Nothing ever happens as it’s supposed to in this conference. Even the possibility of a non-NIU representative of the MAC West in Detroit is becoming more real week to week, and with the season half over, we decided now would be a perfect opportunity to discuss what has surprised us so far in 2016.
Kaleb - Thomas Woodson
I guess I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, but the play of Woodson, just his darn goodness, continues to impress. For the sake of a good-natured fight, I want Woodson to be healthy and I want Ohio/Akron to be a game worthy of a battle for the MAC East title. I also thought the Zips’ defense would be better up to this point too. If Woodson can’t go against WMU, it could really hurt the offense.
Justin - Winning without Woodson
Woodson playing well was expected by most of us this season, but this well? Not a chance. And it’s because of that my biggest surprise is Akron’s 2-0 start to the MAC season without him. Tra’Von Chapmon has been more than capable in the backup role and has the Zips looking pretty good going into the game with WMU, though it won’t be quite the same without Woodson. If you told me five weeks ago he’d suffer an injury that could extend this far into October, I’d have written the team’s obituary.
Justin - Average play from Riley Neal
It’s been an average year for Neal on a team that could really use above average quarterback play right about now. Neal has a ton of upside, but with just six touchdowns thrown and as many interceptions - including two against Central Michigan this weekend - his play has left much to be desired in 2016, and that’s a huge problem if the Neu Era is to be full of Neu highs instead of Neu lows.
I’ll show myself out.
Kaleb - The Cardinals’ Competitiveness
The Cardinals have been in every game at the end to start the Neu era. Ball State is outscoring opponents 14.3 to 8 in the second half of games this season. That’s pretty solid for a team that is in a transitional period. The Cardinals still seem to be just a couple steps behind traditionally good MAC West foes. I’m curious to see how the Cardinals do in three-four weeks against Western and Eastern.
Justin - The bottom fell out so fast
I knew the Falcons’ talented 2015 roster was gutted this off season due to graduation, but I had no idea things would get bad this quickly in Bowling Green. The play of James Knapke has been baffling in the sense that he held things together pretty well in 2014 - though he wasn’t exactly spectacular, either - but has failed to do so this season.
Kaleb - Ditto
We knew the team would not be as good as the last few years, but I didn’t think we’d be having a discussion about whether BG is the worst team in the MAC after six games. The Falcons have a long way to be restored to their former luster.
Kaleb: The non-competitiveness
The fact that this team is hardly competing is notable to me; Nevada, Boston College, and now Kent State. To have a coach in his second year who is known for winning, winning winning no matter what, watching what #HolleyPower did to Buffalo was a bit uncomfortable.
Justin - Tyree Jackson’s ups and downs
A freshman quarterback having a roller coaster season isn’t exactly what most would cause a surprise, but the differences between Jackson’s best and worst games is absolutely notable. I still can’t quite believe he wasn’t the day one starter, and was even more dumbfounded after the opening game against Albany. What’s happening to Lance Leipold’s team right now is far from what I expected, and now the game against Miami appears to be the only hope the Bulls have of getting a MAC win this season.
Justin - Winning!
Not just winning though, but how this team has won. The Eagles have navigated an awkward quarterback situation to a 4-2 record somehow. Todd Porter, who missed this weekend’s game against Toledo due to injury, has played a considerable number of snaps despite throwing nine interceptions, and Brogan Roback, the suspended starter who didn’t see the field until the Wyoming game, has been effective in relief. Speaking of that Wyoming game, Porter threw four interceptions (!) and the Eagles still found a way to WIN (!!). How many EMU teams can most of us remember being capable of that?
Kaleb - The Eagle defense
The scrappiness of this Eagle defense is surprising to me in just how much they’re living up to the mindset of “The Factory.” In year two of Creighton Crunch Time, the Eagles are living up to their billing as a hard-working, competitive bunch. They are continually putting together impressive performances, even in losses, and I don’t remember being able to say that since becoming a fan of MAC football.
Justin - The (still) missing run game
Where the hell is the Chippewa run game? I know there’s some injuries to the offensive line and backfield, but in a league with surprising depth at the running back position it seems odd to me coach Bonamego’s squad isn’t running the ball better. The commitment to the run game is there, as the Chips aren’t exactly airing it out 50 times per game, but the lack of a threat makes this team a bit predictable. That predictability I think has led to Cooper Rush being good-not-great in 2016, and may cost him the first team All-MAC designation many of us thought was his to lose.
