Power Rankings: Ohio’s probably really good, so I pick Ohio to start

This is the first installment of my MAC football power rankings for the 2019 season. The first list of any season is always the most irrelevant because it’s not based on any games that happened this year. It’s a lot of asking the same questions that have popped up since March, and it’s all just about trying to fill in the blanks.

What power rankers alike are left with is our own imaginations, assumptions, and predictions. Also, our* biases. We should also remember that those play a role, but only in every other power rankings list you’ll read. Here at MAC Prospectus, I promise to only provide you with unbiased objectivity. This is a fact factory as far as you’re concerned.

*- your

Since there aren’t any 2019 games to go off of with these rankings, here’s what I’ve had to consider with each of these teams in no particular order:

  • Recent success (or lack thereof)
  • Roster outlooks
  • Coaching updates
  • Trust in program
  • Ennui

I’m sure my reasons will vary with the way I vote on these on a weekly basis, but that’s to be expected. Until then, here’s what I’ve come up with to start the season:

MAC Prospectus Power Rankings (thru Week 0)

    1. Ohio
    2. NIU
    3. Toledo
    4. EMU
    5. Buffalo
    6. WMU
    7. Kent State
    8. Miami
    9. Ball State
    10. CMU
    11. BGSU
    12. Akron

1. Ohio — Duh.

Ohio loses some pieces on offense, but Nathan Rourke is the best quarterback in the MAC until I tell you otherwise. Frank Solich has yet to win a title with the Bobcats, and this year I have them picked to finally change that.

There are some noteworthy changes to be talked about, but I’m just going to focus on Cameron Odom being a new team captain and trying to pick up where Papi White left off. Pulled from Bill Connelly’s stats sheet last year: White was targeted 100 times (62 receptions) and Andrew Meyer was the second-most targeted player at 61 (36 receptions, graduated). Then came Odom at 57 targets (30 catches). Players go from kinda good to really useful all the time in this sport, but this team’s watch is demanding Odom’s reliance from the jump. He’s going to get a lot more attention by opposing secondaries, so now it’s just a matter of seeing how he handles being WR1. He’ll probably be fine, we just haven’t seen him with that responsibility yet.

2. NIU — I’m buying the hype.

It’s weird because the Huskies are going through a coaching change, and they hired an alum (which always goes greaaattt), but this group feels different.

The hirings of Eric Eidsness as the offensive coordinator and Darryl Aspalga for the O-line were very impressive, QB Ross Bowers transferring over from Cal should be a nice addition, and Thomas Hammock looks like he’s still recruiting well.

There’s a lot that needs to be proven out of the receivers. Spencer Tears is a fine returning catcher, but only hauled in half of the 80 passes thrown in his direction for 422 yards and four scores. If the balls are hitting his hands at a better percentage this year [presumably with Bowers at QB], then having a better catch rate out of your top returning receiver is a good recipe to head back to Detroit. We’ll also learn a lot this year about Tyrice Richie (JUCO transfer), Dennis Robinson (6-5, redshirt-freshman), and Michael Love (incoming freshman running with the 1’s).

The defense at NIU is usually very good and should still be fine without Sutton Smith. Probably not as good or havoc-y but I’ll worry about problems when they pop up on the field, not on paper.

3. Toledo — Talented, and the schedule’s there.

Last year the Rockets went 7-6 and lose the 3 NFL receivers from the last few years, so that’s not going to help. But Jason Candle’s good at creating problems on offense, and maybe a full year of Mitch Guadagni is what the Rockets truly need this year. Oh, and Bryant Koback’s one of the best running backs in this league.

UT scores a lot of points, yes. But last year, the Rockets scored 26 points at EMU, 17 vs. Buffalo, and 15 at NIU. Toledo’s defense was 8th in scoring D last year in the MAC (30.5 ppg) and has been on a gradual decline on that stat since 2015 when it was the league’s best (20.8).

If Toledo’s going to make a promising run at Detroit, it’ll have to step up big on defense and win some close games.

Luckily, the Rockets host WMU, EMU, Kent State, and NIU in MAC play this year.

4. EMU — I’m not biased at all. Nope. None.

I have the Eagles right above the Bulls here mostly because I think head-to-head, EMU’s in a better spot to win a game of the two. But unlike Buffalo, EMU hasn’t seen the turf at Ford Field outside of MAC Media Day, but is likewise putting a really nice build at the school. EMU’s got one of the best defenses and maybe the league’s best defensive coordinator (Neal Neathery), which the success there has been sustained ever since he was hired.

Having Mike Glass return is a big bonus for the Eagle offense, as is having his receivers back (minus Blake Banham). If EMU can find some more explosiveness out of its running backs — through the air or on the ground — then maybe EMU’s talking about another eight-win season. Or a nine-win season.

5. Buffalo — It’d be illegal if I put the defending champions any lower than this, right?

Matt Myers is replacing Tyree Jackson at quarterback, and that’s hardly the only significant change on this team. Not sure what to expect out of him yet, except that he’s young, he’s not Tyree Big but he’s still 6-4, 220 lbs. (Jackson was listed at 6-5, 230 his freshman year, in case you were wondering) with wheels. And he’s a local.

