The road to Detroit has gotten even shorter.
With only two weeks to go, the Mid-American Conference title race has tightened. Only a few teams still have a shot of making it to Ford Field to compete for the title. This week, we saw teams flex their strength, while others battled through adversity. It was once again an exciting week of MAC-tion, and there was a lot of movement in the rankings because of it.
Here’s The Post’s power rankings following week four.
Buffalo ( - )
Buffalo was supposed to be pushed to the brink this weekend against Kent State, but nobody told the Bulls.
Buffalo destroyed previously undefeated Kent State 70-41 behind one of the greatest single game performances in college football history.
Bulls’ running back Jaret Patterson rushed for 409 yards (MAC record) and eight touchdowns against the Golden Flashes. Patterson’s eight scores tied the FBS-record and basically locked up his status as the best player in the conference. Patterson’s performance understandably earned him nationwide recognition.
With only two games left, Buffalo can secure a trip to Detroit with a win on Saturday. It won’t be a cakewalk, though. Buffalo travels to Athens to face a hot Ohio squad. Buffalo lost to the Bobcats last season in overtime, so it’s a matchup that’s bound to be competitive.
If the Bulls get past Ohio it’ll win the MAC East, due to having wins over any potential one-loss teams. The only team standing in Buffalo’s way of an undefeated season would be the winless Akron Zips.
Western Michigan ( - )
Since its first game against Akron, Western Michigan has looked like the best team in the MAC West. Being the best does come with scares, though, and the Broncos saw their first last week against Northern Illinois.
Kaleb Eleby threw for 210 yards and a touchdown, but the Broncos offensive attack was well balanced. Western Michigan’s defense, though, saved the game, only allowing NIU to score three points as opposed to its offense’s 10 in the fourth quarter.
On paper, the Broncos have an easy road to Detroit, as its remaining two games are against Eastern Michigan and Ball State. The season finale against the Cardinals, however, has all the potential to be a trap game for Western Michigan.
Ball State ( +3 )
All hail Anthony Ekpe.
The outside linebacker’s strip sack against Toledo’s Carter Bradley turned over the ball with less than a minute to play. Despite a 15-point rally by the Rockets in the fourth quarter, Ball State’s defense buckled down. With less than a minute to play after Ekpe’s strip sack, the Cardinals sealed a 27-24 victory over Toledo to be proud of.
Drew Plitt worked his magic and matched the might of gunslinger Eli Peters. Plitt threw for 304 yards and went 26/35, the second-best passing performance in the MAC this week. Peters had the best, and Ball State still won.
With Pitt continuing to thrive and the defense making big plays when it matters, the Cardinals are sitting pretty. With their next opponent, Central Michigan, experiencing an offensive struggle against Eastern Michigan, the Cardinals have a right to be hopeful for their chances next week.
Ohio ( + 4)
Ohio is the only other team in the MAC East in charge of its own destiny. It could take divine intervention for Ohio to make it through the next two weeks unscathed.
For Ohio to defeat Buffalo and Kent State, it will have to rely heavily on running back De’Montre Tuggle. Tuggle rushed 15 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns in Ohio’s 52-10 win on Saturday.
Tuggle has been a consistent force for the Bobcats this season, but with starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke questionable for Saturday’s game, Ohio’s passing game may suffer. Graduate transfer Armani Rogers has only thrown nine passes this season, so expect the Bobcats to favor a ground attack in Saturday’s showdown against the Bulls.
Central Michigan ( -1 )
Scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter is impressive. Being down two touchdowns to winless Eastern Michigan for most of the game is not impressive.
The Chippewas were struggling to find a rhythm for most of the game. Rising star quarterback Daniel Richardson couldn’t produce like previous weeks. Richardson only threw for 118 yards, but his struggles were made up for by the rushing corps. Redshirt freshman running back Lew Nichols rushed for 198 yards against the Eagles, surpassing even stalwart Kobe Lewis.
Central Michigan, although beating out the Eagles, still struggled to mount a strong response until the fourth quarter. These struggles may just be a fluke, but it might do the Chippewas good to ensure they are ready for Ball State next week.
Kent State ( -3 )
Though the Golden Flashes are undoubtedly the most improved team in the MAC East this year, their chances of a trip to Detroit are slim to none after a demoralizing loss to Buffalo on Saturday.
Jaret Patterson’s video-game-esque performance against Kent State led Buffalo to a 29-point victory over a team that's been finding its rhythm and place amongst the best teams in the league.
