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Ye Olde Roundtable: Closing the book on a tense Week 2

James H, Jimenez

Week 2, as we’ve said on other pieces, was a rough one for the MAC as a conference in general.

So in this week’s Ye Olde Roundtable, we had to look a little inward for some of these questions and wonder just what went wrong. But it’s not all darkness and depression; there were a number of notable performances as well which we hope to highlight, as well as some intriguing future-forward considerations to discuss.

Let’s get right into it:

The MAC found itself with a lot of close games against “inferior” competition in Week 2, with CMU and Akron having to find a last gasp to win against FCS foes, while NIU and Buffalo slipped up and took a loss.

Looking from a long view, what does this mean for the conference in terms of its overall strength? Is this just a individual failure or a symptom of something bigger?

James H. Jimenez: We expect the lower-level MAC teams to struggle against FCS competition, but even some of the more solid teams have had hitches this season. Ohio without several of their starters initially struggled against LIU, while EMU had to collect 16 points on special teams to fend off Howard. CMU faced probably the best FCS team on the list in New Hampshire and had to win on a walk-off field goal after letting a 14-point lead slip off late in the fourth quarter.

The increase in instances this year feels more notable because of the supposed strength of the teams who are finding themselves in these positions. Buffalo was expected to be a MAC East competitor, while NIU was riding high after the upset of Boston College, with many establishing them as a new contender in the MAC West.

This will be the second year in a row where multiple MAC schools lose to an FCS team, and will continue another ignominious streak of five years with at least one such result. When combined with the potential end of the decade-plus streak of Big Ten/MAC upsets, there’s certainly cause to be concerned— but I’m not sure how it can be immediately fixed, either.

Keith Gregorski: I think this year’s results are concerning and we will have to see how it continues to play out. Some of the MAC’s pre-season conference favorites handled their business against the FCS led by Toledo’s destruction of Texas Southern, but fact is we had two losses last week and two close calls with Akron winning based on a wacky defensive touchdown at the end of regulation.

The FCS does have some very good players like the New Hampshire running back [Dylan Laube] and quarterback [Max Brosmer] that played CMU close in a three-point loss but we need to do better on the whole. I know the Zips changed QBs during the game, but that Akron only scored a total of 10 offensive points with one drive starting within the opponents’ 10-yard line is just brutal considering Morgan State is the FCS’ 42nd ranked squad. While Southern Illinois is a top 25 FCS program, NIU’s offensive futility to the tune of 11 points, at home with a +3 turnover margin was also baffling.

Drew Pearson: It makes the most sense to look at them individually and look at the sum at the end. Akron is in year two of a deep rebuild. The disappointment is the quality of the game they played. The Zips turned it over five times. Southern Illinois maximized their opportunities and NIU couldn’t convert scoring opportunities into points. The fact that Antario Brown was limited to 2.7 yards per rush is troubling, but NIU wins that game with those stats 93 percent of the time according to Buffalo couldn’t get an FCS offense off the field when they needed to and Central Michigan played a very good FCS squad too close for comfort.

At the end of the day, it’s not good. Buffalo and CMU shouldn’t be in these games, Akron is rebuilding, and Northern Illinois’ one-possession luck from 2021 went the other way on them again. If the MAC has another bad run against FCS teams next season, this might be a bigger discussion about the health of MAC football.

Alexis Baker: Is it a MAC problem, or is the Tier 1 of the FCS closing the canyon-sized gap? Let’s try to avoid the same mindset that FBS Tier 1 programs have about us. Nobody’s playing bottom-tier FCS programs here, these are decent teams. We live in a rapidly shifting landscape, and it will take another couple of years before it becomes clear as to whether or not it’s a conference problem.

On a similar topic, are there any coaches who have moved onto hot seats or is it too early to consider?

James: It might be a little early to bring out the pitchforks yet, but I would absolutely be worried for my job security if I’m Thomas Hammock. If you take out the MAC title season where the majority of their wins were one-possession games, NIU is 6-14 under Hammock and are now coming off a loss to an in-state FCS team. Hammock needs to show a proof of concept and quickly.

Keith: Probably too early but I would stick by my pre-season prediction that NIU has to step it up this year. After a week one win over Boston College, I was optimistic but the loss this week frankly stung. I would love nothing better than to see NIU stun Nebraska this week.

