MAC Football Betting Preview & Predictions: Stuckey’s 2022 Midseason MACtion Manifesto

MAC Football Betting Preview & Predictions: Stuckey’s 2022 Midseason MACtion Manifesto article feature image

Ryan Collinsworth/Action Network.

  • Midseason MACtion is officially back for the 2022 college football season.
  • With all 12 MAC teams shifting to weekday games at some point, Stuckey broke down where every team stands heading into this glorious stretch.
  • Check out Stuckey's full analysis and betting recommendations for each Mid-American Conference team below.

What a magical time of the year for football bettors. We are currently in the midst of 27 straight days with at least one football game. If that doesn't warm your heart, check your pulse.

And it's all thanks to the return of midweek MACtion on Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the month of November.

Just like I do every year to kick off this joyous annual occasion, I follow up on my preseason MAC Manifesto with an updated lay of the land before the stretch run.

Let's dive into some MACtion!

College Football Midseason MACtion Report

The Mid-American Conference feels wide open every year, but even more so this season — or at least to me — especially with all of the quarterback uncertainty.

Only four of the 12 teams in the MAC have started the same quarterback in every game: Buffalo, Ohio, Akron, Ball State. Eight of the 12 have not.

Let's dive into midseason updates for each team, starting with the West Division. For reference, I will indicate my current power rating next to each team and offer a stock recommendation (3 buy, 3 sell and 6 holds).

Click any logo to navigate directly to that team's section.

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MAC West Division

Thanks to a late fourth-and-10 conversion by Toledo on Saturday against Eastern Michigan, the Rockets took a commanding lead in the West Division. The Eagles would've been in first place with a win but now find themselves with a nearly impossible climb back to the top.

At this point, it's hard to envision any team other than Toledo coming out of this division.

Toledo Rockets

No. 75
No. 77

Just like last year, this is the most talented team in the MAC by a wide margin. The Rockets somehow blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to Buffalo, but they should still coast to the MAC title game after coming back to beat Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

After finishing 0-5 in one-possession games with all three MAC defeats coming by a field goal or less last season, Toledo started 0-2 in one-possession games this season with both Buffalo and San Diego State coming back to win in the fourth quarter.

So, the Rockets were overdue for some close-game positive regression.

They were also very unlucky on fourth downs and led the country in penalties in 2021, which also explains why they lost so many league games last year.

Kicker Thomas Cluckey also had a disappointing year.

Rockets Offense

Toledo’s offense had questions coming into the season after losing its leading rusher Bryant Koback (now with the Vikings) and five of its top six receivers.

Matt Landers' late decision to transfer to Arkansas particularly hurt this group. Toledo also dealt with a couple of offensive line injuries in the preseason.

With all of those potential issues, the offense has still performed at a very high level thanks to the play of dynamic quarterback Dequan Finn. Through eight weeks, he was the frontrunner for MAC Offensive Player of the Year.

He can get it done with his legs or through the air, compensating for a weaker wide receiver room that’s dealing with injuries and an offensive line that has a few subpar pieces. The only knock on Finn is a turnover issue that can pop up periodically, which we saw in Buffalo when he threw five interceptions.

However, Finn suffered an injury on the very last play against Buffalo.

As a result, Georgia Tech transfer Tucker Gleason got the start against EMU on Saturday. He’s a talented kid who had a number of P5 offers, but he brings a completely different skill set to the offense. He can move a bit but is much more of a pro-style quarterback.

Head coach Jason Candle said there's no timetable on Finn’s return, so his status will be worth monitoring. It’s definitely a decent downgrade at this point from Finn to Gleason.

Rockets Defense

There were far fewer questions on defense coming into the season.

Toledo did lose two defensive backs to the NFL, which was a concern for a team that runs a lot of nickel.

The Rockets are still strong at safety, and Quinyon Mitchell — who had four interceptions in one game — has been one of the top-performing cornerbacks in the country. However, they're a bit more vulnerable at the other cornerback spots.

That’s pretty much how teams have to attack Toledo since its front seven remains dominant after bringing almost everybody back from a group that ranked in the top 25 nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss.

The defensive line features Penn State transfer Judge Culpepper in the interior, along with two menaces coming off the edge in Desjuan Johnson and Jamal Hines.

There's also promising depth here in front of a rock-solid linebacker corps led by Dyontae Johnson. Ohio State transfer Dallas Gant has also been nails at linebacker.

There really aren't weaknesses here, although I’m sure they’d like an uptick in Sack Rate moving forward.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

Toledo has definitely enjoyed some positive regression in a number of areas I mentioned earlier (12-of-17 on fourth downs, for example) while also cleaning up its penalty issues.

It's definitely been fortunate in terms of fumble recoveries, but the Rockets were due for some bounces after a hard-luck season in 2021.

Cluckey has also had a bounce-back season (38-of-38 XP and 10-of-12 FG), although the special teams haven’t been great overall.

Stock Recommendation: Hold

Eastern Michigan Eagles

No. 101
No. 111

It's been an up-and-down year for the Eagles, who continue to trend up under Chris Creighton. The heartbreaking loss against Toledo probably ends any chances of a potential MAC title, but this remains a pesky team.

