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2023 MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 3

A race to the bottom has emerged, and the Broncos are fighting to get out from it.

Western Michigan v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Week 3 saw the MAC claim redemption after a flurry of bad results in Week 2 brought to question the health of the conference.

Now, as the first month of the season has come and gone, we come back to re-examine where all 12 programs are as the league slate starts to heat up in full next week. (Though we do get two appetizers this week.)

Without further ado, onto this week’s rankings:

12. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: 12)

  • High vote: 9 (once)
  • Low vote: 12 (three)
  • Average vote: 11

It feels really unfair for WMU to be here this week, considering the Buffalo Bulls above them (spoiler alert) finished the week with more last-place votes, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

This is still a team trying to figure out a number of things about themselves, and that will manifest in on-field mistakes and inconsistent performances. Both were there in spades against Iowa, who took advantage and buried the Broncos after a first-half scare. WMU is 1-2 now, with no wins vs. FBS competition yet. They start conference play vs. Toledo this week.

11. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 10, down 1)

  • High vote: 7 (twice)
  • Low vote: 12 (four)
  • Average vote: 10

Buffalo is honestly pretty lucky that WMU is where they are in their current build because otherwise, they’d likely have a firm grasp on last place. This is a team who has severely underperformed from expectations from the word go, going 0-3 against Wisconsin, Fordham and Liberty.

This is a team predicated on high-flying offense and a playmaking defense, but the offense can be shut down pretty quick and the defense has simply not gotten the turnovers they need to thrive. They don’t show a lot of urgency either, which doesn’t help. It all feels a little bit broken, and it’s not going to get easier. This week they take on the Ragin’ Cajuns in Lafayette, Louisiana.

t-9. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: 11, up 2)

  • High vote: 7 (once)
  • Low vote: 11 (three)
  • Average vote: 9.57

There were concerns about Kent State heading into this week, as we didn’t really get to see them play at full song due to the strength of their opponents. Against CCSU, we at the least got to see what this Kent State team can be when they’re allowed to execute their gameplan and philosophies.

Despite all the changes in personnel, this still looks very similar to the Kent State teams of old under Sean Lewis, and that’s a nice feeling for the Flashes because those philosophies really put KSU back into contention. We’ve still a lot to see from this team, but optimism abounds. They play Fresno State to round out the non-conference schedule.

t-9. Northern Illinois Huskies (LW: 9)

  • High vote: 8 (twice)
  • Low vote: 11 (once)
  • Average vote: 9.57

NIU continues to languish, and it’s a surprise they’re still as high as they are, considering they’ve scored just 22 points over the last two games. Against a Nebraska team in a Year 0 situation starting a new quarterback, they looked outclassed in every phase from the opening kickoff. There’s no quick answers either; their style of play is relatively inflexible and their personnel is shaky at current. Rocky Lombardi, their senior leadership figure, was perhaps the worst offender, going 11-of-28 (39 percent!) for 73 yards and an interception.

The coaching staff will have to take a deep look at the game tape and depth charts and figure out if there are any solutions to be found to the problems which ail them. They take on Tulsa this week.

8. Akron Zips (LW: 8)

  • High vote: 8 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (twice)
  • Average vote: 9.14

The Zips put up an admirable effort against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night, keeping within striking distance well into the second half before ultimately falling due to the talent gap. A fluke 50-yard touchdown play put the game out of reach, but there’s still some positives to take away, especially on the defensive side.

There’s still a few frustrations to be addressed; the Zips had a hard time finishing drives, and had to settle for field goals or punts more than they might have liked in an upset attempt. Once Akron figures out the kinks on the scoring side of the ball, they should be just fine given the defense’s ability thus far. They play Indiana to wrap up non-conference play.

7. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 7)

  • High vote: 5 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (once)
  • Average vote: 7.14

Speaking of admirable efforts against Power Five opponents, let’s give Bowling Green their flowers. The Falcons, down their starting QB due to injury, took the #2 team in the country to a one-possession game at halftime, with one of those Michigan scores occurring just a few minutes before the end of the first half to make it look a bit better at the break.

