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MAC QB1 Power Rankings: Toledo's Finn understood the assignment
Just in time for Akron to come to town, Jeff Undercuffler moves ahead of Austin Smith on the list.
#1 Dequan Finn - Toledo
Dequan Finn stats (season): 154/234 passing (65.8%), 2,008 yards (8.6 Y/A), 18 TD, 7 INT; 93 rush att., 499 yards (5.37 avg.), 5 rush TD
If there was any doubt, Dequan Finn stays up top.
He and Toledo were on a mission. Beat Eastern Michigan to be a lock for the MAC championship game, but Toledo’s looking for more. The Rockets are 8-1 and only a two-point loss to Illinois in the beginning of the year. For that, this team has been unranked in the first two iterations of the CFP top 25. Tulane is the lone Group of 5 team in the most recent rankings at #23; Tulane’s only loss this year was to Ole Miss.
Whatever stage is ahead for Finn, I hope he lights it up because he’s a real joy to watch when he plays his A-game. As an EMU fan, I’ve seen it at least twice. In 2021, Finn put up 461 passing yards in 2021 which was overshadowed by EMU’s winning score. Last week, 407 passing yards against the Eagles.
Finn’s the MAC’s leading passer in a lot of ways: by TD thrown (18), total yards (2,008), yards per attempt (8.6), QBR (157.29), TD% on throws (7.69%), and has Pro Football Focus’ highest overall offensive grade of any MAC QBs with a score of 80.1. Sacked just 5 times this year, he has the conference’s lowest sack percentage, too (1.8%).
Maybe last week showed just how far EMU has fallen since last season. Sure, there's some of that. But Finn is just a straight-up baller. Toledo has always had QBs, especially ones that can sling it. Finn can hang with the best of ‘em, and can even they couldn't all run like Finn does.
#2 Hayden Wolff - Western Michigan
Hayden Wolff stats (season): 113/168 passing (67.3%), 1,200 yards (7.1 Y/A), 8 TD, 3 INT; 28 rush att., 33 yards (1.18 avg.), 2 rush TD
I’ve seen enough. Hayden Wolff, welcome to the top 3 to this list.
Nay, top 2.
WMU took an early 14-0 lead in the Battle for the Cannon, then it turned into a 28-21 deficit in the third quarter. Wolff’s throwing (25/36, 333 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) and Jalen Buckley’s rushing (23 carries, 117 yards, 2 TD) came through strong for the Broncos in the fourth-quarter comeback to score 17 unanswered points.
Woff has been a 65% or better passer in three of his four MAC games played this year, and has a 4-1 TD-INT ratio over the EMU and CMU games. WMU’s seen its hardest foes already and Wolff is primed to finish this season out with, maybe, a bowl game if it can win complete the four-game win streak that this team needs.
#3 Kurtis Rourke - Ohio
Kurtis Rourke stats (season): 161/254 passing (63.4%), 1,777 yards (7 Y/A), 10 TD, 5 INT; 53 rush att., 196 yards (3.7 avg.), 2 rush TD
I think it’s just too obvious that Kurtis Rourke’s been playing hurt all year, and it’s over-obvious that he’s not going to get any closer to full-strength between now and the end of the year. After he had a TD-INT ratio of 6-0 through the Bowling Green and Kent State games, he’s been at 2 TD and 3 INT over the last four games, including the Buffalo game where he was 14/21 for 121 passing; no scores, no interceptions.
But for as banged up as Rourke has been, he deserves a ton of credit for how he’s been able to keep his head above water on the passing percentage log. There isn’t a MAC game this year where he was under 60% passing. What other MAC QB can you say that about?
#4 Rocky Lombardi - Northern Illinois
Rocky Lombardi stats (season): 153/263 passing (58.2%), 1,799 yards (6.8 Y/A), 9 TD, 5 INT; 53 rush att., 57 yards (1.08 avg.), 4 rush TD
Rocky Lombardi’s scored a touchdown in every MAC game this season. No passing touchdowns in each of the EMU or Ball State games, but Lombardi had rushing TDs in each of those. There are only two full-time MAC QBs that’ve been able to be responsible for at least a touchdown in every conference game this year: Lombardi (11 total) and CMU’s Jase Bauer (12).
