Top to bottom, it would once again appear the West Division is stronger this year. There are 18 crossover games to help provide some on-the-field evidence, but the West has been best in such play with a 101-43 (70.1%) advantage over the past eight seasons.
Interestingly enough, the MAC championship titles over that same 2008-2015 span have been equally divided (four apiece) between East and West teams.
The battle to reach Detroit continues Saturday after some close contests last week. The top five teams in our Oct. 4 MRO Power Rankings, however, posted victories. Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings:
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Speaking of 2008 (as I was two paragraphs ago), that was the last time Western Michigan beat Northern Illinois. Even NIU standout P.J. Fleck himself was 0-3 coaching the Broncos against his former school. That ended Saturday as the Broncos knocked off NIU, 45-30, in Kalamazoo. Fleck’s row boat navy moved up to No. 23 in the coaches poll this week and is at No. 24 in the AP poll. WMU is at Akron Saturday.
2. TOLEDO ROCKETS (4-1, 1-0 MAC)
It took some work, but UT was finally able to subdue a feisty Eastern Michigan squad , 35-20, last week at ‘The Factory.” The Rockets are uber-talented, but they must take care not to stumble this year. Arch-rival Bowling Green comes to town Saturday, so they can count on a spirited challenge.
3. CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS (4-2, 1-1 MAC)
The Chippewas bounced back from a shaky performance against Western Michigan to edge Ball State 24-21 Saturday. Devon Spalding had a big day with 157 yards and a TD and Amari Coleman came up with a big interception in the end zone to thwart the Cardinals final drive. CMU is at Northern Illinois this week.
4. OHIO BOBCATS (4-2, 2-0 MAC)
Visiting Bowling Green brought presents to the Ohio homecoming last week. Four Falcon turnovers helped OU (just one turnover) hold off Bowling Green, 30-24. There will be a lot of green on the field this week as the ‘Cats host resurgent Eastern Michigan.
5. AKRON ZIPS (4-2, 2-0 MAC)
Quarterback Tra’Von Chapman has the Zips offense moving , and Akron’s defense knew what to do against a true freshman getting his first start Saturday. UA pulled away for a 35-13 victory. The Zips will be facing a much different challenge this week when No. 23/24 Western Michigan comes to town.
6. EASTERN MICHIGAN EAGLES (4-2, 1-1 MAC)
The Eagles were within four points of Toledo at the half and eight points until the final few minutes Saturday. It was certainly a far cry from the 63-20 beating UT administered a year earlier. If anything, the Eagles likely strengthened their No. 6 position in our rankings. It will be interesting to see how they fare this week in an East-West tilt on the road against Ohio.
7. BALL STATE CARDINALS (3-3, 0-2 MAC)
The Cardinals can be a hard team to judge. Quite often they are flying under the radar in a tough MAC West. They managed to hang with Central Michigan – in Mount Pleasant – last week when CMU needed a good rebound game. Ball State hurt itself in the 24-21 loss with two turnovers to none for the hosts. Ball State gets makes another road trip this week. Getting to Buffalo will be a much longer ride, but the Cardinals have a good chance of enjoying the ride home Saturday night.
8. NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES (1-5, 1-1 MAC)
NIU needs five more wins to qualify for a bowl game – unless it could pull out another MAC Championship! It’s a tall order, even for the trophy-toting Huskies. NIU is MAC-ranked 11th in scoring defense and turnovers. Both are not good signs. Central Michigan comes to town Saturday. Can the Huskies nip the Chips?
9. BOWLING GREEN FALCONS (1-5, 0-2 MAC)
The turnover-plagued Falcons put up a pretty good fight at Ohio last week. Down 30-10 late in the third quarter, BG tallied the final 14 points before falling 30-24. The Falcons have the MAC’s worst turnover margin (-13) and may end up last in the power rankings if the BG charity continues at this rate (-2.7 per game). It’s rivalry-week as Toledo hosts the Falcons. For what it’s worth UT is second in scoring defense but only ninth in turnover margin (-4).
10. KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES (2-4, 1-1 MAC)
It’s a little early to move the Flashes up, but they have looked better over the last two weeks. Nick Holley – running back-turned-quarterback – is guaranteed to get his touches these days, and he’s making the most of it. He rushed 24 times for 224 yards and scored four touchdowns Saturday at Buffalo. He also completed 7 of 13 passes for 89 yards with no interceptions or TDs. This week’s road test at winless Miami is big for both teams.
11. BUFFALO BULLS (1-4, 0-1 MAC)
Yes, the Bulls were on the losing end of Holley’s performance. It’s not surprising then, to see UB ranked last in rushing defense (271.2 ypg). The Bulls are first in pass defense (135.4 ypg), albeit teams might be more inclined to keep it on the ground when it’s working. UB hosts Ball State Saturday. Typically, the Cardinals have been a pass-oriented team, but they are fourth in rushing offense (200.2 yg) and 10th in pass offense 218.5 ypg) this year.
12. MIAMI REDHAWKS (0-6, 0-2 MAC)
Injuries – especially at quarterback and receiver – haven’t helped things. True freshman quarterback Noah Wezensky got his first collegiate start at Akron last week, and it was a tough go at times. If and when some of the injured talent returns, the RedHawks should be in a better position for some of weaker teams on their schedule. Kent State probably qualifies as an opportunity, especially at Yager Stadium, but the Flashes have been moving the ball well with Holley at quarterback. He will certainly test Miami’s defense.