Drew: It’s too early. The worst performer so far is Ball State but playing Kentucky then Georgia isn’t a good sample to evaluate them on. The worst losses belong to Buffalo and Northern Illinois, both to FCS teams, and movement on either coach would surprise me.

Alexis: It’s been two games. Are there teams with concerns? Yeah. But let’s pump the brakes.

Which MAC team do you feel like there’s still a lot to learn about after the first three weeks of action?

James: Kent State. That entire team is just kind of a mystery wrapped in an enigma. It hasn’t helped their two games have been against UCF and Arkansas, two very proficient Power Five teams, so we haven’t been able to see this team play at full go. They’ve completely turned over the offense, and the defense is also filled with brand new names. We’re still in the process of trying to understand what they’re doing philosophy-wise on both sides of the ball as well.

I really like the arm of Purdue transfer Michael Alaimo, I hope they lean into that a little more. We’ll see what they look like against Central Connecticut State, who gave EMU some worry a few years back.

Keith: Ball State. An opening schedule involving two trips to SEC country including a game against #1 Georgia doesn’t answer a lot of questions about how the Cardinals might do in MAC play. Both quarterbacks sharing reps has also clouded that issue publicly, but BSU could really blossom into a MAC contender this year. The game against Indiana State next week should give us the first decent glimpse into BSU’s 2023 MAC title hopes.

Throwing in a bonus here, I’m intrigued to see what EMU’s offense does this week against UMass. I need to see more from EMU’s offense and UMass has been blown up on defense so far this year. Its early, but if EMU can’t score at least 30 against the Minutemen, I might worry about their long-term prospects in 2023.

Drew: Everyone has their suspicions about Bowling Green being bad this season after making a bowl last year. Their two games so far this season have done almost nothing to confirm or deny that. Liberty is a unique college football program with resources at the top of the G5 but not the program recognition. A ten-point loss would be unsurprising for most of the MAC. A comfortable FCS win is good, but a low bar. This week they get the #2 Michigan Wolverines. We won’t know anything at the end of that game, but home versus Ohio the next week is where rubber will meet the road.

Alexis: To quote my entry about Miami in last week’s power rankings: what the hell are we supposed to make of the RedHawks, exactly? Getting blown out by the Other Miami and then beating Massachusetts badly is giving us diddly-squat to work with. They are, by far, the team I feel the least amount of feelings about, entirely because I have no idea what I supposed to think of them.

Who is a player that’s really played themselves onto the radar through the first three weeks? Thinking specifically of transfers or second-year players.

James: I’m interested in Miami running back Rashad Amos. I know we’re only two games in, but Amos absolutely jumps off the screen when he’s on the field. He’s gigantic for a half-back, standing at six-foot-two, 234 lbs., and has a quick get-off they you just don’t see at this level very often.

The former South Carolina Gamecock really showed out in his first major action against UMass, with 115 yards on 23 carries. He’s by far the most effective running option for them, as the other options have combined for 50 yards between seven players (including former starter Keyon Mozee.) Considering how Miami likes to operate on offense, Amos is going to be a wrecking ball.

Keith: I stick with my offensive pre-season pick, BGSU TE Harold Fannin Jr. In the chaos that was the BGSU passing attack in week one, Fannin Jr. had just two catches for 29 yards. Last week against Eastern Illinois (FCS) Fannin Jr. had seven catches for over 100 yards a score. In addition to standout WR Odieu Hiliare, I think BGSU’s new quarterback found out where his bread is buttered.

Drew: Miami has a transfer wide receiver who leads the MAC in receiving yards, receptions and receiving touchdowns. Gage Larvadain from Southeast Louisiana has 16 catches and 353 yards with three touchdowns through two games. He had a 99-yard touchdown reception and a 70-yard catch last week. His other six catches last week went for 154 yards. He’s going to attract defense's attention when we get into MAC play.

Alexis: I had a helluva time trying to pick someone out who wasn’t one of the three mentioned above, so I’ll go with a guy I mentioned in passing in this week’s power rankings, Sacred Heart transfer Kenneth Womack of Western Michigan. No touchdowns yet (but that’s hardly his fault on a team that’s had one passing touchdown this year) and his ESPN profile turns up the default profile picture, but he has 121 yards on the year so far, well over double Western’s second-place guy, eighth-year tight end Austin Hence.

Which Week 3 matchup intrigues you the most and why?

