Week 3 was a bit of a redemption period for the MAC, as they pulled down several major upsets and had several admirable performances to boot, going a collective 6-6. It’s technically the same record as the week prior, but the strength of schedule for Week 3 was much harder. The results then are encouraging for the direction of the MAC at large.
This edition of the Roundtable will be a bit different; instead of the usual “one person writes the questions” structure, we have all four of our contributors asking a question for the room. Gotta mix it up sometimes, ya know?
Let’s get right into it:
JAMES ASKS: The MAC hauled in two major upsets on Big 12 teams this week, with Ohio taking down Iowa State in Athens, while Miami snuck by with a win over Cincinnati on the road. Which win was more impressive, and what does the win say about both teams?
James H. Jimenez: Obviously, it’s great that the MAC pulled in not one, but two wins against Big 12 programs, so credit goes to both Miami and Ohio for collecting those. Now, some could say Iowa State and Cincinnati are not exactly world-beaters, but you have to play who’s in front of you, and both teams were favored by gamblers going in.
Miami’s win, however, is most impressive. Not only did they break a 16-year streak in the Victory Bell rivalry, but they did it on the road in a hostile environment and took it in overtime to boot. The win ended up being Miami’s first-ever against a Big 12 team and the program’s first overtime victory since the rule was introduced in 1996. A program-defining win.
Keith Gregorski: Hats off to both squads for big wins but I have to go with Ohio. Iowa State’s offense has to significantly improve for the Cyclones to avoid mediocrity this year but their defense is probably one of the Big 12’s best. Ohio in a lot of ways played nearly a perfectly clean game with only 15 total yards in penalties and zero turnovers.
Ohio showed a formula for success that can serve them well this year: stifling defense, clean offense, and competent special teams. For Miami, led by QB Gabbert, the offense can get enough done to make it to a MAC title game.
Drew Pearson: Miami’s win is more impressive, but not by much. What it means is the Battle for the Bricks is going to be incredible. Iowa State is going to be pretty bad this year and Cincinnati is a bit more unknown, but the Big 12 probably won’t be nice to them. The best MAC teams schedule power five teams every year and the wins are rare, no matter who the teams are. The MAC got two on Saturday.
Alexis Baker: Iowa State is hot doo-doo garbage this year, so my cap goes off to Miami here. Ohio’s good, we knew they were gonna be good, and they weren’t playing Iowa’s Finest last week. Miami, though? They were slated to be good, but also to struggle against the top teams in the conference. Huge win for the RedHawks.
KEITH ASKS: Describe your favorite play of the week and why it was impressive.
James: I know I’m returning to the well here in talking about the Miami/Cincy game, but Yahsyn McKee’s field goal block to force OT cannot be underestimated. I am a big believer in special teams winning games, and McKee’s play on the ball here absolutely won this game for the RedHawks.
Cincy was lax on the right side of the coverage, with the tight end taking a very narrow alignment which would greatly restrict their ability to move to the right— despite two outside players lining up there pre-snap. McKee recognizes this and moves closer to the line for a better position on the operation, assuming the tight end will move inside (which he does.) He then had free reign to flail all five-foot-10 of his frame to put the ball on the ground. Kick blocked, overtime ensues, McKee picks off Emory Jones to win. Game, set, match.
Keith: A play that will get me psyched in a jump-up-off-the-couch kinda way is a great catch followed by a physical run which is just what Ohio’s TE Tyler Foster did last week. At the end of the third and the ‘Cats driving, Foster made a one-handed stab of the ball in the flats then ran over ISU’s all-star safety Jeremiah Cooper before being gang tackled by the remaining Cyclones. (Check out the 6:55 mark here.)
Drew: This one. Western Michigan hit a 64-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring at Iowa this week with Treyson Bourguet connecting with Anthony Sambucci. I had to remind myself that I had seen this movie before. Enjoy it, but don’t change expectations for the game. It was fun to see the Broncos hold the lead against an Iowa team that is struggling to score points.