The Ball State game shouldn’t have come to the finish that it had. NIU took a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter and forced Ball State to punt away with nine minutes remaining. But Lombardi fumbled the ball for the second time when he went to pull the ball away on a fake handoff. Then came fumble #3. After Ball State tied things up, Lombardi tried to fake a Ball State blitzer out of his shoes with a pump fake, and the defender forced a fumble (borderline incomplete pass) for Ball State to recover again in NIU territory, then kick a game-winning field goal.
The field of QBs is very thin, especially since Brett Gabbert and D.J. Irons have exited the seasons with injuries, but Lombardi at #4 feels *a little* generous to me, the guy who made this list.
#5 Jase Bauer - Central Michigan
Jase Bauer stats (season): 138/240 passing (57.5%), 1,542 yards (6.4 Y/A), 9 TD, 7 INT; 100 rush att., 368 yards (3.68 avg.), 9 rush TD
I think Jase Bauer played his ass off against WMU. Nothing came easy for him in that game, and going 14/27 for 205 with 3 scores through the air is certainly a better mark than I expected him to walk away with. All three passing TD came in the third quarter to flip the scoreboard from being down by 7 to being up by 14. WMU tied things up at 28-28, then a Marion Lukes fumble turned into quick points for WMU, and Bauer was wiped off the field on the next two drives with a three-and-out and an interception.
Bauer, far from perfect, has done solid work as a big physical QB who can move with the ball in his hands as he’s third amongst ‘em in rushing yards (368) and leads in rush TDs (9).
#6 Jeff Undercuffler - Akron
Jeff Undercuffler stats (season): 103/171 passing (60.2%), 1,052 yards (6.2 Y/A), 4 TD, 8 INT; 19 rush att., -163 yards (-8.6 avg.), 1 rush TD
This, admittedly, is the point in the list where we’re splitting hairs over how ugly each others’ seasons may or may not have gone. You could reorder the rest of these rankings in a lot of different ways and I probably wouldn’t argue with your arrangement.
Lots of guys — everybody, really — is playing through pain at this point. But let me highlight the hit Jeff Undercuffler took against Miami.
Late first quarter, Undercuffler tries to get the ball out with a Miami defender maybe two feet away from his grill. The QB was hit as he threw the ball, and Miami DT Nasir Washington’s facemask dug into Undercuffler’s forearm on the release, and Undercuffler needed medical attention right away.
A brutal hit in the moment, but after a little bit of TLC, chicken noodle soup, and a good old-fashioned adrenaline rush, the man was back on the field to start the second half looking good as new.
Undercuffler was 4/10 passing before the hit, then 16/26 after. He was able to drive the Zips offense all the way to Miami’s 5 in the fourth quarter, but that’s when he ended up tossing his second interception of the game, failing to get Akron into the end zone — the second shutout of the Joe Moorhead era. Last year, the Zips were skunked out at Michigan State 52-0.
Nobody should be surprised that Akron’s QB2 isn’t having the time of his life out there.
#7 Tommy Ulatowski - Kent State
Tommy Ulatowski stats (season): 57/111 passing (51.4%), 721 yards (6.5 Y/A), 7 TD, 2 INT; 43 rush att., 100 yards (2.33 avg.), 1 rush TD
It seems like Tommy Ulatowski’s starting to play with more confidence out there, and was asked to throw the ball 40 times against Bowling Green’s defense, a unit that leads the MAC with 13 total interceptions. BG picked Ulatowski off once, but it was on a Hail Mary attempt that effectively ended the first half, so it wasn’t a damaging turnover. Still, that game led to his worst rushing performance (-23 yards) when he’s usually good for 20+ yards a game. Still, even though it’s against modest MAC competition (EMU, Buffalo, Akron, BGSU), Ulatowski’s setting himself up nicely to be an important part of Kent’s offense moving forward.