The defense especially shone, with three interceptions and a fumble recovery to keep the game competitive for a lot longer than it deserved to be. Unfortunately, Camden Orth’s injury in the second quarter forced true freshman Hayden Timociek into service at QB and it all went south from there. There’s only so much you can do in that situation, and they did the best they could. This week, they hope to get revenge for last season’s division-deciding loss to Ohio.

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

  • High vote: 5 (four)
  • Low vote: 7 (twice)
  • Average vote: 5.71

The Chippewas had an admirable effort against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last week, holding Notre Dame to just a seven-point lead at the halftime break, the first team to hold the Irish to that margin all season. Ultimately though, CMU’s lack of depth and creativity hurt them as ND turned the ship around and out-talented CMU in the second half en route to a 41-17 victory.

It unfortunately doesn’t get any easier from there, though, as they’ll next face South Alabama— who just trounced Oklahoma State in Stillwater— on the road.

5. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 6, up 1)

  • High vote: 4 (twice)
  • Low vote: 7 (once)
  • Average vote: 5.42

Ball State took back what was previously theirs, pounding Indiana State to re-claim the Blue Key Victory Bell trophy. It was a definitive proof-of-concept game, showing how the Cardinals intend to win games going into the MAC slate. All-MAC performer Marquez Cooper balled out and true freshman QB Kadin Semonza solidified his spot on the roster, showing encouraging signs of progress.

They’ll have to prove it once again against a dangerous Georgia Southern team at the Scheu.

4. Eastern Michigan Eagles (LW: 3, down 1)

  • High vote: 3 (twice)
  • Low vote: 6 (once)
  • Average vote: 4.14

It feels like EMU only knows how to play closely-fought, grind-em-out contests, and last week was no exception. The Eagles had to find the will to bridge multiple gaps late in the second half agaisnt UMass, with Hamze El-Zayat claiming the hero role on a 50-yard touchdown reception in the one-score victory.

They haven’t been off to the fastest of starts in 2023, with an offense which has struggled to move the ball outside of some explosive plays, and a defense which has had some unfortunate lapses at inopportune moments. But even so, they’re still 2-1, and this week is a winnable contest against Jacksonville State.

3. Miami RedHawks (LW: 4, up 1)

  • High vote: 2 (once)
  • Low vote: 4 (twice)
  • Average vote: 3.14

The Miami RedHawks pulled down perhaps the most impressive win of the 2023 season so far by taking down Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium in overtime on Saturday night, taking back the Victory Bell for the first time in 16 seasons thanks in part to an incredible late-game performance by Yahsyn McKee in the late going.

Because of how Miami builds their program, performance can vary widely based on the on-roster talent. Thankfully for the Redhawks, their core of players look to be amongst the league’s best, with Gage Larvadain leading the NCAA in receiving as of publication, while Brett Gabbert looks healthy after an injury suffered last season. Keep an eye on the boys from Oxford, they could make a late run.

2. Ohio Bobcats (LW: 2)

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

Speaking of impressive performances, Ohio took down a Big 12 opponent of their own in Iowa State, defending “The Frank” once again with a dominant 10-7 defensive performance the likes of which will be talked about in Athens for years to come. Bryce Houston once again showed why he was considered one of the best linebackers in the MAC, with a 15-tackle day, while Torrie Cox Jr. pulled in the turnover which turned out to have major importance for the ‘Cats in their upset bid.

After a speedbump performance against SDSU, they seem to have it all worked out heading into their first conference game against Bowling Green.

1. Toledo Rockets (LW: 1)

  • High vote: 1 (five)
  • Low vote: 2 (twice)
  • Average vote: 1.28

The Rockets put on a show for the home crowd once again this weekend, climbing out of a 10-point deficit to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against a feisty San Jose State side. Toledo had to really earn this one, mustering an 18-play, 98-yard drive to earn their first points of the day with :11 to go in the first half, then picking up two scores in five minutes to take the lead late in the third quarter. The defense then had to hold on to dear life for 20 minutes of game clock to secure the win.

At the end of the day, wins are wins, and Toledo has shown themselves to be the best team in the MAC at full strength. They’ll likely stay up here until further notice.

Anonymized ranking

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

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!