It’s time for the first installment of the 2014 MAC Reporter Online football power rankings. The preseason media poll is always a starting point. But we’ve found it prudent beyond that to wait until most of the non-conference action is done to start the weekly power rankings.
That said, non-conference play has clarified some things and muddied others. Take the top, for instance, Bowling Green was a pretty clear favorite in the preseason media poll. But the Falcons stumbled right out of the gate with a loss at Western Kentucky. In the process, they loss all-MAC quarterback Matt Johnson.
Wrong! All they did was demolish VMI the next week and knock off Indiana at home in a Week Three thriller.
Wrong again! Wisconsin (No. 19) used its vaunted running game to batter BG, 68-17.
In short, the Falcons have majored in mixed messages through four games. Let’s take a look at where they – and others – landed in this week’s MRO Power Rankings.
2. BOWLING GREEN (2-2, 0-0 MAC) – Let’s see … lose one, win two. Lose last week … maybe it’s two wins now. The Falcons haven’t exactly been a model of consistency. Let’s see what happens in MAC play. They meet an improved UMass squad on the road this week and host Buffalo the following week in case your buying the lose one, win two thing. (Caution: it’s not a good sample size!!).
3. TOLEDO (2-2, 0-0 MAC) – The Rockets are second in scoring offense (36.5 ppg) and first in total offense (527.2 ypg). They’re also 10th in scoring defense (37.5 ppg) and ninth in total defense (453.0 ypg). Those kind of stats can leave fans with “tennis neck” as they watch the back and forth action. Logan Woodside is settling in at quarterback, but the Rockets don’t mind running the ball at all – not with Kareem Hunt averaging 131-8 ypg (3rd MAC).
4. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (2-2, 0-0 MAC) – Coincidentally, CMU meets Toledo at the Glass Bowl this week. That will pit the explosive Toledo offense against a Central defense that stands atop the conference in total defense (353.8 ypg) and pass defense (190 ypg). Over on offense, senior RB Thomas Rawls ranks second in the conference with 138.0 ypg. However, overall the Chippewas are ninth in rushing (111 ypg). Rawls has missed two games after some legal issues, but he is reportedly (Detroit News) back on the roster for now. After opening with two wins, including a victory over Purdue, CMU has lost the last two. A 40-3 setback two weeks ago at home against Syracuse was particularly troubling as the Orange rushed for 289 yards and benefited from two Chippewa turnovers.
5. WESTERN MICHIGAN (2-1, 0-0 MAC) – The Broncos have been “bringing It” on offense. Through three games they ranked 24th in the nation in scoring (41.3 ppg) and 17th in rushing (277.7 ypg). Much of the rushing – and scoring – has been provided by freshman Jarvion Franklin. The 6-1, 220-pounder leads MAC rushers with 542 yards on 82 carries. It will be interesting to see what he and the Broncos can do Saturday against a Virginia Tech team that has lost twice since bumping off then-No. 8 Ohio State in Columbus. A win would add to what should be a great matchup the following week when Toledo visits Kalamazoo for what could be a real offensive smackdown.
6. BUFFALO (2-2, 0-0 MAC) – The Bulls certainly had high hopes entering this season, even anxiously pointing to a home rematch with Baylor. The No. 8 Bears nonetheless dominated UB, 63-21, for their third win in as many outings. Perhaps more troubling was a 47-39 road loss to Army the previous week, but academy option football can be a challenge. Buffalo has Bowling Green Oct. 4, but you can bet head coach Jeff Quinn has been delivering a message about this week’s opponent. The RedHawks may still be winless, but it’s a much different team than what UB faced in a 44-7 Bulls blowout late last year.
7. BALL STATE (1-3, 0-1 MAC) – Okay, the Cardinals have lost three in a row, including a home tilt against Indiana State. Frankly, the next stretch of games won’t be a picnic. As Buffalo found out, Army (BSU’s next opponent) can be very problematic, especially at home. After that, it’s Western Michigan and Central Michigan, Akron and Northren Illinois. The fact is, BSU’s defense (MAC third in scoring and total defense) has allowed the Cardinals to stay close in each loss. The first setback, for example, was 17-13 loss at Iowa. This next stretch will say a lot about whether the Ball State’s power rankings stock rises or falls. Right now, it looks like the Cardinals could go either way.
