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2023 MAC Football Power Rankings: Week 1

Toledo’s still on top despite the loss, an indication our voters believe the best is yet to come.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 has come and gone, and now we’ve seen every MAC team play in at least one game this season. (Ohio has two contests under their belt due to participating in Week 0.)

The results were up-and-down as you might expect so early in the season. Some MAC teams played more superior competition— or lesser competition— to start their seasons, so it can be hard to learn from those games, while other MAC teams played peer programs and we were able to glean something from their performances.

The first few weeks are typically volatile, and this week is no different, as 9 of the 12 MAC programs have moved from their spots in the preseason rankings. You can catch up on those here if you missed them.

Without further ado, let’s get into this week’s rankings:

12. Kent State Golden Flashes (LW: 12)

  • Unanimous #12

The Flashes had an atrocious outing against Big 12 newcomer UCF and that’s not looking to abate anytime soon against SEC opponent Arkansas. I’m not sure who worked out Kent State’s non-conference schedule for 2023, but whoever it was is getting cursed under the breath of every Golden Flash player, fan, and coach. UCF, Arkansas, a small respite against Central Connecticut, before finishing up against Fresno State? Yeeeeeeesh. Not the start to a year conducive to helping a team full to the brim with new players gel and find their rhythm going into the conference schedule. It’s debatable if getting slaughtered in three of your first four games is even a learning experience, rather than just demoralizing. — Alexis

11. Western Michigan Broncos (LW: 11)

  • High vote: 7 (once)
  • Low vote: 11 (four)
  • Average vote: 10.14

The Broncos had a lot to prove to onlookers last weekend, with a shiny new offense and dozens of new names across the board. SFU came into the game with a nine-game regular-season winning streak and had several players back from that squad to give WMU a push.

WMU pushed back, shoved them around, and then ran them over in a domineering victory— though it wasn't without a cost. They had to abandon the new passing game (which had really struggled to get going) and lean back on their stable of runners, which is a bit concerning considering the level of the opponent as they head into the harder parts of their schedule. — James

10. Bowling Green Falcons (LW: 8, down 2)

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 11 (twice)
  • Average vote: 9.14

The 24-34 loss to Liberty was exceptionally closer than it was in reality. In the stat sheet, this was one of the worst quarterbacking ventures seen in recent times, with Connor Bazelak going 28.6 percent on his passes for a grand total of 71 yards and three interceptions, netting a downright 1970s passer rating of 1.59. His replacement, Camden Orth, wasn’t much better, going 50 percent for 66 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Combined, their passer rating was 21.24. If your passer rating is around the age of the athletes, that’s generally considered poor.

And it’s not like it gets any easier for the Falcons from here on out. After Eastern Illinois this weekend, it’s #2 Michigan, conference title game favorite Ohio, and Georgia Tech. The Falcons need to figure out what on God’s green Earth is going on with their quarterbacking if they want to have a wing and a prayer of finishing out of the bottom 3 or 4 this year. This result will simply not fly in what’s shaping up to be a cutthroat middle-of-the-MAC. Okay, enough with the wordplay. — Alexis

9. Central Michigan Chippewas (LW: 7, down 2)

  • High vote: 7 (twice)
  • Low vote: 11 (twice)
  • Average vote: 8.71

There's still a lot of work for CMU to do, and that was evident in a matchup against Michigan State. The Chips managed to keep it pretty close early thanks to their ability to get to the quarterback and force incompletions, which turned MSU one-dimensional. However, by the end of the second quarter, MSU figured out the defense and broke the game open, evidenced by their late second-quarter run which featured multiple big-play passes. After that happened, CMU could never hope to adjust with such a youthful, inexperienced roster.

There's still some upside to be found on the roster, but they'll have to take some lumps before they can fully realize said potential. It doesn't get any easier this week, as they face New Hampshire, the 11th-ranked team in the FCS standings. — James

8. Akron Zips (LW: 10, up 2)

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (once)
  • Average vote: 8

You know what? Good on Akron for impressing!

I really, really doubted their ability to meaningfully build on whatever the Zips were cooking last year (possibly a contagion that has now spread to Bowling Green), but losing by three points to a bad Temple team is improvement in this neck of the woods. DJ Irons went 58.6 percent for 205 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, while the Zips scored 21 points.

That’s something, anything, to build off of. And unlike other teams on this list thus far, their remaining non-conference schedule isn’t exactly the worst gauntlet imaginable. Even if they don’t win that much going into the conference stretch, if they can post respectable stats, that shows that Joe Moorhead has his program on that varsity thinking. — Alexis

7. Ball State Cardinals (LW: 9, up 2)

  • High vote: 6 (once)
  • Low vote: 10 (once)
  • Average vote: 7.85

The Cardinals had an admirable effort against Kentucky early on, keeping the score to 7-3 in the first quarter, before the strength and depth of the SEC-laden roster ultimately got the best of the Cardinals. They certainly weren't helped by three fumbles (one of which resulted in a defensive score), but there's positives to take away too.