Alexis: Oh, easily Austin Smith’s throw on the run to Hamze El-Zayat to put Eastern Michigan up on Massachusetts for good. Clutch throw and it won the game; you can’t get any better than that.
DREW ASKS: High-level quarterback play seems to be the barrier for entry in MAC upsets. Nationally, the PAC-12 has been generating buzz as possibly the strongest conference this season with a slew of stellar quarterbacks. How do you feel about the state of the MAC quarterbacks?
James: It could be better! Dequan Finn and Kurtis Rourke are modern prototypes, guys who can both run and pass with fair efficiency, but outside of those two, however, there’s just a lot of QB mush. You’re looking at either Miami’s Brett Gabbert or Buffalo’s Cole Snyder as the “best of the rest”, but the “rest” of what’s left is a-shambles in terms of QB production. The bottom falls out pretty quickly, with lots of signal-callers struggling to maintain 50 percent completion on passes. Some programs are even rotating QBs consistently, a headache for trying to project development of both those players and the overall rosters.
Keith: Overall, I think you got some cream at the top with Rourke and Finn, who would be successful at a lot of programs. And Miami’s Brett Gabbert makes such a huge difference for the RedHawks, just a winner who finds a way like last week versus Cincy. The rest of the MAC East is pretty solid including BGSU and Buffalo. Akron’s DJ Irons has his stretches in an offense where the line and running game need to develop.
The MAC West needs more QBs to emerge this year. I think Ball State’s QB, whomever they decide on, could have a good year. And NIU’s passing game may pick it up but the rest of the lot doesn’t look as promising.
Drew: The top passers in the MAC are good. Dequan Finn for Toledo, Kurtis Rourke for Ohio and Brett Gabbert for Miami can clearly keep their teams in games against Power Five teams. However, the bottom of the conference is pretty bad. Western Michigan can’t decide who to play, Central Michigan has two quarterbacks that can run the ball well and Rocky Lombardi has completed less than 50 percent of his passing attempts. If the bottom of the conference could get their quarterbacks figured out, the quality of the conference and the perceived quality of the conference would improve.
Alexis: After Dequan and Kurtis? It’s rough. Brett Gabbert is probably the shoe-in for Best of the Rest on competence alone. But man, every time I dig into the stats for power rankings and recaps, it feels like an agglomeration of also-rans. It could just be the transitional period Tier 2 football is in right now; maybe once Tier 1 programs and conferences stop shifting around so much, recruiting can stabilize.
ALEXIS ASKS: With new rumors of a Western FBS conference made up of PAC and Mountain West schools, featuring promotion and relegation for football...that same idea, but with the MAC and the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Who says no? Besides probably most school administrators.
James: Oh man, this does remind me of an old idea we had at Hustle Belt back in... 2016, I wanna say... and then revived with our friends at Underdog Dynasty and Mountain West Connection in 2018. (My stint as MAC commissioner was certainly interesting.)
We also used to have a weekly segment with Off-Tackle Empire called the B1G-MAC Swap where we would promote and relegate between the Big Ten and MAC. Ah, the memories.
School administrators would absolutely say no to such an idea because of the legalities of being conferences at a certain level of athletics. Boosters would also have concerns at the higher levels— though smaller schools could be incentivized to build up their facilities should such a scenario arise. The MVC would be a great partner in such a prospective idea, though travel might be a bit much for the MAC’s preferred “bus league” philosophy.
Keith: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head about the administrators, I like the MVC but I can’t see it working out.
Drew: Let's be fun and focus on the football. Hell yeah, it would be great. The top of the MVC could absolutely compete in the MAC and if they replaced some teams that were either temporarily down or less interested in supporting football than their peers, the quality of the games would greatly increase. There are a million and one reasons why it won’t happen, but tell me Tuesday nights in the Fargo Dome doesn’t sound awesome!
