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MAC POWER RANKINGS: 2016 is when Toledo or WMU takes NIU's belt, right? Right?

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This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Stay tuned! The MAC's complete, and now it's time to stack 'em up.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of each conference run-through (previously: Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt), I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. This is just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them.

With similar budgets and a homogenous recruiting base, the MAC is supposed to be a bastion of parity. But we've gotten three straight Bowling Green-Northern Illinois conference title games, and the odds are decent that we'll get a fourth.

The numbers like two other MAC West teams more than NIU, however, and a tricky road slate could get BGSU into trouble. This should be an interesting race.

And by the way, Week 5 in the MAC will be loaded with telling contests: WMU at CMU could be a West elimination game of sorts; Akron-Kent State, Ohio-Miami, and NIU-Ball State will be huge for bowl possibilities; and Buffalo-BC and Toledo-BYU will be potential résumé builders for the conference as a whole.

Tier 1

1. WMU
2. Toledo

I understand the mistake I'm making. On paper, WMU and Toledo were better than NIU last year, too, and the Huskies still figured out a way to win the West (with help from WMU knocking off Toledo on the road). But it's been a couple of years since NIU was truly strong. Consider this a challenge.

Toledo was really good last year but loses just enough on both sides of the ball to spook me into picking WMU as the best team here.

Tier 2

3. NIU
4. Bowling Green
5. CMU
6. Ohio

This is really more of a "Tier 1 and 1a" situation. It would not be a shock for any of these four teams to win the MAC.

I'm dinging BGSU for losing quite a bit on offense, but the Falcons should still be the strongest team in the East. Ohio could have something to say about that.

And if you're looking for a MAC sleeper, don't ignore how good CMU was for most of conference play last year.

Tier 3

7. Akron
8. Kent State
9. Buffalo
10. Ball State
11. Miami (Ohio)

All five are fighting for bowl bids but are probably too flawed for a run at a division title.

Akron has to replace quite a few key defensive pieces, and while Kent State's defense should be great again, the offense could be just as bad as it was last year. And I really wanted to predict a breakthrough for Lance Leipold and Buffalo, but with so much to replace on offense, the Bulls might still be a year away.

Tier 4

12. EMU

Prove me wrong, Eagles.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

MAC West

Team 2015 Record (Conf.) 2015 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 Wins (Conf.) 5-Yr Rec. Rk Ret. Experience (Off. / Def.)
WMU 8-5 (6-2) 53 65 7.6 (5.3) 83 70% (79% / 62%)
Toledo 10-2 (6-2) 21 58 7.9 (5.3) 84 43% (44% / 43%)
NIU 8-6 (6-2) 69 79 6.9 (4.6) 122 74% (85% / 63%)
CMU 7-6 (6-2) 78 85 6.5 (4.3) 101 73 % (80% / 67%)
Ball State 3-9 (2-6) 111 101 5.2 (3.3) 108 82% (78% / 87%)
EMU 1-11 (0-8) 121 121 4.0 (2.0) 119 77% (78% / 75%)

MAC East

Team 2015 Record (Conf.) 2015 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 S&P+ Rk Proj. 2016 Wins (Conf.) 5-Yr Rec. Rk Ret. Experience (Off. / Def.)
BGSU 10-4 (7-1) 19 60 7.9 (5.6) 97 46% (29% / 62%)
Ohio 8-5 (5-3) 66 95 6.5 (4.1) 111 52% (64% / 40%)
Akron 8-5 (5-3) 80 97 5.3 (3.6) 115 63% (72% / 53%)
Kent St. 3-9 (2-6) 115 104 5.0 (3.2) 124 89% (94% / 83%)
Buffalo 5-7 (3-5) 96 109 4.8 (2.9) 114 46% (18% / 73%)
Miami 3-9 (2-6) 117 107 4.6 (3.3) 105 79% (84% / 74%)