Eagles Offense

Eastern Michigan has struggled to develop any semblance of a rushing attack in recent seasons but has been better in that department in 2022. A deeper backfield behind an offensive line that returned four starters certainly has paid dividends.

Led by a pair of potential All-MAC performers in guard Sidy Sow and tackle Brian Dooley, the offensive front ranks in the top 25 nationally in Line Yards. They can generate a good push against league foes.

EMU also has a deep and experienced receiver room. Plus, the inexperienced tight ends have stepped up to replace the top two from last year, including one lost to the NFL.

The only position I haven't mentioned is quarterback, which remains a bit of a mystery. After last year's top two quarterbacks — Preston Hutchinson and Ben Bryant — transferred, former Missouri and Troy signal-caller Taylor Powell transferred in to take over as QB1.

Powell, who had previous starting experience, played OK to start the season before an injury forced Creighton to go to backup Austin Smith, who's more of a dual threat than Powell.

Moving forward, it appears both quarterbacks will get time under center, which was the case on Saturday against Toledo.

Coming into Week 9, Eastern Michigan ranked in the top 25 in red-zone scoring percentage, third-down conversion rate and Line Yards. The Eagles execute at a high level on this side of the ball.

Eagles Defense

EMU's undersized front of its 4-2-5 base defense has struggled immensely against opposing rush attacks. That hasn't changed in 2022. The defensive line ranks 113th in Line Yards.

The Eagles also don't generate pressure (110th Sack Rate) with the exception of star defensive end Jose Ramirez, but he can absolutely wreak Havoc on a game all by himself.

Ramirez, a legit pro prospect, is the best player on the entire roster and an absolute terror off of the edge.

That said, he doesn't get much help, and teams certainly key on him. Yet, he still manages to have monster games. Against Western Michigan earlier this season, he had six tackles, four tackles for loss, four sacks and one forced fumble.

While the run defense leaves a lot to be desired (113th Line Yards) and the pressure is lacking (110th Sack Rate) outside of Ramirez, as a whole, the EMU defense has improved due to strides made at the second and third levels.

The linebacker corps is much stronger due to the addition of Boston College transfer Joe Sparacio. He and Chase Kline make up a very formidable duo at the second level.

There's no lockdown cornerback in the secondary, but the coverage has improved. Meanwhile, every safety in the rotation has played fairly well so far.

Overall, I think this defense will continue to trend upward. The staff has made a few schematic and lineup changes that should pay off down the stretch.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

Coming into the season, I was a bit worried about the special teams after losing an excellent kicker in Chad Ryland, who transferred to Maryland. However, freshman Jesus Gomez has been very reliable so far, connecting on all 27 extra points and 8-of-10 field goal attempts, including a long of 55.

Overall, EMU has been a bit unlucky. Through eight weeks, the Eagles were just 4-of-14 on fourth downs (bottom-10 rate), while their opponents have gone 8-of-10.

They also ranked in the bottom 10 in turnover margin and have been penalized more than usual under Creighton, who always has his teams among the least penalized in the country.

I'd expect positive regression in both areas moving forward.

Stock Recommendation: Buy

Ball State Cardinals

No. 117
No. 119

After winning the conference in 2020, the Cardinals failed to live up to high expectations in 2021 with 20 returning starters. They finished with a losing overall record and somehow became one of the worst statistical teams in the MAC.

The complete opposite held true headed into 2022 with no real expectations for a very inexperienced club that had eight players get their first-ever collegiate start in Week 1.

Ball State went a predictable 2-2 record in the nonconference portion of the schedule. It also has started out 2-2 in league play with all four games finishing within a one-possession final margin. Each truly could've went either way.

Cardinals Offense

Replacing a four-year starting quarterback would have been a much more arduous task had Drew Plitt seemingly not regressed out of nowhere in 2021. His yards per attempt fell from 8.6 to 6.2, while his completion percentage dropped precipitously from 65.6% to 60.3%.

Plitt's graduation meant 5-foot-11 senior John Paddock would take over as QB1. The former three-star pro-style quarterback backed up Plitt from 2018-21.

There was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the position since Ball State had the second-fewest returning completions in the entire country.

Paddock has at least had the luxury of an abundance of experienced skill positions around him.

Running back Carson Steele, who has a top-10 national usage rate, ranked eighth in rushing yards after Week 8. Ball State also has a pair of talented wide receivers in Yo'Heinz Tyler and former Cincinnati transfer Jayshon Jackson. Both have dealt with injuries in recent weeks which are worth monitoring.

The offensive line does an average job run blocking and actually grades out in the top 10 nationally in almost every pressure and sack stat.

However, that's simply a product of the offense. This is a first-read, quick-strike passing attack led by a quarterback short on raw skill and ability.

Among over 200 qualified quarterbacks at the FCS and FBS level, nobody averages a shorter time to throw than Paddock at 2.11 seconds. If his first read isn't there, he struggles mightily, and turnovers follow, as he's tossed nine interceptions on the season.