#8 Austin Smith - Eastern Michigan
Austin Smith stats (season): 132/239 passing (55.2%), 1,420 yards (5.9 Y/A), 7 TD, 7 INT; 88 rush att., 121 yards (1.38 avg.), 1 rush TD
Austin Smith hasn’t been totally healthy since the NIU game, but at no point in the season has he been enough of a spark plug for this offense to move the way it wants to. Smith has the third-lowest QBR of starting MAC QBs (108.94) and has failed to help EMU get a road win this year. The Toledo game was stinky
#9 Kiael Kelly - Ball State
Kiael Kelly (season): 48/91 passing (52.7%), 415 yards (4.6 Y/A), 1 TD, 1 INT; 99 rush att., 500 yards (5.05 avg.), 5 rush TD
Beat NIU? Get a raise (in the rankings).
Also, more impressively and very quietly (probably because nobody’s checking in on Ball State football, which I understand), Kiael Kelly has high-paced his way into being the MAC QB leader in rushing yards this season. And Kelly’s only recently started playing more for this Cardinals offense.
Also, kudos to him for finally getting his first-career passing score against the Huskies, which came after the first fourth-quarter fumble by NIU.
#10 Cole Snyder - Buffalo
Cole Snyder stats (season): 186/332 passing (56%), 1,854 yards (5.6 Y/A), 13 TD, 9 INT; 61 rush att., 77 yards (1.26 avg.), 1 rush TD
Buffalo’s starting to use more of the two-QB system with Cole Snyder and backup C.J. Ogbonna simply because it’s too difficult to play a full 60-minute game with just one of them. Yes, Snyder is second in the MAC in passing TD at 13. Yes, he’s only thrown three since MAC play began. Ogbonna’s mostly used to run the ball this year (29 carries, 17 pass attempts), but neither of these guys are the solution to making this team have success this year. Buffalo doesn’t dial-up homerun plays, and this team tends to spend more time getting lined up than it does getting downfield.
#11 Connor Bazelak - Bowling Green
Connor Bazelak stats (season): 107/181 passing (59.1%), 1,206 yards (6.7 Y/A), 8 TD, 7 INT; 28 rush att., -61 yards (-2.18 avg.), 1 rush TD
Camden Orth stats (season): 35/55 passing (63.6%), 452 yards (8.2 Y/A), 4 TD, 4 INT; 51 rush att., 161 yards (3.16 avg.), 4 rush TD
Connor Bazelak and Camden Orth combined for 4 total TD against Kent State, and BG is now going bowling with a 6-4 record. This is a team that doens’t exactly have the best quarterbacking, but at least it has laid 40+ points over Akron and Kent State.
Bazelak’s best feature is that he gets to have Orth to lean on as a crutch every once in a while. Most QB2s that come into the game aren’t nearly as squirrely, and that’s certainly a benefit for Bazelak to play his own [limited] style of ball. It’s working for the team of course, but individually, I don’t think Bazelak’s been nearly as impressive as some others.
#12 Aveon Smith - Miami OH
Aveon Smith stats (season): 19/40 passing (47.5%), 213 yards (5.3 Y/A), 1 TD, 0 INT; 34 rush att., 113 yards (3.32 avg.), 1 rush TD
All things being equal, if I had to draft a QB to my MAC-level team, I’d have to go with Brett Gabbert’s backup last.
The issue with Aveon Smith is that he’s simply not a good passer. Good runner with the ball in his hands, but his passing skills anchor an offense that’s certainly capable of more than 19 points at home to Akron, especially when it was able to put up 30 in Ohio’s house. Smith was 3/7 passing in relief against Toledo, 7/11 against Ohio, and 8/17 to Akron. Given the weapons Miami was able to add through the transfer portal on the outside, Miami really needs to figure out more ways Smith can use his receivers as a MAC title game seems to be more imminent.