staff for keeping the team’s morale high.
Drew: Miami earned their spot in the MAC championship game. It’s impressive that they lost their long-time starter at quarterback and haven’t had a hiccup. The offense isn’t the same but it’s been just as effective as it was previously. Aveon Smith ran the offense last year and now he’s going to have a chance to win the MAC against Toledo. Buffalo, unfortunately for them, looked like themselves. Outside of one 80-yard pass, the offense never got in gear.
Keith: Both teams looked like who they are. It was an uphill battle for Buffalo to score enough to win this one and that proved the be the case. The Bulls defense hung in there for another week to keep the game within striking distance.
Alexis: Miami was Miami. Buffalo was Buffalo. There was nothing really to take away from this besides that the RedHawks are going to put up a fight and a half against the Rockets, and the Bulls have some difficult conversations ahead of them after an extremely disappointing year for this program.
Ball State vs. Kent State observations
James: I really thought that Kent State would have a bit of pride going into this game and give the Cardinals their best punches, but from kickoff, it was evident that not only did Ball State bring more juice, but they were simply better. I get that they just finished playing back-to-back trophy games and lost them both in fairly different fashions, but this was a chance to shake it off and re-establish a positive direction. It’s disappointing, because you’d think after 11 weeks, the Flashes would show a sign of improvement somewhere, but that simply has not been the case. Credit as it is deserved to Ball State for taking care of business in a game they were heavily favored to win, but to me, this game was more about the culture and moxie of the Flashes leaving a lot to be desired than anything else.
Drew: This game was nasty. Ball State has transitioned to a ground-based offense, but both offenses combined to complete 15 passes on 39 attempts for 156 yards. That’s bad. The rushing game by Ball State ran the ball for an even 300 yards in the win. There’s been smoke around Mike Neu’s job, but he’s got the Cardinals 3-1 over the last four games. It’s not as clear-cut as it once seemed in Muncie. Kent State continues its search for answers, but it might be a year away from even seeing signs of proof of concept.
Keith: Well, they played it and its now in the books. BSU in the last four weeks has been on the climb with a 3-1 record including a win over NIU and a close loss to a very good BGSU squad. Ball State did what it needed to do in this one and took care of business.
Though in a major rebuild with some significant injuries piling up, KSU showed GRIT but just had too much working against them in this one to get it done on the scoreboard.
Alexis: The bottom of the MAC has been rancid this year. Just, some of the most “oh God, not again” type of games. Ball State’s got the run game figured out and Mike Neu’s not as poached as we thought he might be, but they have to figure out this passing game. Even if you’re playing Midwestern Football™, you can’t just not pass the ball. That’s how you become Kirk Ferentz, and nobody wants to be Kirk Ferentz. Jokes aside, Ball State definitely has the pieces present, which just confirms to me that something was there earlier this year and I wasn’t just hallucinating. Kent State, on the other hand, is bad bad, and will also be facing questions as the rebuild regresses badly.
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Thanks for reading!