Just look at these splits based on when he throws the ball:

  • Under 2.5 seconds: 12 TDs, 5 INTs (91.6 Rating)
  • Over 2.5 seconds: 2 TDs, 4 INTs (55.1 Rating)

Consequently, Ball State ranks in the bottom 10 in yards per completion. The Cardinals want to methodically drive down the field, relying on Steele to grind out tough yards and Paddock to connect on short passes to open receivers.

Cardinals Defense

Ball State returned all three starters up front on its 3-4 base. However, it's a bit undersized, so the Cardinals are still a vulnerable rush defense.

With two All-MAC linebackers gone, Ball State was particularly raw at both outside linebacker spots.

Conversely, the inside had promise with Clayton Coll and 2020 MAC Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Martin slated to return from injury. However, he hasn't returned to action yet, but former walk-on Cole Pearce has played terrific in his place.

Ball State's secondary has actually fared very well despite losing three starters, including All-MAC safety Bryce Cosby, who led the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks in 2021.

The only known commodity was the uber-experienced Amechi Uzodinma at one starting cornerback spot.

Fortunately for Ball State, transfer Jaquan Amos (previous stops at Villanova and Iowa State) has filled the void left by Cosby, while many of the lesser experienced defensive backs have all exceeded expectations.

This defense is feisty and will keep Ball State in a lot of games against MAC foes.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

Per my numbers, Ball State had a top-10 special teams unit in 2021 but needed to replace stud return man Justin Hall (now with the Raiders), first-team All-MAC Punter Nathan Snyder, both kickers and longtime special teams coordinator Patrick Dougherty.

Obviously, the Cardinals have taken a major step back in this area.

Stock Recommendation: Hold

Western Michigan Broncos

No. 122
No. 114

It's been an ugly start to the season for the Broncos, who have underperformed against the spread more than any team in the MAC.

One of their three victories came over an FCS team, while the other two were one-possession league wins that I graded as losses. Meanwhile, their five defeats all came in blowout fashion.

Broncos Offense

Under the tutelage of new coordinator Jeff Thorne, who has implemented a more complex scheme, the offense has suffered a significant decline after losing a pair of stars in quarterback Kaleb Eleby and wide receiver Skyy Moore (now with the Chiefs).

Overall, the Broncos lost five of their top-six pass-catchers with Corey Crooms being the only proven commodity returning to the mix.

Plus, the offensive line, which ranked in the top 10 nationally in a number of advanced metrics, lost three starters to graduation, including both tackles and stud center Mike Caliendo, now also with the Chiefs.

Consequently, the offensive line ranks in the bottom 20 nationally in almost every run- and pass-blocking metric.

Redshirt freshman Jack Salopek got the first crack at quarterback, but the results were disastrous. After he threw five picks against Ohio, freshman Treyson Bourguet got his first start in WMU's most recent game. The Broncos won, but the passing offense remained broken. Bourguet threw for only 123 yards on 23 attempts. Yikes.

On the season, they have just a 51.3% completion percentage. Only San Diego State, UMass and New Mexico State own lower marks among non-service academies. They've also thrown 11 picks (bottom-five) and rank 123rd in pass efficiency.

The offense is completely reliant on the dynamic running back duo of Sean Tyler and La'Darius Jefferson. However, they can only do so much behind a bad offensive line against defenses that are loading the box with no fear of a vertical aerial attack.

As a result, WMU's average yards per carry has dropped from 4.5 last year to 3.3 (115th) in 2022.

Outside of the two backs and Crooms on the outside, this offense is completely inept.

Broncos Defense

The defense also had major question marks outside of two extremely solid linebackers in Zaire Barnes and Corvin Moment.

The line excelled at stopping the run and generating pressure last year, ranking in the top 10 nationally in both Sack and Stuff Rate.

However, it needed to replace second-team All-MAC defensive tackle Ralph Holley (16.5 TFL) and MAC Defensive Player of the Year Ali Fayad, who had 13 of the team's 43 sacks in 2021 while leading the conference in tackles for loss.

The defense last year also received a significant boost from an offense that ranked in the top five nationally in time of possession. That's obviously not the case this season with a horrendous offense that has fallen off a cliff.

Despite two key losses, the defensive line has actually exceeded expectations. That, along with the stellar play of Barnes and Moment at linebacker, has made the rush defense very formidable for a group that ranks in the top 10 in tackles for loss per game.

However, that only goes so far with a shoddy pass defense.

Stock Recommendation: Sell

Northern Illinois Huskies

No. 108
No. 98

The reigning MAC champions have started 2-6 with their only wins coming over FCS Eastern Illinois and MAC foe Eastern Michigan.

In fairness, the Huskies have played a number of close coin-flip games. However, unlike last season's 7-3 record in one-possession contests, they've gone just 1-4 in those to start 2022. Regression doesn't discriminate.

Huskies Offense

NIU's offense has actually been very effective in spite of quarterback injuries.

Veteran quarterback Rocky Lombardi has dealt with an injury for most of the season, which has resulted in Ethan Hampton actually leading the team in pass attempts.

For what it's worth, NIU is 0-4 in games where Hampton takes the majority of snaps with turnovers being a major issue (7 TDs, 6 INTs).

With both quarterbacks unavailable due to injury for their previous game against Ohio, sophomore Justin Lynch got the surprise start. Lynch is the pure running quarterback who has come in for running packages throughout the year.

