At least one former MRO Power Rankings leader took a hard fall in the final, but a mirror might be the best place to look for answers.
2. TOLEDO (8-4, 7-1 MAC) – The top spot was an easy pick. The second spot was not. It would have been nice to see what the Rockets could have done without some key injuries, but they deserve a ton of credit for applying the “next man up” principle and producing wins. The only conference loss was a narrow 27-24 setback in Dekalb – with a receiver plugged in at quarterback. Sophomore RB Kareem Hunt missed a few games but went over 100 yards in each of the other nine games to reach 1,360 yards with 11 TDs.
3. WESTERN MICHIGAN (8-4, 6-2) – The Broncos were making a serious run on the MRO Power Rankings top spot until their Nov. 28 home loss to NIU. Head coach P.J. Fleck did a remarkable job in turning the Broncos (1-11 the previous year) around, and it would hardly be surprising if he drew some coaching vacancy interest. With so much young talent (e.g. All-MAC, freshman running back Jarvion Franklin) on hand, the Broncos should be able to again challenge for the top next year.
4. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (7-5, 5-3 MAC) – The Chippewas have the distinction of being the only MAC team to beat Northern Illinois this year. The problem is they lost to everybody else in the West except for Eastern Michigan. Central ranked first among MAC teams in total defense (331.2 ypg), rushing defense (119.8 ypg) and passing defense (211.4 ypg). Defense can keep you in just about any game a maybe win a few, but CMU probably needs to get a little more out of the offense to get over the hump. Sophomore quarterback Cooper Rush improved pretty much across the board and could be a real plus next year.
5. BALL STATE (5-7, 4-4 MAC) – It was a roller coaster season for the Cardinals, who lost five of their first six. They finished winning four of the last six. Looking at records alone, the Cardinals seem over-rated here, but several things buoyed their rank.
1. They ended the campaign by thumping Bowling Green, 41-24.
2. The Cardinals are getting some credit for quality losses – not only hanging tough in a couple losses to MAC West competition, but also beating Central Michigan.
3. After falling behind early, BSU dominated Bowling Green for a 41-24 win in the regular season finale.
6. BOWLING GREEN (7-6, 5-3 MAC) – The Falcons were nearly the inverse of Ball State BGSU won four of its first six and finished the regular season 3-3 before getting dominated by Northern Illinois in the championship game. In conference play, Bowling Green swept through the East undefeated but went winless against MAC West competition. It wasn’t pretty at the end. The Falcons are young on offense, so there is plenty of reason to be optimistic there going forward. The defense is another story. BGSU finished 11th in scoring defense and 12th in total defense.
7. OHIO (6-6, 4-4 MAC) -- The Bobcats never won more than two in and never lost more than two in a row. If it sounds like the foundation for a .500 season, you’re right! That’s exactly how it worked out. A last second field goal over rival Miami allowed the ‘Cats to be bowl eligible, but they ended up as the only MAC bowl-eligible team to get passed over. Injuries might have hurt OU during parts of the season, but they put in some pretty good efforts down the stretch. They thumped Buffalo and lost a 21-14 decision to Northern Illinois before edging Miami.
Freshman running back A.J. Ouellette showed a lot of promise for the future, averaging 6.6 ypc on 160 carries.
8. BUFFALO (5-6, 3-4 MAC) – Mid-season head coach removals are not the stuff of successful seasons. Buffalo took such a leap when it jettisoned Jeff Quinn after a Bulls loss to Eastern Michigan in mid-October. That was part of a four-game losing streak, but UB bounced back with decisive wins over Akron and the Frohnapfel-less UMass Minutemen – with a “snowday” in between. Juniors RB Anthone Taylor (282/1402 yds) and QB Joe Licata (No. 2 MAC in pass efficiency – 150.7) are some pretty good building blocks for the offense next year.
9. AKRON (5-7, 3-5 MAC) – The Zips won more than one in a row just once. That was a three game stretch that started with a 12-10 win a Pitt. They finished the year with one win in the last six outings. That was against a Frohnapfel-less UMass team. Kent State finished the Zips off with a 27-24 win in the Wagon Wheel game, officially eliminating UA from bowl eligibility. Akron certainly had higher hopes entering 2014. RB Jawon Chisholm is goine next year, but Conor Hundley averaged 5.2 ypc. QB Kyle Pohl will need to take a step forward in his senior year. He had nine TD s and eight interceptions on the year, finishing with 17 completions on 42 throws with two INTs in the finale.
10/11. MIAMI (2-10, 2-6 MAC) AND UMASS (3-9, 3-5 MAC) – These two teams will share the 10 and 11 spots. There is much to be said for – and against – each as far as who should be higher. UMass has one more win and a number of “quality” losses. Miami won the head-to-head meeting by one point with UMass coming up just a couple yards short as time expired. Finally, there was UMass’ final two games. The Minutemen appeared significantly less competitive when Frohnapfel (MAC No. 1 in passing, 334.5 ypg) available.
Like UMass, Miami showed significant improvement under a new coach and with a new quarterback (Andrew Hendrix, No 2 in MAC passing, 273.3 ypg). The RedHawks lose Hendrix and likely NFL-bound DB Quinten Rollins among others. So next year will be interesting as Martin’s recruits start to filter into the system. Much recruiting work has been put into linemen, but there are some other key components in the wings, as well. The question is, how long will it take them to be ready?
12. KENT STATE (2-9, 1-6 MAC) – Some of Kent State’s problems are attributable to the rushing game. After a stellar 2012 season rushing the ball (2,745 yards between Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, graduation and injuries took their toll. How bad was it? Try last in the MAC (81.9 ypg). The potential return of injured Durham (1,316 yds in 2012) could help. Though not highly ranked, the KSU defense had its moments, keeping the Flashes in games like Miami (10-3 loss) and Northern Illinois (17-14 loss).
13. EASTERN MICHIGAN (2-10, 1-7 MAC) --
After a narrow opening win over Morgan State, the Eagles posted one more win on the year. That was a 37-27 win over Buffalo, and the Bulls head coach was summarily removed after that tilt. EMU finished last among MAC teams in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense, total defense and turnover margin. It’s pretty difficult to win when you own those stat rankings.
Although he struggled in the finale against Toledo, freshman QB Reginald Bell Jr. connected on 36-of-49 the previous week against Ball State and has also shown an ability to run with the ball. He appears to be a good building block as EMU tries to improve while playing in a tough division.