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2023 MAC Football Power Rankings: Weeks 9 and 10

The Zips won the Bottom of the Barrel Bowl over Kent State, while Miami solidified their spot over Ohio in the Battle of the Bricks.

NCAA Football: Akron at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Hello all and welcome back to the MAC Football Power Rankings!

We actually had two weeks in one week this go-around, with two Saturday games making up the “Week 9” action and the Tuesday/Wednesday games creating our “Week 10” slate. All 12 teams were represented, which gives us a nice little look into the tempo and timbre of the weeknight slate.

Let’s get right into it:

12. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: 12)

  • Unanimous #12

The Golden Flashes get the dubious distinction of being the lone team at the bottom this week after giving up a 17-point lead late in the fourth quarter to the Akron Zips, losing the Wagon Wheel Rivalry for the first time in five years. The game broadcast showed head coach Kenni Burns staring at the field in shock post-game, processing what had just happened, and that feels like the defining image of the season for Kent State.

You do have to wonder how much of that has to do with losing several of their key contributors on offense and defense due to injury, including the electric receiver Crishon McCray, but the results are the results, and KSU has only won once— against FCS competition.

11. Akron Zips (LW: 11)

  • High vote: 10 (twice)
  • Low vote: 11 (five)
  • Average vote: 10.71

Meanwhile for Akron, they put on what may just be one of the best midweek #MACtion performances of the season. The Zips posted an epic 21-0 comeback in the fourth quarter to take home the Wagon Wheel, with Jeff Undercuffler (23-of-39 for 298 yards, two TDs) and Lorenzo Lingard (106 rush yards, TD; 49 receiving yards) guiding the way on offense, while the defense forced three punts and a turnover-on-downs on the last four KSU drives of the game.

They’re playing for pride at this point, but it’s good for them to finally get a massive gorilla off their back in terms of performances in one-score contests.

10. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 10)

  • High vote: 9 (three)
  • Low vote: 11 (twice)
  • Average vote: 9.85

Ball State fell right back down this week after showing some moxie in a win last week. Unluckily for the Cardinals, they went from one of the worst defenses in the country in Central Michigan to one of the best in Bowling Green and paid for it dearly. Two early (and preventable) turnovers buried Ball State early and they are not built for comebacks as currently constructed. They did make a game of it late, but couldn’t seal the deal with an inexperienced Kiael Kelly in at quarterback. They’re eliminated from the postseason and only hold two wins at this point.

9. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 9)

  • High vote: 8 (twice)
  • Low vote: 10 (twice)
  • Average vote: 9

The Bulls were simply out-gunned this week by a verifiably good Toledo squad, and sometimes there just isn’t very much you can do against that— especially if you’re not absolutely perfect.

Buffalo played one of their sloppiest games of the season at the wrong time, giving up a game-opening kick return score and a 71-yard rushing score to go down 14-0 early, then gave up two interceptions and had a missed field goal to further exasperate their issues. UB played off-schedule (Cole Snyder was 14-of-41 passing) and turned the ball over on downs five times trying to mount a comeback. It was much too bad because they actually won the turnover battle with three fumble recoveries and an interception.

8. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LW: 5, down 3)

  • High vote: 7 (once)
  • Low vote: 9 (once)
  • Average vote: 8

You generally don’t want to say a team has quit on the season when they’re almost certainly still in postseason contention, but the EMU team which took the field last week looked about as close to quitting as it gets in a lackluster effort against Western Michigan.

The offense couldn’t generate yards and the defense could not get off the field no matter what they did; this is perhaps exemplified best by Joe Sparacio and Chase Kline combining for 43 of EMU’s 123 tackles. One-hundred twenty-three tackles! WMU did come into the game with some momentum over their last few contests, but they were still a 2-6 football team EMU should have been able to compete with.

7. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: 8, up 1)

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (once)
  • Average vote: 7

Speaking of WMU, they’ve strung together some great results lately, even if the record doesn’t necessarily reflect that fact. They’ve taken Toledo, Miami and Ohio to the wire, hung around with an SEC team in Mississippi State, and now they’ve completely walloped rival Eastern Michigan to assure a new winner for the Michigan MAC Trophy.

Relative to their expectations this year, the Broncos have outperformed the expectation of “struggling to get out of the 10’s”, and have shown a lot of character despite a tough conference schedule to start the league year. There’s reason to be optimistic about head coach Lance Taylor and what he’s building in Kalamazoo.

6. Northern Illinois Huskies (LW: 4, down 2)

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 7 (twice)
  • Average vote: 6.14

Northern Illinois is our most unpredictable and volatile team so far in 2023, taking both major leaps and major dips. So it checks out that they land precisely in the middle after a bad loss to the Central Michigan Chippewas.