Going into that Ohio loss, NIU's offense ranked in the top 40 in EPA per play. Adjusted for opponent, it's been about a national average offense, which is very strong for MAC standards.

Star receiver Trayvon Rudolph also went down with a season-ending knee injury in fall camp. His explosiveness is missed, especially since FIU transfer Shemar Thornton has not lived up to some of the hype.

However, Lombardi has been very effective throwing the ball when playing with Cole Tucker as an extremely reliable go-to-receiver. So, Lombardi's health is worth monitoring moving forward.

How has this offense still thrived? Well, it's the ground game. It's the bread and butter of this NIU offense that prefers to play at a slow pace, controlling the clock with a rush-heavy attack, led by the dynamic duo of Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown.

For the season, NIU ranks 30th in yards per carry and in the top 20 in time of possession. That's its identity under head coach Thomas Hammock, a former running backs coach with the Baltimore Ravens.

The Huskies also have one of the better offensive lines in the MAC. While they've struggled a bit more than anticipated in run blocking, they've excelled in pass protection.

Huskies Defense

Unfortunately for the youthful Huskies, a year of valuable experience has not translated to improved defensive results after 15 of the top 20 tacklers in 2021 were listed as freshmen.

This is once again a bottom-10 defense that can't get off the field on third downs.

Last year, the secondary intercepted only one pass in the regular season, while the defensive line got pushed around far too frequently. That's not an ideal combination.

On a positive note, the run defense has improved with better interior production and the return of (eighth-year!) stud linebacker Kyle Pugh, who missed last year with an injury. Additionally, the secondary already has five interceptions in 2022.

Yet, that hasn't led to any material jump in overall output.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

As I mentioned earlier, NIU had a very lucky season in 2021 with a handful of improbable close wins. It also led the nation in fourth-down conversion rate, converting an astonishing 25-of-30 opportunities while holding opponents to 12-of-29 (41%).

However, this year, NIU is just 6-of-13 on fourth downs (84th), while its opponents have gone 11-of-15 (bottom-10).

NIU leads the nation in kick return defense, but it's a fairly underwhelming special teams unit otherwise.

Stock Recommendation: Hold

Central Michigan Chippewas

No. 116
No. 109

It's been a struggle for the Chips.

They only have a pair of wins over FCS Bucknell and Akron with the latter coming by seven points thanks to a scoop-and-score touchdown in the final minutes.

Chippewas Offense

Following last year's nine-win campaign, the offense returned two foundational pieces in quarterback Daniel Richardson (24 TDs, 6 INTs in 2021) and running back Lew Nichols III, who led the nation in rushing in 2021.

However, they lost both bookend tackles to the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. They replaced that duo with a converted tight end freshman and a sophomore with one career start.

The results have been disastrous, especially in the run-blocking department, where they rank in the bottom 10 nationally in Line Yards.

It hasn't helped that Nichols and backup Marion Lukes have also suffered injuries in recent weeks in addition to the third- and fourth-string backs. CMU was forced to turn to a defensive player in the backfield last week.

Additionally, CMU lost two of its top three receivers in JaCorey Sullivan and Kalil Pimpleton (now with the Lions). That duo combined for 18 touchdowns and over 1,700 yards from scrimmage.

To make matters worse, the Chips lost their other top receiver in Dallas Dixon to a season-ending injury just two weeks into this season.

All of that turmoil, combined with a schematic change under new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, has led to a precipitous drop in production.

Richardson has regressed hard at quarterback, although he isn't getting any help outside of tight end Joel Wilson. As a result, Jim McElwain made a quarterback change last week, going with dual-threat freshman Jase Bauer for the majority of that contest. He brings more mobility to the position, which helps with the offensive line issues.

McElwain hinted that Bauer could get the nod moving forward. Regardless, don't expect much improvement from an offense that failed to surpass 18 points in its three conference losses against Toledo, Ball State and Bowling Green.

Chippewas Defense

Meanwhile, CMU's 4-2-5 defense returned only three starters.

The Chips lost their top pass rusher, along with a pair of excellent linebackers. Plus, they lost one cornerback to NFL and two other defensive back starters to the portal, including an All-MAC safety.

The defensive line remains the overwhelming strength as arguably the best and deepest in the MAC. That unit ranks second nationally in Line Yards and 15th in Sack Rate.

However, the defensive line can only do so much to compensate for holes at linebacker and defensive back, especially at safety.

CMU remains a sturdy run defense (top-20 in yards per rush and 2nd in TFLs per game) and has excelled on third downs (17th) but remains extremely vulnerable to explosive passes if it doesn't get to the quarterback (13th in sacks per game).

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

The special teams have also been a disaster outside of five blocked kicks and four blocked punts, which rank first and second in the country, respectively.

Not only do the Chips miss an electric returner in Pimpleton, but they have also made only four of their 11 field goal attempts

As called on Central Michigan radio:

— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) November 4, 2021

CMU owns a -11 turnover margin, which is tied for worst in the country with Auburn.

The offense receives part of the blame, but the Chips have recovered only 13 of their 16 fumbles, which could signal positive regression on the horizon.