8. OHIO – Even without quarterback Derrius Vick, the Bobcats should be able to handle Eastern Illinois this weekend. The schedule gets tougher beyond that. A good sign is that OU was able to bounce back with a win over Idaho last Saturday after getting bashed at Marshall the previous week (44-14). The Bobcats are next to last in scoring, averaging 11.3 ppg. Solich has positive vibes about the running back situation, but OU ranks eighth in rushing (130 ypg). The ‘Cats drop to 9th in passing offense (215.7 ypg). Particularly troubling is the fact that Ohio is last in turnover margin (minus-six).
9. AKRON (1-2, 0-0 MAC) – After opening with a 41-0 drubbing of Howard, the Zips fell at Penn State (21-3) and at home against Marshall (48-17). Akron will have its hands full this week on both sides of the ball. Big James Conner (6-2, 250, So) is a bruising running back who already has 699 yards in four outings. That is better than legendary Tony Dorsett, who had 564 yards through the first four games of his 1973 freshman season. Meanwhile, Pitt’s defense ranks sixth nationally. That’s not good news for an Akron offense that totaled 20 points over the last two weeks. Tommy Woodson came in for second half action last week, throwing for 100 yards on 8 of 15 with one TD.
10. UMASS (0-4, 0-0 MAC) – Granted, Massachusetts in 0-4, a familiar record in recent times. But there is something different about the Minutemen this season. Ignore, if you dare, last week’s 48-7 loss at Penn State. Overall, the Minutemen have picked up the offense in 2014. They registered 38 points in a loss to Colorado (41-38) and 31 against Vanderbilt (34-31). Overall, UMass ranks seventh in scoring offense and passing offense. Senior QB Blake Frohnapfel has connected on 63 of 127 (49.6%) for 882 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has, however, been sacked 11 times. Tajae Sharpe leads receivers with 19 catches for 345 yards and two TDs. The ground game is a weak area, as evidenced by the team’s 12th place ranking (62.8 ypg).
11. Miami (0-4, 0-0 MAC) – Even a casual observer can see the RedHawks are a different team this year – at least in some ways. Passing, nearly non-existent in 2013, is the now the backbone of the offense as Miami ranks fourth in pass offense. Senior quarterback Andrew Hendrix is among the conference leaders and has a good corps of receivers, led by David Frazier (MAC second with 107.2 ypg). The RedHawks showed a glimmer of a running game last week against Cincinnati. If they can expand that, it could be a significant help now that MAC play is here. The RedHawks are a dangerous team. It won’t take a mistake-free game to break the FBS-longest losing streak (now at 20). It will take eliminating enough miscues – especially on offense -- to get over the hump.
12. KENT STATE (0-3, 0-0) – The Flashes probably needed a week off to regroup after the 66-0 loss to Ohio State. Senior running back Trayion Durham was supposed to be the bell cow for KSU’s rushing attack this year. A nagging injury has kept him out, however, and the Flashes are dead last in rushing with 47.3 ypg. It’s only marginally better in the passing game where Kent State ranks 11th (185.3 ypg). Defensively, the Flashes are 11th in total defense (470.7 ypg). Sure, the Ohio State thing skewed the averages some. But there are some real bumps in the road ahead, too.
13. EASTERN MICHIGAN (1-4, 0-0 MAC) – Okay, the Eagles can rightfully claim a victory. They opened the year with a 31-28 win over Morgan State at home. Since that time, it’s often been ugly – particularly for the EMU offense. When quarterback Rob Bolden threw a pair of second half touchdowns against Michigan State, it marked the first TDs for Eastern since the opening win. EMU is last in pass offense and a modest eighth in rushing – traditionally the strong suit for EMU. The Eagles are off this week, which will allow them to regroup for MAC play. They open against Akron Oct. 4.