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For EMU, There's Zero Margin For Error in MAC West Play
Eastern Michigan must pull off three more wins in a row to be in the driver's seat for a MAC Championship game berth.
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Over the last three weeks, Eastern Michigan has suffered a big MAC-opening loss to Buffalo (50-31), needed a second-half comeback to scoot by UMass to finish non-conference action (20-13), then rebounded with a big win at Western Michigan (45-23) Saturday, and finds itself 1-1 in MAC play (4-2 record overall). Before the season began, EMU was picked to finish fifth in the MAC West, but today it’s projected to have the second-best finish in the division instead.
According to SP+, EMU’s got the third-best odds of winning a MAC title (7%) behind Toledo (57%) and Buffalo (16%), and ahead of MAC East heavy-favorite Miami (6%).
Sitting down in the summer to think about what the next season will look like, for the voters, takes a bit of investigating. Every time they do the research, they keep coming back to the same conclusion: Toledo’s too good to be bad, right? While the Rockets know how to stack a roster and design explosive offenses, they know how to let games and seasons completely slip away from them too. After Toledo won its 2017 championship, the team hasn’t quite lived up to the media’s expectations with let-down games in every season since.
But in 2022, the Rockets have looked head-and-shoulders better than everybody else in this conference and is well-positioned to win the league this year. Who knows, maybe Toledo will actually win the MAC outright?
If truly Toledo’s the boss level of MAC West, here’s the grind EMU has to go through before Toledo comes to town. EMU began divisional play at Kalamazoo (won 45-23 in case you forgot, really big win), will be home to Northern Illinois Saturday, play at Ball State, then Toledo comes to Ypsilanti two days before Halloween.
After the Toledo game, EMU has a pair of midweek MACtion road trips to Northeast Ohio (at Akron, at Kent State), then will finish the year with a home game against Central Michigan.
What are the toughest games left on EMU’s schedule? It’s the Ball State and Toledo games, right?
Ball State’s capable of getting beat on offense, but who’s to say this team can’t find an answer or two for its efficiency issues in a couple of weeks? Toledo is the MAC’s top-scoring offense (36.2 points per game) and second-best scoring defense (25.5 points per game allowed), so they’re clearly really good right now.
This week, Ball State finishes its non-conference schedule with UConn, and Toledo has two MAC East games until it comes to Ypsilanti. Good for them.
Conveniently enough, who’s coming to town to remind EMU that it can’t take any weeks off?
Sure, NIU just lost a blunder to Toledo, but EMU can’t treat the defending MAC Champions with any disrespect this weekend. NIU’s a tough team. It doesn’t matter what year it is or what the team’s record reads (right now it’s at 1-5 for the year), NIU’s just tough as nails.
All-time, EMU is 16-34-2 against NIU. EMU head coach Chris Creighton helped EMU finally beat NIU in 2019 and 2020, but EMU had lost 11 in a row until then. Last year, NIU beat EMU 27-20 in DeKalb.
In EMU’s team press conference today, Creighton noted that his side “would be fools” to look past this year’s Huskies group.
“They're up on Vanderbilt. They're within striking distance at the end of the game (at) top-10 Kentucky, they're up big over Ball State… with 5 minutes left, and Ball State just did a phenomenal job of coming back in that game, taking it to overtime. They out-gained Toledo on offense,” Creighton said. “They're a really good team and they just haven't scored more points than the other team against some really good programs.”
Home to NIU, at Ball State, then home again to Toledo.
In the most cliche way possible, this right here is the most important three-game stretch of EMU’s schedule. After it lost to Buffalo, the margin for error against the MAC West is at absolute zero. This conference has proven that if a team is going to steal a division from a preseason favorite, it has to do so by both pulling off the head-to-head win and being clean through divisional play.
If EMU’s finally going to make it to the MAC Championship game this year, it simply has to beat Toledo. But a Toledo win is worthless if it doesn’t get its first conference home win of the year.
“We have not arrived, we have not figured it out, we haven't done any of that yet,” Creighton said. “Last week we played well. We played well earlier in the year and not been able to stack that or maintain that… That doesn't mean that we're like that now. We have to go try to do all of those things again and track record (vs. NIU is) not very good.”