Stock Recommendation: Sell

MAC East Division

We will kick weekday MACtion off with a game that has massive implications in the East Division when Ohio hosts Buffalo. The winner will take first place in the division with Bowling Green trying to keep pace with a victory on Wednesday.

In terms of tiebreakers between the top-three teams, Buffalo has already beaten Bowling Green, while the Bobcats will host the Falcons in the final week of the regular season.

Buffalo Bulls

No. 105
No. 105

The hope for Buffalo is an improvement in Year 2 under the new regime with more scheme familiarity.

After starting the season 0-3 with a home loss to FCS Holy Cross, Buffalo has won five straight to catapult itself to the top of the MAC East standings.

Coming into the season, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Bulls, who both lost and gained more in the transfer portal than any other team in the country.

While it may appear that everything broke right in the offseason, I still have my doubts. Let's take a closer look at Buffalo's four MAC wins this season.

  • Eastern Michigan: Fresh off of an upset of Arizona State, the Eagles started a backup quarterback.
  • Miami (Ohio): The RedHawks also started a backup quarterback but still significantly outplayed the Bulls from a statistical perspective. Buffalo won on a last-second touchdown after a bailout penalty on fourth down.
  • Bowling Green: Well-deserved victory, but it ended with a misleading 38-7 final score. The Falcons finished with nearly 400 yards but went 0-3 on fourth down and had a -3 turnover margin.
  • Toledo: The Rockets blew a 27-10 fourth-quarter lead in part due to an astonishing six turnovers.

As you can see, that streak is a bit flawed. The Bulls have benefited from facing backup quarterbacks, turnover luck, fourth down swings, questionable flags — you name it.

Bulls Offense

After winning a fierce summer quarterback competition, Rutgers transfer Cole Snyder has started all eight games under center. Overall, he has done a fairly effective job replacing Kyle Vantrease, who transferred to Georgia Southern in the offseason.

Part of Snyder's success can be attributed to one of the best group of wideouts in the conference, led by Quian Williams, who led the team in receptions in 2021, and Louisville transfer Justin Marshall. There's also solid depth on the outside with Jamari Gassett and Mike Washington.

Buffalo lost its leading rusher from last season to the transfer portal, but Ron Cook has stepped up as the primary back. Although, the rushing attack has been nowhere near as effective (3.9 yards per carry) in large part due to subpar offensive line play.

The Bulls have four first-time starters up front, including a pair of transfer tackles. Every one of them has struggled, resulting in an offensive line that ranks 116th in Line Yards.

A few underlying metrics suggest Snyder has enjoyed some very good fortune, especially under pressure.

The sophomore signal-caller has thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions when under pressure. However, he has just two big-time throws compared to nine turnover-worthy plays in those situations.

Per PFF, Snyder is one of only six quarterbacks in the country with a 10%-plus turnover-worthy play rate when under pressure (min. 35 dropbacks). The turnovers are coming.

Bulls Defense

Buffalo returned six starters on its 4-2-5 base defense. That includes two All-MAC performers in linebacker James Patterson and defensive tackle Daymond Williams. Although, the latter has struggled in 2022.

The emergence of tackling machine Shaun Dolac gives Buffalo one of the best linebacker duos in the MAC, but allowing too many explosive runs continues to plague this unit, as it did last year.

Buffalo is one of only 14 FBS teams that allows more than 5.0 yards per rush. That number actually got worse from last year's mark of 4.8, which represented a massive drop from a 3.9 average in 2020.

Like clockwork, Buffalo has always excelled at generating pressure. However, after ranking in the top 20 in sacks per game in each of the past two seasons, it ranks 80th this year. While very deep, the defensive ends have not had a banner start to the season.

With four key contributors gone in the secondary, Buffalo filled in the gaps with a number of Power Five transfers, including:

  • Safety Jahmin Muse (Boston College)
  • Cornerback Elijah Blades (Florida/Texas A&M)
  • Cornerback Caleb Offord (Notre Dame)

They seem to have hit home runs with Muse and Blades, who have helped decrease the yards per attempt allowed from 8.9 (125th) last year to 7.4. However, Blades has missed the past few games with an injury, which is worth monitoring.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

I mentioned earlier that Buffalo has enjoyed good luck in terms of its schedule and quarterback play. Well, that's not the only area it has gotten lucky in.

Buffalo's opponents have converted only 6-of-19 fourth downs (31.6%). The Bulls also have the third-most fumble recoveries and overall takeaways, leading to the ninth-best turnover margin in the country.

Outside of a struggling punting game, the special teams have excelled so far in 2022. Buffalo has an especially potent kick return unit.

Stock Recommendation: Strong Sell

Bowling Green Falcons

No. 118
No. 117

After entering camp in 2021 with close to 80% freshmen, Bowling Green boasted one of the nation's highest returning production rates entering 2022.

With nine starters returning on each side of the ball, a program with the longest bowl drought in the MAC finally had some optimism at the start of a season.

That optimism was quickly subdued after the Falcons dropped to 0-2 following a home loss to FCS Eastern Kentucky. However, they followed that low point up with an upset of Marshall and then jumped out to a 3-1 start in league play.