Because of the shortened season schedule and cancellation of the Battle of the Bricks, the Golden Flashes can only make it to Detroit if Buffalo loses to Ohio and Akron, and the Golden Flashes win out against Miami and Ohio respectively.
Miami ( - )
The Redhawks are 2-1 but would need a miracle to make it to the MAC title game again. First, Miami would have to defeat Kent State and Bowling Green in weeks five and six, respectively.
But wait, there’s more.
Because Miami lost to divisional foe Buffalo, the RedHawks need the Bulls to lose to Ohio and suffer one of the greatest upsets in MAC history to Akron.
But wait, there’s still more.
If the first two scenarios were to happen, the RedHawks would still need archrival Ohio to lose against Kent State in week six since the Bobcats would have a better MAC East record.
The RedHawks were sharp after an 18-day layoff during a 38-7 victory over Akron. Unfortunately for the RedHawks, its week three cancelation could be what destroyed all hopes of returning to the MAC Championship.
Toledo ( -4 )
Toledo has learned for the second time just how important the final minute of a game is. Against Western Michigan, the Rockets lost because of a fake spike resulting in a Broncos’ touchdown. Last week, the Rockets were on the other side of the ball. They had managed a 15-point rally in the fourth quarter, but it was all for nothing when Carter Bradley was sacked and fumbled with less than a minute left in the game.
Eli Peters had the best quarterback performance in the MAC, going 27/36 with 363 yards and two touchdowns. Outperforming a quarterback like Ball State’s Drew Plitt is difficult, but Peters did it with ease.
Although Peters managed to run circles around the Cardinals defense, his efforts were in vain. He wasn’t even under center for the decisive play of the game. Bradley was on the field in his stead, and subsequently lost the ball and the game for Toledo.
Two difficult losses have left Toledo essentially out of contention for the MAC championship. 2020 was supposed to be the year of the Rockets, but now they have nowhere to go from here.
Northern Illinois ( + 2 )
The Huskies came close to pulling off what would have been one of the biggest upsets in the league last week.
Led by Ross Bowers’ 230 passing yards and three passing touchdowns, NIU came up short against Western Michigan, losing 30-27. NIU put together a decent effort, but was inconsistent offensively. The Huskies had two touchdowns in the second quarter and one in the third, but were only able to convert on a field goal in the fourth.
NIU will hope to finish strong in its remaining two games against Toledo (2-2) and Eastern Michigan.
Eastern Michigan ( -1 )
The Eagles remain winless after meeting Central Michigan.
Last week, the Eagles’ best player was also their biggest weakness. While quarterback Preston Hutchinson went three for 365 yards, he undid all of his hard work with three interceptions — an unacceptable stat against a defense like Central Michigan.
Eastern Michigan isn’t likely to win this week against top-ranked Western Michigan, but it has a chance to finish its season strong with a win in its final game against Northern Illinois at home.
Akron ( -1 )
Akron head coach Tom Arth has kept his team competitive in games against some of the best in the conference. But none of the Zips' efforts have resulted in a win. To be fair, Akron easily has had the most brutal schedule to the 12 conference teams.
The Zips had to open their season against currently undefeated Western Michigan, battle Ohio and Kent State on the road, face the defending MAC champion coming off an 18-day layoff and it has to finish its season at MAC-East frontrunner Buffalo.
Akron’s best shot at a win this season comes against Bowling Green, another winless team. Last season, the Zips were smoked by the Falcons 35-6, but things could be different this year.
Only once this season have the Zips scored multiple touchdowns in a game. A 35-point performance against Kent State does show a glimmer of hope. If running back Teon Dollard gets going early on Saturday, we could see a very interesting game between the two bottom teams in the MAC East.
Bowling Green ( -1 )
The Falcons’ frustrations only seem to grow with each passing week. Defeating Ohio would’ve been a long shot, but the Falcons might’ve been able to exploit the weaknesses in the defense after it faced Akron to boost its already slim chance of victory just a little more.
Not even a chance. From the first snap, Bowling Green was at a clear disadvantage. Matt McDonald only managed to throw 9/20 and threw three interceptions against the Bobcats.
Bowling Green has lost by double digits every week. 2020 has so far been a wash in all but name. Its only chance of having some bright spot on this season is next week when it faces Akron. The Zips are also winless this season, which might be the only chance the Falcons have at avoiding a winless season.