The 2015 Mid-American Conference football season once again provided a number of surprises and considerable drama. While Bowling Green clinched early in the East, the West Division title race went down to the final regular season contests. Indeed, it took tie-breakers to sort out the MAC West title game participant.
Similarly, it took some mental tiebreakers to separate a number of schools in the final MAC Reporter Online Power Rankings.
Here’s where the teams landed:
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Matt Johnson’s final collegiate season was nothing short of spectacular as he led the nation in passing yards (4,700) and was second in TDs (43). Wide receiver Roger Lewis, meanwhile, led the FBS in total receiving yards (1,476). The combination of Johnson and head coach Dino Babers was an incredible match. Both are gone for next year, but the new coaching hire shows BGSU would like to keep the offense rolling. Bowling Green’s only MAC loss was against local rival Toledo in a game when Bowling Green – the MAC’s top-ranked team in turnover margin, uncharacteristically committed a flurry of costly miscues.
2. TOLEDO ROCKETS (9-2, 6-2 MAC)
UT twice appeared to have its ticket to the title game in hand. Though relatively healthy for a change, the Rockets let their opportunities and a national ranking slip away. For a team that accomplished so much, the stretch run results were disappointing. It will be interesting to see how UT fares under new head coach Jason Candle in its quest for the MAC title. The Rockets were No. 1 among MAC teams in scoring defense and are losing quite a few seniors on that side of the ball.
3. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (6-5, 5-2 MAC)
For a while, it appeared NIU was going to spot the division a loss and then run the table to capture another West crown and ticket to Detroit . While a series of injuries caught up with the Huskies, their head-to-head victories over Toledo and Western Michigan spoke volumes and led to another MAC Championship Game appearance. NIU’s defense really deserves a lot of credit for the team’s ability to compete – and win some big games -- in spite of huge challenges.
4. WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS (7-5, 6-2)
The Broncos were on a roll through the middle part of their schedule, knocking off five straight MAC foes at one point. Back-to-back losses to Bowling Green and Northern Illinois, however, ultimately proved their undoing.
Zach Terrell was a little bit under the radar this year – partially because of WMU’s fine run game and partially because the conference has quite a few good QBs. The Broncos’ offensive flexibility is a definite strength going forward.
5. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (7-5), 6-2 MAC)
Speaking of under the radar, the Chippewas were skimming the tree tops in 2015. Part of it, no doubt, is the very pedestrian 7-5 overall mark. But CMU owns a share of the MAC West crown with its 6-2 conference record and managed to defeat Northern Illinois before its string of injuries. Central lost to the other two MAC West contenders by a total of seven points. The Chips topped the loop in total defense (328.2 ypg) and were third in scoring defense (22.1 ppg). Quarterback Cooper Rush ranked second in passing (308.6 ypg) when the No. 1 guy led the nation in passing yards. CMU can certainly prepare for next year feeling it can be a legit contender, especially in head coach Jim Bonamego's second season at the helm.
6. OHIO BOBCATS (8-4, 5-3 MAC)
OU started 2015 with three wins and ended on three victories. There was a rough patch in the middle when Ohio lost to Western Michigan, Buffalo and Bowling Green in consecutive outings, but coach Frank Solich’s crew righted the ship down the stretch. The Bobcats figured to have a good defense this year and finished fourth in scoring defense (24.8 ppg) . However, the offense proved pretty capable itself in most outings. The ‘Cats were fifth in both scoring offense (27.4 ppg) and total offense (426.1 ypg). After missing a bowl last year, Ohio bounced back fairly well in 2015.
7. AKRON ZIPS (7-5, 5-3 MAC)
After riding the win-loss roller coaster through eight games, Akron posted four straight losses to close the campaign. That run put UA in a bowl game for the first time since 2005. The Zips face Utah State Dec. 22 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Defense was Akron’s calling card. The Zips finished second in scoring defense (21.5 ppg) and total defense (328.5 ypg), just fractions behind the leader in both categories. Meanwhile, linebacker Jatavius Brown was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. He was part of a very good front and mid-level that led the MAC in defending the run. Akron was the only MAC team to surrender under 100 yards (89.8 ypg) per game against the run.
8. BUFFALO BULLS (5-7, 3-5 MAC)
Unlike a couple teams in front of them in the power rankings, the Bulls were stumbling down the stretch. Losses to Northern Illinois, Akron and UMass followed a three game winning streak that had the Bulls thinking bowl bid after UB moved to 5-4 Nov. 5 after edging Kent State 18-17. Opponents scored 41, 42, and 31 points, respectively, during the late season slide. With quarterback Joe Licata gone, there may be some work to do on that side of the ball for 2016.