Kaleb - The run game
Honestly, I’m thinking the same as Justin. Neither the O-line nor running backs seemed to have stepped up to create a respectable running game for the Chippewas this season. You’d think with the constant threat of the pass, that something could get going for this CMU run game.
Justin - Nick Holley
This is so fun. Kent State is fun again. Kent State scored 40 points. Will Kent State ever lose again? Honest question.
Okay, it’s not that honest, but the sudden spark brought forth by #HolleyTime for the Flashes does merit wondering whether or not they can cause some trouble in the MAC East, or even finish second. One last minute Akron Drive has prevented this team from being 2-0 behind Holley’s play under center. But regardless of how this turns out, I feel absolutely cheated that Holley hasn’t been playing quarterback this entire time.
Kaleb - Offense?
The Kent offense putting up points in general has surprised the hell out of me. The quarterback situations just compounds the shock. The only game Kent has scored less than 13 points in was the Alabama game, and it has averaged 29.4 ppg if you exclude ‘Bama. Who would have predicted this?
Kaleb - No signs of progress
Miami doesn’t seem to have taken the next step as a program in any respect whatsoever. That makes me sad. It’s more fun as an Ohio fan rooting against Miami when it is at least semi-good. The coaching situation has to be up in the air at least. If Miami doesn’t win at least three of its games in MAC play, would anyone be surprised to see a change at the top?
Justin - Zero wins
I’m not sure anyone expected the RedHawks to be truly good this year, but 0-6 to this point? No way. I don’t know if this team can win a single game, let alone the three or four needed to show progress under Chuck Martin, who could be at risk of getting the axe soon for playing with a roster built by someone else. Miami’s season has been like watching a two-star movie on Netflix. You know it won’t be very good going in, and it shocks you with signs of quality at times, but in the end you just want to turn it off and forget you ever watched it in the first place.
Justin - Anthony Maddie
Maddie can really play. He’s the biggest surprise for me this year. Actually no, the biggest surprise is that he was even considered a wide receiver in the first place. Who knows how much of a difference he’d have made at Wyoming - a game NIU had no business losing in the first place - but the second straight year playing quarterback roulette has proven costly for the Huskies, and it might be costly for Rod Carey’s career as well. NIU can probably still get to 6-6 on the year, depending on how the Central Michigan game goes, but they may have slipped too far into the abyss.
Kaleb - The struggles
I thought this team would be close behind WMU as the second best team in the MAC and that Toledo would follow closely behind the Huskies. So much for that. The overall shortcomings of NIU and being 1-5 at this point would baffle me if I hadn’t seen for myself how NIU has struggled.
Justin - I don’t know if Ohio is good or not
Seriously, is this team good or not? Are they as bored with the rest of the MAC East as we are and just coasting until the Akron game? Are they hiding something so as to throw off the eventual MAC West champion? I picked this team to win the East, and now I’m not so sure they are capable of beating Eastern Michigan this week despite being touchdown favorites at home, let alone run through the rest of their own division.
Kaleb - The pass rush
I knew Ohio would compete for a MAC East, and maybe y’all are a lot more surprised at Greg Windham showing flashes of excellence, but I’m most impressed with just how good the Bobcat pass rush is. I knew the Bobcat front four would be solid with plenty of experience returning, but entering Saturday’s game against, BG, the Bobcats led THE NATION in sacks. Ohio now has 25 sacks as a team. Additionally, the Bobcats are allowing just 111.7 rushing yards per game. This pleases me.
Kaleb - Not skipping a beat
This program is on solid footing overall, and it hardly seems to have missed a step after the departure of their coach and subsequent success. If you’re a Toledo fan, you take it all in stride, because you’ll be competing for that MAC West crown.
Justin - Nothing
Nothing actually jumps out as surprising about this team. I guess that they scored 50 points in a game and still lost is pretty odd, especially since it wasn’t played on a Tuesday night. This roster is so very talented on offense and was replacing a head coach with an internal hire, so the performance of Logan Woodside and company was to be expected.
Justin - Turnover Free
WMU has zero turnovers through six games this season, which would surprise literally any program in the country. Which is fitting, since the Broncos are actually the only team that can boast zero giveaways through the first six games of the season. Jarvion Franklin has been a pleasant surprise as well, emerging from the backup roll as a guy that can still give you 30 plus carries a game and not wear down one bit. Though, how surprising is it really that a former MAC player of the year is playing well?
Kaleb - Justin is an idea thief
You stole my answer again. Geez son. Western hasn’t turned the ball over! Not once! That’s ludicrous! As if the Broncos weren’t already good in pretty much every respect, they don’t give the ball over. Guess it helps to have a little luck on your side too.