James: This is definitely going to be a strange one, but I’ve got Ball State vs. Indiana State as the game of the week in terms on intrigue. This is the first time these two teams have faced off in nine years, with the last matchup seeing the Sycamores steal the win late over the Cardinals. Indiana State has held on to the Victory Bell since then, the rare instance where an FCS program has bragging rights on an FBS program. Given modern scheduling practices, we can’t be sure when— if ever— the next edition of the game will happen, so let’s appreciate it while it’s here.

(For BSU, this will also show us a lot about where they stand in terms of their development after two games vs. SEC teams.)

Keith: Gotta go Iowa State Cyclones at Ohio Bobcats. Not everyday a solid Big 12 program comes to Athens, Ohio let alone with the home team having a real chance to compete. ISU is a modest 2.5-point favorite, a more objective measure to my homer pick here that Ohio can win. Ohio will have to play its best possible game with little to no major errors victory is possible, especially given how the defense is playing. A home win against a solid Power Five opponent would be a big step in the Bobcats’ development.

Drew: I’m tempted to say WMU at Iowa for Brian Ferentz point-scoring reasons, but Iowa St at Ohio is the most interesting. Iowa St is on the road, in a letdown spot after playing Iowa and they have their own off-field issues. Kurtis Rourke is back from a week one injury and Ohio is primed to take down a power five opponent.

Alexis: If Toledo can substantially embarrass San Jose State, I honestly think they’re home free to 11-1. They don’t play Ohio in the regular season this year and the toughest competition they have left is Eastern Michigan, unless Ball State or Bowling Green or Buffalo figure their problems out by the time the conference tilt hits.

This one’s a free space! The floor is yours for one unique take. It can be related to the MAC, it can be a shoutout to a MAC alum, whatever you like as long as it’s MAC-related.

James: I covered the Miami/UMass marathon game last week, and found myself thinking throughout “you know what, I kinda missed this feeling.” I admit, it’s a strange thing to think about in the midst of a monsoon-affected game being played at 10:30 at night between two teams with a combined nine-win projection, but I did feel a twinge of nostalgia.

UMass joined the MAC my first year as a Central student, and left just after I did as well. While they weren’t a great team, they were certainly an interesting one with a unique culture and a friendly fanbase. It’s hurt a little to watch them struggle along being an independent all these years, as they made a choice which ultimately the market dictated was wrong, even if their logic was reasonable.

Considering the MAC flirted with WKU and Middle Tennessee State a few years back, I think if in the inevitable realignment aftershocks there is mutual interest there, a reunion could be in order. I certainly wouldn’t mind it (so long as a travel partner could be found.)

Keith: Toledo hammered its FCS opponent at home which is what it needed to do but the performance of the week for me goes to Ohio’s defense, which is really difficult to overhype all things considered. Ohio allowed a total of five net yards rushing and would have likely pitched a shutout against a talented FAU Owls offensive on the road if one drive didn't start deep in Ohio’s territory. Defense was in the Matrix in this one, a great sign of things to come.

Drew: I struggle with uniqueness, but this conference is Toledo’s to lose. Bill Connelly’s SP+ has the Rockets as the only MAC team that is better than the average FBS team. Their two results and preseason/recruiting projections give them a +2 value. The next team is Ohio at -8.8. With the data available right now, Toledo would be a 10-point favorite in a neutral site game. Ten-point favorites lose games, but Toledo is a serious favorite against everyone in the MAC. It should be a serious disappointment for a healthy Rockets team to fail to make the MAC Championship Game.

Alexis: YouTuber “dalukes” uploaded his newest conference history video, which just so happened to be about the MAC. Like the rest of his videos in this series, it was really well put together and researched, but had me thinking about the ongoing realignment situation.

The only school he even mentioned as being a possible candidate for membership in the future was Western Kentucky, with or without Middle Tennessee State. I’d love to see the Air Raid’s eastern outpost (Western Kentucky) in the conference; Middle Tennessee State is a take-or-leave proposition for me, for a couple of reasons, but they’d be necessary for conference balance.

I know it’s an inside joke for me to say the MAC should add Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech (and I fully intend on still writing that tongue-in-cheek advocation when the offseason hits), but why not Wayne State? The jump required to go from Division II to FBS notwithstanding. And it might just be me, but Ferris State and Grand Valley State might be deserving of promotions, too, if Tier 2 FBS conferences are forced into regionalism-or-else to survive.