They held future NFL prospect Drew Leary to 18-of-31 for 241 yards, one touchdown and an interception, and potentially might have found a quarterback to build around in true freshman Kadin Semonza (15-of-21 for 165 yards and one touchdown.) after Texas State transfer Layne Hatcher and backup QB Kiael Kelly both struggled immensely. — James

6. Miami RedHawks (LW: 4, down 2)

  • High vote: 5 (twice)
  • Low vote: 10 (once)
  • Average vote: 6.85

What in the hell are we supposed to make of the RedHawks, exactly?

Losing 3-38 to the Other Miami is one thing, but it’s not like Brett Gabbert played exceptionally bad, going 57 percent on his throws for 127 yards and no completions in the end zone or to the other team. That’s a passer rating around 57—not spectacular, definitely below average, but nowhere near as bad as other MAC passers this weekend. The Hurricane defense just stuffed ‘em, no two ways about it. The frustrating thing about losses like that from an outside perspective is that there’s not real obvious “that’s the problem, officer” type culprit—the Hurricanes were just that good and the RedHawks just were not that good. The coaches surely have a better look at this than we do, so let’s just hope Miami has its house in order before taking on a shockingly competent UMass this weekend. — Alexis

5. Buffalo Bulls (LW: 6, up 1)

  • High vote: 3 (once)
  • Low vote: 6 (twice)
  • Average vote: 4.71

Last week might be the lowest Buffalo sits on these rankings for the rest of the year if they keep playing like they have been. They took a Wisconsin program boasting a fresh new offense—Air Raid, like all the other kids have—and kept them from running away with it all in a 17-38 loss. Scoring 17 as a mid-to-high level Tier 2 program against a solidly mid-high Tier 1 program is promising indeed, and if this continues that might be the hardest game Buffalo plays all year (although they do have Liberty in two weeks) and finish off the season against Toledo, Ohio, Miami, and Eastern Michigan, also known as the presumptive top four programs in the conference. — Alexis

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

  • High vote: 4 (five times)
  • Low vote: 5 (twice)
  • Average vote: 4.28

The Eagles fall down one spot after a performance which can best be described as "uneven" against Howard University. Despite the win, the box score indicates a lot had to go right for them to get away with it. The Eagles scored 16 points through special teams, and were held to just 110 yards on the ground for a team build on a solid rushing attack. Howard actually outgained EMU on offense by a margin of 398 total yards to 285.

This ranking, then, is probably a prospective one, as EMU is one of the more talented teams in the MAC and has a fairly easy schedule ahead of them. Their toughest match of the season comes this week when they take on Minnesota. We’ll learn more about this team then. — James

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

  • High vote: 2 (five)
  • Low vote: 5 (once)
  • Average vote: 2.57

The Bobcats are in a very odd position. They’re currently without their X-Factor quarterback, whose absence is making a huge world of difference. Despite beating Long Island 24-10, they stuck mostly to the ground attack, with Sieh Bangura having a century day of 107 yards and the two quarterbacks, Parker Navarro and CJ Harris, contributing almost as many rushing yards as they did passing yards. The two passers were very accurate, 12 for 15, for only 107 yards but 3 touchdowns to just 1 interception. One wonders how much of a difference Kurtis Rourke would be making here. — Alexis

t-3. Northern Illinois Huskies (LW: 5, up 2)

  • High vote: 1 (once)
  • Low vote: 3 (five times)
  • Average vote: 2.57

The Huskies just never die, do they?

The boys in Red and Black ran ruck-shod over the BC Eagles in Chestnut Hill, with a late BC run to force overtime overshadowing what was otherwise a dominant effort (which was ultimately still rewarded at the end.) It’s not a perfect attack; it’s certainly hard to watch at some points. But it’s effective, and it will be a pain the tookus to anyone who faces it.

As long as NIU keeps playing like that, they’re going to be pretty high in these rankings, especially in a MAC which feels very wide open. — James

1. Toledo Rockets (LW: 1)

  • High vote: 1 (six times)
  • Low vote: 2 (once)
  • Average vote: 1.14

The Toledo Rockets held the eyes of the football-watching nation on Saturday night, in a tense battle with the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Rockets were a dark horse betting favorite to pull off the upset— and almost did.

But despite the loss, there was plenty to like about Toledo to still have the utmost confidence in them to do what they’re projected to do this season. The team was more disciplined, held the ball longer and converted more on on clutch downs than Illinois, while also keeping the Illini to just 14 offensive points heading into the fourth quarter. Dequan Finn was an individual force as well, eclipsing 300 total yards and three touchdowns. This team will be just fine as they put their toughest game of the year behind him. — James

Anonymized ranking

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