Big wins

Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton, seen here in July at the 2019 MAC Football Media Day, has helped his team grab two of the three FBS wins notched this season by the Mid-American Conference.

Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Sept. 18 newspaper on Page A6.

For a second straight year, the Mid-American Conference has embraced the pirate theme and encouraged its teams to fly a MAC-themed ‘Skull and Crossbones’ after football wins over fellow FBS programs.

But, there’s been far too much ‘Ahhhhhh’ and not enough ‘Arrrrrr!’ for the MAC early in 2019.

The MAC, it seems, is on a collision course to be graded the worst FBS conference in the country this season. The conference record against other FBS programs after three weeks is a decidedly not great 3-20.

In 2017, the MAC piled up 14 wins against FBS programs — which tied the second-highest number for the league since 2000. The MAC had 16 such wins in 2012.

But such wins have nearly disappeared completely this year. The MAC is a perfect 10-0 against FCS teams — only Akron doesn’t have a FCS team on the schedule this year — but the results against the FBS is subpar.

With 15 games against teams from Power 5 conferences, the MAC isn’t expected to have a winning record. Of course, the league hoped for something better than a 1-14 mark as well. Meanwhile, against teams in the other Group of 5 conferences — Conference USA, Sun Belt, Mountain West and AAC — the MAC is only marginally better at 2-6.

And with few MAC favorites in non-conference games next weekend, it’s hard to see the league eclipsing the 2018 mark of 8 wins against other FBS programs.

The lone bright spot, so far, has been Eastern Michigan. The Eagles (2-1) have played three straight road games to open the season and have two of those three FBS wins. EMU won at Coastal Carolina (30-23), lost at Kentucky, and gave the MAC its best win of 2019 so far with a 34-31 win at Illinois on Saturday.

The MAC has won at least one game against the Big Ten in 14 straight seasons. The Eagles, meanwhile have notched road wins against the Big Ten in each of the last three seasons. With three road wins, EMU has more B10 road wins than six programs actually in that conference.

But EMU head coach Chris Creighton is more interested in what comes next.

“What’s the streak everyone is talking about right now? 3-0?” he said on the MAC weekly conference call. “If you’re talking about that 3-0, you better start talking about 0-10.”

Creighton was referring to the six-game losing skid his team endured after the road win at Rutgers in 2017, and then the four more straight losses EMU saw after last year’s road win at Purdue.

“We have not handled the success of winning a big game at all,” Creighton said.

But such is the case for the league this year that the Eagles, despite questions on how they might handle success, will be the top team in my first installment of the MAC Power Rankings.

I’ll roll these out every three weeks, to give a snap shot of where I gauge each conference team to be a particular point in time.

Let’s take a look at the MAC, as of Sept. 17, 2019.

MAC Power Rankings

Eastern Michigan (2-1), Saturday at C. Conn. State

The Eagles have the best wins, and were competitive in a road loss at Kentucky (38-17), and simply have the best three-game sample size to this point. QB Mike Glass has claimed the starter’s role with the kind of efficiency he hinted at last season, and EMU leads the MAC at +3 in TO ratio. With an FCS foe (Central Connecticut State) on tap for this weekend, the Eagles should be a strong position before conference play begins.

2) Western Michigan (2-1), Sat. at Syracuse

The Broncos are averaging 40.7 points per game and look to be one of the best offensive clubs in the conference after last weekend’s bruising 57-10 win over Georgia State — the MAC’s third FBS win. WMU leads the MAC with a +48 point differential, but was humbled in a 51-17 loss at Michigan State in week two.

3) Ohio (1-2), Sat. vs. Louisiana

Ohio has been in each game of its recent two-game slide, hasn’t tanked one yet — which you can’t say for most of the league — and there’s reason to believe the Bobcats will still be one of the MAC’s best. OU has scored more points than any other team in the East, despite an above average schedule so far, and ranks second in the MAC in scoring defense (24.3/game).

4) Toledo (1-1), Sat. at Colorado State

The Rockets had an early bye, which will probably hurt them later, and will have two tough games before conference play (at Col. State, BYU). But Toledo hung in for a while at Kentucky (38-24) and blew out their FCS foe (45-0) before the week off.

5) Northern Illinois (1-2), BYE

The Huskies labored through a 24-10 win in an FCS opener, then had a competitive loss at No. 13 Utah (35-17). The reason for concern about NIU is a 44-8 drubbing at Nebraska last week. It was the kind of complete blowout that has been rare to see for what has been the MAC’s best program over the last decade.

6) Ball State (1-2), Sat. at N.C. State

Let’s get kooky now. The Cardinals might seem like an odd choice at No. 6, but they’re second in scoring (112 points) and have a positive point differential (+8). BSU was in the game until the fourth against Indiana in a neutral-site season opener, piled up 57 points in an FCS win, and then faded just a bit late in a 41-31 loss against FAU last weekend.

7) Buffalo (1-2), Sat. vs. Buffalo

I put the Bulls here based solely on the fact that UB led No. 15 Penn State throughout much of the first half in week 2. The Nittany Lions woke up, UB had a horrific injury to its punter, and PSU rolled 45-13 but it was a good start. I’m much less enthusiastic about last weekend’s 35-17 loss at Liberty.

8) Central Michigan (2-1, 1-0 MAC), Sat. at Miami (Fla.)

I’m surprised I have the Chips this high, but had little choice after they steamrolled Akron in the MAC opener last weekend. And CMU deserves credit for the early-season offense after position one of the worst units in the nation a year ago. But the stink of a 61-0 loss at No. 17 Wisconsin is hard to put aside.

9) Miami (1-2), Sat. at No. 6 Ohio State

The Redhawks’ schedule was ambitious, but it doing nothing to install belief in me about Miami for conference play. Miami was dumped 38-14 at No. 14 Iowa in the opener, rebounded with a home FCS win, and then was worked over 35-13 at UC last week. With the Buckeyes on tap, Chuck Martin will be citing conference-only stats all season I reckon.

10) Kent State (1-2), Sat. vs. Bowling Green

I picked the Flashes to be the surprise MAC East team this season, and it could still happen. But I didn’t figure KSU would sack returning starting QB Woody Barrett for Dustin Crum. But the Flashes made the move. KSU was downed 30-7 at Arizona State, needed OT to beat Kennesaw State at home, and then got mowed down 55-16 at Auburn last week. Critical for KSU to beat BG this week as a game with Wisconsin still looms.

11) Bowling Green (1-2), Sat. at Kent State.

The Falcons began the year just fine, a 46-3 FCS win, but the last two weeks highlighted what kind of year most anticipated. BG was pummeled 52-0 at Kansas State, and then thumped 35-7, at home, by Louisiana Tech. There’s real concern about the offense.

12) Akron (0-3, 0-1 MAC), Sat. vs. Troy

Then there’s the Zips. Akron is last in the MAC in TO ratio (-4) and point differential (-71), and there’s little hope for a mid-season turnaround. Akron lost 42-3 at Illinois, which in turn then lost at home to EMU. A 31-20 home loss to UAB followed, and the trip to CMU last weekend resulted in a non-competitive 45-24 loss. Troy, a Sun Belt contender, won’t offer much relief.

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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