Positive vibes have quickly flowed back, but it's worth mentioning those three victories came against Akron (by 3), Miami (Ohio) (by 4) and Central Michigan by 16 in a game the Falcons held a 4-0 turnover edge.

It also faced backup quarterbacks in the latter two, so I'd hold off on prematurely crowing these Falcons MAC champs.

Falcons Offense

The offense remains extremely limited, but quarterback Matt McDonald has had a very strong start to the 2022 campaign with 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He's also handled the blitz extremely well with a 10:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

McDonald has benefited from the addition of Alabama A&M transfer Odieu Hilaire, who leads the team in receiving yards. All-MAC tight end Christian Sims is also still in the mix as McDonald's security blanket

However, despite returning its top four backs, Bowling Green still struggles to run the ball, ranking 118th nationally at 3.3 yards per carry.

Many of those issues can be attributed to a very young offensive line that started four freshmen last year, including a converted defensive lineman and a true-freshman walk-on. That experience has led to a marginal improvement in production but nothing significant.

The Falcons hit the transfer portal in the offseason and brought in senior center Jakari Robinson from Memphis. Robinson, who also previously started 24 games at Cincinnati, made his season debut in Week 4 and has performed as the best lineman by far while serving as a massive upgrade over the early-season starter.

Falcons Defense

New defensive coordinator Eric Lewis orchestrated an amazing turnaround in 2021. While the Falcons did struggle defensively out of the gates, they've looked better in recent weeks, albeit in favorable matchups.

Last year, the front seven of the 3-4 base thrived at generating pressure. Bowling Green unsurprisingly ranks fourth in the country in Sack Rate after that front seven basically returned fully intact, led by first-team All-MAC linebacker Darren Anders and defensive end Karl Brooks, who led the nation in sacks heading into Week 9.

The constant pressure helped the secondary actually finish in the top 10 nationally in passing yards allowed per game in 2021. With a pair of All-MAC performers returning at safety and cornerback, the hope was the pass defense could be even better.

However, Bowling Green lost shutdown cornerback Davon Ferguson to an injury in Week 2 that might cost him the season. Additionally, star safety Jordan Anderson hasn't played the past two games.

If both are out long-term, that could spell trouble for this now very transfer-reliant secondary moving forward whenever the pass rush doesn't get home.

On the season, Bowling Green ranks in the bottom 10 in opponent third-down conversion rate, which illustrates the struggles in the secondary. It's completely reliant on generating big plays, ranking in the top 10 nationally in both takeaways and sacks per game.

Therefore, things can unravel quickly against a team with a good offensive line and competent quarterback.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

The special teams took a step back after losing an All-American kicker and solid long snapper. However, under the tutelage of a new special teams coach, The Falcons do rank in the top 10 in both blocked kicks and punts.

Although, I'm not sure if that's really a sustainable stat.

Bowling Green has also recovered the second-most fumbles in the country with 11. That speaks to its ability to create Havoc but also suggests some luck that may regress.

Discipline has been an issue. Scot Loeffler's bunch ranks 129th in penalty yards per game.

Stock Recommendation: Hold

Ohio Bobcats

No. 104
No. 107

After a disastrous 2021 campaign — their worst in almost 20 years — the Bobcats hit the reset button in the offseason, hoping that a summer without a head coaching change in August would lead to better results.

So far, so good for the Bobcats, who have already won two more games than they did all of last year. As a result, they find themselves right in the thick of the MAC East race.

Bobcats Offense

Ohio hoped it would get a significant spike in production from quarterback Kurtis Rourke in his third year as a starter. That has come to fruition.

Rourke is off to a blazing start, throwing for over 2,400 yards with 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions in his first eight starts. The offense ranks in the top 25 nationally in Pass Success Rate in spite of very poor offensive line play.

Last year, only two offensive linemen started all 12 games: left tackle TJ Jackson and right tackle Jay Amburgey.

With Jackson graduating, Ohio moved Amburgey to the left side to protect Rourke's blind side. Well, he got injured in the fourth game of the season and hasn't returned.

The two new starting tackles have not been good, to say the least. Overall, the unit has declined significantly in almost every metric. It has really hurt the rushing attack, which has essentially been nonexistent.

Year-over-year, Ohio has dropped from 22nd to 90th in yards per carry in large part due to an offensive line that fell from 36th to 98th in Line Yards. While the drop likely won't be as drastic after a full MAC schedule, the running game is clearly worse off.

Yet, Rourke has still somehow managed to flourish, even also after losing his top three receivers and running backs from last season. Through eight weeks, PFF actually has him as the second-highest graded quarterback in the country among 134 with at least 100 dropbacks.

Rourke continues to efficiently spread the ball over the field. Nine players have double-digit receptions with Ohio State transfer Sam Wiglusz leading the way. His emergence has helped fill the void left by the loss of Isiah Cox to the transfer portal.

Ohio has a chance on any given Saturday (or weekday) in MAC play with Rourke at the helm. The Bobcats are one of only 18 offenses averaging over 300 passing yards per game. They also rank 28th in completion percentage and 25th in pass efficiency.