Tuesday was emblematic of their inconsistencies, as they turned the ball over several times in the first half and fell behind by three scores at halftime before storming back to nearly win the game at the end before Rocky Lombardi tossed a dagger interception. When watching this team, it does feel sometimes like the Huskies don’t create a gameplan and instead approach every game in guerilla fashion, which is fine if you have confidence in your playcalling and advance scouting — but not so much if you don’t execute or fail to make adjustments.

5. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 6, up 1)

  • High vote: 5 (five)
  • Low vote: 7 (once)
  • Average vote: 5.42

BGSU took care of business in front of the home crowd, dismantling the Ball State Cardinals by forcing three turnovers and scoring on two of them. They continue to find ways to win on the margins, and that’s a good thing because when the offense is depended upon in the redzone, it’s a 50-50 proposition on whether anything will come out of it. That said, the Falcons did make the best of their short-field chances, scoring on drives of 31 yards, 54 yards and 39 yards to collect 14 points off turnovers and a field goal off of a great kickoff return.

Their defense and special teams will continue to put BG in advantageous positions; it’ll be up to the offense to be efficient if they want to continue to win games. The Falcons have an outside chance at the MAC East if they win out and Miami loses out.

4. Central Michigan Chippewas (LW: 7, up 3)

  • High vote: 2 (once)
  • Low vote: 4 (six)
  • Average vote: 3.71

The Chippewas are still one of the MAC’s best teams at defending home turf, sitting at 4-0, and did so once again on Halloween night, capitalizing on NIU’s nervy first-half play to the tune of a 24-3 halftime score and expanding the lead out to as far as 37-11 deep into the third quarter.

It was clear the team changed up the gameplan to take advantage of something they saw on tape, as Jase Bauer (106 yards) and Marion Lukes (202 yards) combined for three touchdowns to run ruckshod all over NIU. The second-half performance, however, left a lot to be desired and showed what makes this team a frustrating watch.

The MAC West is still attainable, but they’ll need some major help to make Black Friday relevant.

3. Ohio Bobcats (LW: 2, down 1)

  • High vote: 2 (twice)
  • Low vote: 4 (once)
  • Average vote: 2.85

The Bobcats’ disappointing campaign continues, as the door was sealed shut on the MAC East race with a heart-breaker loss to a wounded Miami RedHawks team. The offense has regressed significantly from its 2022 pace, and it’s clear something is broken on that side of the ball, as it has failed one of the best defenses in the league over and over again.

This week’s game saw the dam burst, as two dominant drives early in the game resulted in just nine points and Miami took advantage, going on a 30-point unanswered scoring run from the second quarter onwards to put the game away. The defense couldn’t deal with recovering from short drives and allowed one of their worst performances of the season as a result. Ohio is still one of the best, most-balanced teams in the MAC in terms of their roster, but there’s something missing there which is hard to point to which prevents this team from reaching their ceiling.

2. Miami RedHawks (LW: 3, up 1)

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

Feels like deja vu all over again, but once again, positions exchange directly between two teams who played one another. This time, it’s Miami solidying the #2 position in our rankings after taking down blood rival Ohio with their backup quarterback Aveon Smith leading the offense.

Smith was not effective, struggling to reach 100 yards passing until late in the fourth quarter, but he made plays when need be, scoring a passing and rushing touchdown while committing no turnovers. This win can be credited to the duo of Rashad Amos, whose 163 rushing yards and score paced the offense, and kicker Graham Nicholson, who converted on all three field goals and three extra points creating opportunities for the offense to take control of the game. Matt Salopek’s 14 tackles paced the defense, which also collected four sacks and kept Ohio to 3-of-14 on third-down attempts.

They’re in the driver’s seat in the MAC East race.

1. Toledo Rockets (LW: 1)

  • Unanimous #1

What else can you say about the Rockets at this point?

They’ve won games in every way you would hope the best team in the conference would, whether it’s by close margins or by blowouts. This week was the latter, as they blasted Buffalo 31-14 in a game where they honestly probably should have won by more points. Peny Boone continues his MAC offensive player of the year campaign with 125 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries, while three Rocket defenders finished with 10+ tackles, forced two interceptions on the day, had 10 total pass break-ups and blocked a field goal attempt. The Rockets are currently the most complete and balanced teams not just in the MAC, but in the Group of Five, with a depth of talent up and down the roster who could compete with anyone.

They’re two games ahead in the MAC West race and are on an eight-game winning streak after losing at the last gasp against Illinois in Week 1, and until they lose a game, they’re going to likely stay at #1. (Though, even then, they might be #1 anyway.)

Anonymized ranking

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