The defense for Buffalo should still be pretty solid with good starters coming back at all three levels on the defense (Taylor Riggins, Deshondrick Foxworth, James Patterson, Devon Russell, Isaiah King, Joey Banks, etc.). Buffalo’s an incredibly tough place to recruit to, but Leipold’s crew has improved in that area over the years, and the strength and conditioning program seems to be paying off as well.

The Bulls come in with a lot of question marks, but Leipold and his staff have put the program in a pretty good starting point to begin the new year.

6. WMU — Probably should be higher than this.

WMU has to play at Toledo, at EMU, at Ohio, and at this year, which, uh, good luck. Maybe putting WMU at six here is a tad bit unfair, but now I need to remind us a few things.

  • The defense was horrendous last year.
  • Sure, Lou Esposito is a seemingly good hire, but this is his first time as a full-time D.C. at the FBS level.
  • Roster turnover was weird. Jayden Reed’s the biggest transfer worth talking about since he went from being this team’s best WR in 2018 to sitting out at Michigan State this year.
  • Still have Jon Wassink and LeVante Bellamy though.
  • And the recruiting has definitely been there.
  • I really like the coaching hires WMU made. Specifically Mike Bath (RBs) and Joe Palcic (Special Teams).

It’s just a wait-and-see situation (which, duh, this entire post is) but WMU’s still in a good position to make a big jump here. But there are also plenty of question marks at the wide receiver group, on Wassink’s health, and on the defense as a whole.

7. Kent State — /rubs eyes. 7th??

Sean Lewis has recently become tabbed as The Nation’s G5 Coach You Should Keep Your Eye On, so adjust all of your narratives accordingly.

He has earned it though. Kent State went from boring to kinda decent in the MAC East, seemingly overnight. It’s actually a fun team to talk about for the first time since Dri Archer’s senior season. The defense still needs a lot of work, but the offense is way more productive, has committed much fewer turnovers than the 2017 team, but didn’t put the ball in the end zone enough. But the rebuild is noticeable.

Noticeable and fun.

8. Miami — My crystal ball plays re-runs on TV shows.

The RedHawks have easily one of the best defenses in the league, led by DT Doug Costin (20.5 career TFL, 12.5 career sacks). He’s my favorite part about this team. The other easy part to predict about a Chuck Martin-led Miami team is that it’ll finish somewhere between 5 and 7 wins this year. Sure, that’s better than the 1 or 3 usual wins Miami had when he was hired in, but that was almost forever ago at this point.

Last year, Miami went 6-6 with a quarterback in his third year starting, a pair of running backs that have played a lot in their four years, an offensive line that returned all five starters from 2017, and a defense that was really, really good. Why should we expect anything better this year?

9. Ball State — Experience: Is it enough?

Drew Plitt’s probably a really good quarterback. Or maybe he’s just decent. Last year’s 42-41 OT win over WMU is worth the optimism for this guy (21-26, 256 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT, 38 rush yards). He’ll have experienced receivers to throw to in Justin Hall, Riley Miller, and Malik Dunner, so hopefully that helps the Cardinal offense.

The Cardinal defense isn’t as young as it used to be, but will it be enough to halt the other offenses in the division? Last year, Ball State gave up 450.3 yards per game at 5.9 yards per play.

10. CMU — This is actually happening?

Jim McElwain is coaching in the MAC.

This still hasn’t fully hit me. I feel new every time I think about this because it just doesn’t ever feel real.

And Jim McElwain, the guy who lied about his family receiving death threats, is tasked with fixing the country’s worst offense.

(Blogger’s note: And he has to do it against my school’s rival!)

Sorry, I was supposed to be more mentally prepared for this moment by now, but it’s hard to focus on those two entities — Jim freaking McElwain and Central Michigan University — having to coexist with one another.

Do you know what’s the best part about this? McElwain will tell you his words mean that he’s dedicated to his athletes’ experience coming before his own because that’s the proper line of thinking. But there’s no way he wants to be the head coach at CMU.

The former Florida and Colorado State coach didn’t plan for his gig at Michigan to last less than a year.

Central Michigan, though, offered McElwain another chance to lead a college football team and he took it.

“This wasn’t something I was looking to do,” McElwain insisted Tuesday at the Mid-American Conference’s football media day. “I really like the vision and direction of the school.” (AP wire)

There’s also this tweet, which I’ve saved to my bookmarks. “It wouldn’t mean much to me,” McElwain begins.

11. BGSU — It was either them or Akron.

As of this writing, Matt McDonald isn’t the official starting quarterback and he’s also not eligible to play this year because the NCAA’s waiver process has never heard of him before. McDonald is just one incoming transfer, and Scot Loeffler took over a pretty miserable program. He’s done things his way, the culture change is in effect, but there’s not enough reason to put BG any higher than this.

12. Akron — It was either them or BG.

Speaking of MAC East programs in not-great shape: the Zips!

Akron did win a MAC East title two years ago, but that clearly wasn’t a sustainable run. Maybe Kato Nelson has a big year as an upperclassman QB, but how much of what he can do will turn into points on the board? The defense might be sneaky good this year, but that’s not based on any hard data.

It’s just based on feel.

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