Alexis: I feel like Tier 2 FBS conferences have the opportunity to really dig themselves in as the place for Regional Football, now that Tier 1 conferences are seemingly eschewing that (besides the SEC). I think anytime soon is a bit presumptuous, but in the future? Not as unlikely as one would think, especially as the canyon between Tier 1 and 2 in the FBS deepens and the Tier 1 of FCS and Tier 2 of FBS start to close.
Which Week 4 matchup intrigues you the most and why?
James: NIU vs. Tulsa pairs two teams coming off bad beats to Power Five teams hoping to redeem their seasons against one another. Both teams are 1-2, and both teams are looking head-long into a daunting conference slate. A win here would go a long way towards giving the victor confidence in the plan working, and that cannot be underestimated when considering the state of both builds. Tulsa head coach Kevin Wilson is looking for a proof-of-concept win in his first season, while NIU’s Thomas Hammock needs to pick up a convincing result to assuage concerns about a program downslide.
Keith: I’m looking again at Ball State this week, this time versus Georgia Southern for two reasons. First, I’d like see some contenders emerge in the MAC West to challenge Toledo. When you look at the MAC East you have so far Ohio, Miami, and to an extent Bowling Green, who played really well against second ranked Michigan last week. On the West side we need some clearer contenders and BSU at home versus Georgia Southern will be a good test whether the Cardinals are that team. Second, I’d like to see the MAC get conference bragging rights over the Sun Belt. Don’t know if the records support it but feels like Sun Belt has had our number lately.
Drew: Jacksonville State jumped up to FBS prior to this season and Eastern Michigan heads to Alabama this weekend. It should be a very close, but winnable game for the Eagles. Jacksonville State’s head coach is former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriquez and the quarterback situation isn’t clear. If Eastern Michigan heads into conference play 3-1, we could be watching a historic season for the Eagles.
Alexis: Akron is the conference’s last hope to extend the Big Ten winning streak, playing a 1-2 Indiana squad. Akron hasn’t played great after a respectable week 1 loss to Temple and they’ll have to be on top of things to pull this one out, but besides Toledo’s close loss to Illinois, this might be the best shot.
This one’s a free space! The floor is yours for one, MAC-related take.
James: This is adjacent to the MAC, granted, but something I think would be an excellent idea. The Big Ten recently required their teams to release an injury report about two hours before the game, and that has been a blessing for transparency in a sport which is famously opaque. I would not be surprised if the MAC has had discussions about instituting such a policy considering how hand-in-hand the conference is with the Big Ten on most issues. With the rise of legalized gambling, it would also be a proactive measure to prevent players who might not have played in a game due to an unannounced injury from facing harassment. The biggest thing though is it would help with educating the public about who is available for a game, allowing them to make informed decisions or to be up-to-date on a team’s status.
I personally don’t see any downsides to such a policy, which makes this a no-brainer.
Keith: Hats off to head coach Kenni Burns and the Golden Flashes getting the first win of his Kent State tenure and some real progress. After getting crushed in the opener in Week 1 versus UCF, the Golden Flashes kept it respectable against Arkansas 28-6 in Week 2, winning last week against Central Connecticut 38-10. KSU had a tough task to start the year essentially rebuilding the entire offense but playmakers have started to emerge like running back Gavin Garcia (238 yards, 4.2 per carry, 2 scores) and Trell Harris (11 receptions, 208 yards, 18.7 per catch).
Drew: Is everything good in Buffalo? To this point in the season, I only expected them to be 1-2, but the FCS loss and getting doubled by Liberty at home is not good. On the road against Louisiana this week is another likely loss and Akron the week after won’t be a pushover. They better take care of business in the early part of the MAC schedule or we could see a Buffalo team bottom out for the first time in a while.
Alexis: I see in the MAC right now a bunch of programs struggling to find their way. This isn’t a MAC problem, per se; the same issue is cropping up across Tier 2 programs. Boise State is off to one of their worst starts in 20 years, a worrying sign for the stalwart perennial winners of Tier 2. I think it’s just a consequence of the recent earthquakes in the sport, and they’re going to be more felt at less rich schools, like those in the MAC. Let’s just hope teams get back on their feet soon.