9. BALL STATE CARDINALS (3-9, 2-6 MAC)
Let’s just say the final three games didn’t help Ball State’s defensive numbers. The Cardinals surrendered 54, 48 and 48 points on the way to a 12th place ranking in scoring defense. BSU’s 35.8 ppg average was eclipsed only by Eastern Michigan’s 42.8 ppg.
On a given day, the offense could put points on the board -- e.g. 41 points in a midseason loss to Northern Illinois (59-41). But the Cardinals’ 23.1 ppg average left BSU 10th in scoring offense. There were certainly glimpses of potential, but the numbers need to improve on defense for BSU to contend in a very talented MAC West.
10. KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES (3-9, 2-6 MAC)
Were it not for a pretty darned good defense, the Flashes would have fared even worse. Their two conference wins were by a total of 11 points. One victim (UMass, 15-10) has left the building/conference, while the other (Miami, 20-14) nearly rallied for a win and is showing signs of improvement.
Kent State finished with a five-game losing streak, albeit the loss to Buffalo was by one point (18-17). The Flashes were last in scoring offense (13.1 ppg), total offense (270.8 ypg) and passing offense (138.1 ypg). The ground game was only marginally better, finishing 11th with an average of 132.8 ypg.
Defensively, Kent State was sixth in scoring defense (26.1 ppg) and third in total defense (350.1 ypg). KSU ranked third against the pass (206.2 ypg) and fourth defending the run (143.9 ypg).
Clearly, getting more going on offense has to be a focus if the Flashes are going to move up.
11. MIAMI REDHAWKS (3-9, 2-6 MAC)
Check the bottom of the turnover margin rankings, and you are going to see a match to the bottom of our power rankings. Miami finished last in turnover margin with a whopping minus-14. The only other team close was UMass with minus-13.
For what it’s worth, the RedHawks had something in the way of an excuse (other than the dog ate my homework and then deflated the footballs for desert!). Miami was replacing a solid talent in departed quarterback Andrew Hendrix. None of the backups had game experience, and midway through the year, head coach Chuck Martin decided to ride the fortunes of true freshman Billy Bahl as his starter -- for better or worse. Redshirt freshman Gus Ragland – a more accomplished runner – also saw action.
Turnovers diminished as a young team gained experience. Despite some significant injuries, the RedHawks won two of their last three games and also were much more competitive in their final three losses.
12. UMASS MINUTEMEN (3-9, 2-6 MAC)
After flashing a very potent offense in 2014, it seemed as though UMass might be poised to make a nice jump up the ladder this year if it could improve its defense.
Maybe opponents were able to scheme the Minutemen better this time around, but somehow the offense fizzled a bit. UMass ended up seventh in total offense (399.8 ypg) and 11th in scoring offense (22.2 ypg). One of the problems was red zone offense, with the Minutemen ranking last in that category.
Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel and wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, both record setters at the school, are done. That’s a little scary heading into 2016, especially given that UMass will no longer be in the MAC.
There appears to be no conference affiliation in the works and the future is about as clear as a bad night of fog in London.
How much a good season would have helped is hard to say, but that just didn’t materialize.
13. EASTERN MICHIGAN EAGLES (1-11, 0-8 MAC)
Hopefully, Eastern Michigan fans savored the win at Wyoming back on Sept. 12. Spirits were riding high at that point, given EMU was 1-1, with the one loss by just four points in a 38-34 battle against Old Dominion.
Alas, that proved to be the lone Eagles win of the season. Playing in the MAC West didn’t help, but three shots against the MAC East didn’t produce a win, either. Two of those were against teams not headed to a bowl game.
Defensive issues were the main culprit to a poor record. The Eagles were last in scoring defense, allowing a whopping 42.1 ppg. Surrendering 316.5 rushing yards per contest was certainly a solid foundation for giving up points by the bushel.
All this happened despite the presence of redshirt senior linebacker Great Ibe, who made 131 tackles. That topped the MAC and was second in the nation.
Meanwhile, senior running back Darius Jackson keyed the Eagles offense. He finished fourth among MAC players in rushing average (89.8 ypg).
Both Ibe and Jackson will be gone next year, so somebody else will have to step up on a team that is collectively trying to rise up in a tough division.