Bobcats Defense

Eight starters did return on defense, but that experience hasn't led to better output for new defensive coordinator Spence Nowinsky, who came over from division rival Miami (OH).

The Bobcats gave up 736 yards to Kent State and 640 to FCS Fordham. The results have improved over the past three weeks, but they played three limited offenses in Akron, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois starting its third-string running quarterback.

Despite that favorable trio of opponents, Ohio has still allowed the most passing yards per game (335) of any FBS team.

It apparently really misses a pair of departed fifth-year senior starters in safety Jarren Hampton and cornerback Jamal Hudson. The other returning starters have regressed hard without those two in the fold.

They also haven't found a replacement for defensive end Will Evans. Those three were the only starters not to return on defense, but they were also the highest-rated players in 2021.

Not only has Ohio seen some of its returning starters take a step back in 2022, but it also hasn't received the boost it expected from the addition of other key contributors either from the transfer portal or returning from injury.

There just aren't many positive things I can say about this defense outside of cornerback Torrie Cox, who has played well in his first season as a starter. This is arguably a bottom-five defense in FBS.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

Ohio doesn't beat itself, ranking in the top 30 in both penalty yards and giveaways per game.

The special teams have been decent but not spectacular. Freshman kicker Nathanial Vakos has been a pleasant surprise. He's connected on 29-of-30 extra points and 11-of-13 field goals, including one from 55 yards out.

Conversely, the Bobcats sit in the bottom five nationally in net punting. Although, that doesn't mean much when a team can't get stops anyway.

Maybe the defense improves over the final four games after adjusting to a new coordinator, but I don't see many signs of life. Plus, the more predictive early-down metrics suggest the defense will actually get worse, especially if the takeaways dry up.

Meanwhile, the early-down data actually suggests the opposite for the offense. Ohio will likely have to win high-scoring affairs, which is entirely possible if Rourke maintains his current level.

Stock Recommendation: Buy

Kent State Golden Flashes

No. 106
No. 110

Kent State has had the toughest schedule to date of any MAC team by a wide margin after playing one of the toughest nonconference slates in the country. As a result, some of its raw metrics may be a bit deflated.

After starting out a 1-1 in league play with an overtime victory over Ohio and a three-point loss to Miami (Ohio), the Golden Flashes had a critical matchup with Toledo. However, after jumping out to a 21-0 lead, they got outscored 52-10 in an eventual blowout loss.

They did recover the following week with a six-point win over Akron that was too close for comfort.

Golden Flashes Offense

The uptempo "Flash Fast" offense spent the offseason in rebuilding mode.

It not only lost MAC Player of the Year Dustin Crum at quarterback, but the Golden Flashes also needed to replace two productive receivers and both tackles on an offensive line that ranked in the bottom five nationally in returning production.

New quarterback Collin Schlee at least had previous game experience and has a similar dual-threat skill set as Crum that fits the RPO-heavy offense well.

Schlee has had an amazing start to the season with a top-20 PFF grade.

It doesn't hurt to have one of the league's best running backs (Marquez Cooper) and receivers (Dante Cephas) at his disposal. Cooper has one of the highest usage rates of any player in the country.

Savion Washington has been a pleasant surprise at right tackle. However, the rest of the offensive line has been very inconsistent, which has held the offense back at times.

It's worth mentioning that Schlee missed the last game with an injury. His status moving forward is obviously critical. Head coach Sean Lewis stated Schlee has a 50-50 chance at best to play at Ball State this upcoming week.

If he can't go, true freshman Devin Kargman would get a second straight start, which would be a significant downgrade.

Golden Flashes Defense

Lewis hoped a third defensive coordinator over the course of a calendar year could help solve the major problems Kent State has had on defense in recent seasons.

Jeremiah Johnson, who crafted numerous dominant defenses at the FCS level while at Northern Iowa, was given the tall task.

Transitioning to a new 3-3-5 base, the Golden Flashes needed to replace three of their top four linebackers, a starting safety and a first-team All-MAC cornerback.

They do at least have a very deep and experienced defensive line. It remains a bit undersized, even for MAC standards, which has led to deficiencies against the run. But it's the most talented unit for Kent on the defensive of the ball.

Montre Miller is one of the better cornerbacks in the MAC, but the rest of the secondary is vulnerable.

It's worth noting that Kent State's best defensive player, interior lineman CJ West, missed last game with an injury. Kent State also recently lost starting safety Antwaine Richardson to a season-ending injury. That especially hurts since starting safety Dean Clark, who led the team in tackles last year, has yet to suit up in 2022 due to injury.

The defense actually showed flashes of potential early in the season against superior nonconference opponents but has failed to maintain any long high-quality stretches. Overall, it has still graded out as a bottom-10 defense in the country.

Until further notice, this is the same old Kent State defense.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

Kent State's special teams have been decent this year.

The biggest improvement has been its kickoff return unit, which graded out as the worst in the country in 2021. Teams routinely started near midfield against the Golden Flashes last season.

This season, the Golden Flashes rank 32nd in average kickoff return yardage allowed while raising their touchback percentage from 8% to 23%.

As a result, opposing offenses have to work a bit harder to drive the field against a defense that can use all of the help it can get.

