The season is still young, but as the weeks progress, we're starting to learn more and more about how the rest of the year will play out. With the bulk of MAC play still a week away, we're already getting a sense of who won't be contending for divisional titles. Injuries are wreaking havoc, and some teams have played substantially tougher (Toledo) schedules than others (Ball State), but there's still enough to take away from the third week of the season to draw some solid conclusions. I present to you, my five thoughts:
UMass is actually, kind of, sort of good
For two weeks in a row now UMass was painfully close to knocking off Power 5 teams. Yes, those teams were Colorado and Vanderbilt, but still. We're talking about a team which lost to Maine in 2013. UMass is still small. It's still lacking good quarterback play, and the defense has some big holes. But Mark Whipple can coach.
I mean it's night and day from when Charley Molnar was in town. Whipple is getting the most out of his talent right now, and that advantage (the one inside the coach's head) will be enough to give UMass a few wins this season. The Minutemen have Miami, Kent State and EMU in back-to-back-to-back weeks. It wouldn't shock me one bit to see the Minutemen team win all three, and then possibly sneak one (or more) from Ball State, Akron or Buffalo at the end of the year. Yes, I'm saying I think this UMass team could win four times as many MAC games as it did in 2013. The offense can score, and the defense has buckled against teams with decisive advantages in talent. Come MAC play, when UMass gets to go up against some of the worst teams the FBS has to offer, the Minutemen will eat.
Falcon Fast is REALLY fast
I mean really, really fast. We got a glimpse of it against VMI in Week 2, but it wasn't until Saturday evening in Bowling Green, against Indiana, that we got to see it in all its glory. Dino Babers' offense is as fast, or even faster than Art Briles' offense at Baylor. The Bears averaged 85 plays a game last year. Bowling Green is already averaging 93.5 plays a year this year.
The Falcons ran 113 plays against Indiana. The most any team has run in a game this year. Their speed isn't at the expense of clock management either. BGSU won the clock battle with Indiana 33:07-26:53. That's because even though there are a ton of short passes in Babers' offense, there's also a reliance on the ground game. The Falcons are averaging 206 yards per game on the ground, and actually, the offense has now improved each week. BGSU won't always run 113 plays, but Babers' will easily be able to get 90 plays off a game most of this season.
Now if only their defense would step up.
P.J. Fleck can recruit
Seriously. I know the general rule of thumb is you can't see the benefits of a recruiting class until three years out, but P.J. Fleck's historic 2014 recruiting class has already had a major impact in just two games.
Let's take true freshman running back Jarvion Franklin as an example. Through two games, he's second in the league with 374 yards, tied for first in rushing touchdowns with six, and is averaging an astonishing 7/2 yards per carry. He weighs 220 pounds, but moves like a much smaller back, with the power to bowl people over. He's one of a handful of freshmen who have already seen substantial playing time, and barring some weird turn of events, these talented young WMU players will continue to rack up playing time and improve as the season goes on.
WMU isn't going to win the MAC West this year, but if Fleck can keep bringing in pieces such as Franklin (his 2015 class so far suggests that he can), the Broncos should improve rather quickly in the next few seasons.
We're a real top-heavy league
Believe it or not, the MAC has more wins over Power Five conference teams than the Big Ten so far this season. The MAC has three (all against the B1G), and even counting Penn State's conference win over Rutgers, the B1G has just two. But there's something to note about that. Two of those wins are from NIU and BGSU; last year's MAC Championship game participants.
As a whole, the MAC is 5-21 against other FBS opponents so far this season. Those include quite a few blowout losses. The MAC isn't a bad league. NIU keeps winning. BGSU, despite early season woes, seems to be on track already. Toledo has played a hellacious schedule, but still looks poised for a big season. But outside the top two or three teams, the talent level drops off.
I've said it for awhile, and so far this season (with a pair of FCS loses already), I believe it even more: there are a few good mid-major football programs in our league any given year, than about 8-10 mid-level FCS-caliber teams. The NIU's and BGSU's of the MAC will get their wins, and will look good doing so. But as evidenced by the big fat goose eggs many MAC teams are laying, its lonely at the top.
NIU is still the cream of the league
Speaking of the top: NIU still has it. We were all amazed to sit back and watch as the Huskie seamlessly went from Chandler Harnish to Jordan Lynch. Many expected it would be impossible to do it again, but through three games this year it appears NIU has done the impossible.
Whether Rod Carey believes it yet or not, Drew Hare is the man at quarterback. He's not as explosive as Lynch, but guess what? he doesn't need to be. The Huskies have fully transitioned into a running team, and anything Hare and the passing attack gives thee Huskies is just bonus. Through three games NIU is averaging 325 yards per game on the ground. Sure that includes the Presbyterian game, but it also includes the 221 rushing yards the Huskies put up on Northwestern, and the 331 they put up on UNLV.
NIU's offensive line is as good as it gets in the MAC, and with Cameron Stingily, Akeem Daniels, Keith Harris Jr., Joel Bougnon and yes, even Hare, there's no shortage of guys who can carry the ball. They have power backs, speed backs, scat backs, and a running quarterback. Against the MAC's weak defenses, this rushing attack should put up massive numbers all year long, and will definitely have NIU in contention for another MAC title.