Stock Recommendation: Hold

Miami RedHawks

No. 94
No. 104

The RedHawks are the best team in the division with a healthy Brett Gabbert at quarterback. Unfortunately for Miami, he suffered an injury in a season-opening loss at Kentucky.

That caused him to miss the next six games in which Miami went 3-3 overall and 1-2 in league play in a trio of games decided by one possession.

The RedHawks suffered another one-possession defeat in Gabbert's first start back against Western Michigan. Gabbert was clearly rusty in a game they really should've won.

He did look a bit better this past Saturday in a win at Akron, although turnovers were the major story in that one.

RedHawks Offense

Gabbert led one of the most potent Group of Five passing attacks in the nation last year. The RedHawks averaged 278.5 passing yards per game, which ranked 21st in the country.

Through the first eight weeks this season, Miami averaged just 145 passing yards per game, which ranked 123rd nationally. That's obviously a direct result of Gabbert missing six games.

That forced Aveon Smith to take over as the starting quarterback. The offense looked much different with the freshman at the helm. Smith, a dual-threat quarterback, completed just a tad over 52% of his passes.

The receivers have plenty of experience with deep threat Jalen Walker and former Penn State transfer Mac Hippenhammer.

However, the RedHawks really miss top wideout Jack Sorenson, who led the team in receiving in four straight years. Indiana transfer Miles Marshall just doesn't fill the massive void left by Sorenson, who had over 1,400 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021.

The offensive line has also regressed despite returning four starters, although Miami lost its starting left tackle to an injury in Week 1.

The Adjusted Sack Rate has fallen off of a cliff from 18th in 2021 to 122nd this year. Part of that can be explained by the absence of Gabbert, but even he's taking more sacks under pressure, which could be a result of missing his favorite target.

Miami's lack of run game hasn't helped matters. The RedHawks averaged only 2.3 yards per rush against Akron on Saturday.

With all of that said, I'd expect the offense to continue to improve with Gabbert now back under center.

RedHawks Defense

Coming into the season, there were significantly more questions about the Miami defense, which lost 10 of its top 13 tacklers, including:

  • First-team All-MAC LB Ivan Pace Jr. (Transferred to Cincy; top-10 nationally in tackles last year).
  • Second-team All-MAC DE Lonnie Phelps (Transferred to Kansas; led the RedHawks in sacks).
  • Third-team All-MAC DE Dominique Robinson (now with the Bears)
  • Starting safeties Mike Brown and Sterling Weatherford (both recently signed contracts with NFL teams)

Despite those key losses, the 4-2-5 defense has been a pleasant surprise. It has allowed 18 points per game in league play, holding all five opponents to 24 or fewer points.

Its run defense has been especially sturdy. On the season, it ranks in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards per game, yards per attempt and Opportunity Rate.

Michigan State transfer Michael Dowell has helped at safety.

However, the secondary still has major holes that competent passing attacks should exploit, especially since the RedHawks aren't getting nearly as much pressure off the edge as they did in 2021.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

The special teams have been pretty decent for MAC standards.

Stock Recommendation: Strong Buy

Akron Zips

No. 129
No. 128

Akron hired Joe Moorhead to turn around a program stuck in the perennial MAC basement. I thought it was one of best coaching moves of the offseason, but this isn't a quick fix. It will take time.

Moorhead hit the transfer portal hard in an attempt to be more competitive this year. It hasn't translated to any FBS wins, but four of its five losses against non-Power Five teams have come by one possession.

Although, Akron has benefited from facing a few backup quarterbacks in those games.

Even with an upgrade at head coach and a more talented (and experienced) roster, this is still one of the worst teams in the country.

Zips Offense

Akron's offensive line, which started five freshmen last year, has improved marginally in the run-blocking department. However, it remains one of the worst pass-protecting groups in the country (bottom-10 Adjusted Sack Rate) after allowing 12 more sacks than the next-highest club in 2021.

The Zips also can't run the ball at all. Entering Week 9, the Zips were one of only three teams (Boston College, Texas State) to average fewer than 2.5 yards per carry.

However, the offense has improved overall as a result of the development of quarterback DJ Irons, who leads the team in passing and rushing.

Believe it or not, Akron actually averages the 26th most passing yards per game. Yes, the Zips do play from behind frequently and have a very high pass-rate, but they also have a very good wide receiver room with senior Power 5 transfers:

  • Shocky Jacques-Louis (Pitt)
  • Daniel George (Penn State)
  • Alex Adams

When Irons has time — or can buy enough time with his legs — Akron can definitely move the ball through the air on MAC defenses.

Zips Defense

The Zips do have a bit more bulk along the defensive line, so they don't get pushed around as much. The return of senior linebacker Bubba Arslanian from injury has provided another boost to the run defense.

However, Akron has no redeeming qualities when it comes to defending the pass. It can't get pressure and can't cover receivers. That's not an ideal combination.

Charlotte or Akron … take your pick for the worst defense in the country. I pick Akron.

Additional Notes & Stock Recommendation

To make matters even worse, Akron's special teams have been a hot mess.

In fact, theZips are the only team in the country that I have rated in the bottom 10 nationally on offense, defense and special teams.

Stock Recommendation: Hold

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