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The Drive to Detroit: West is NIU's to lose, Ohio's not totally out of East race yet
The odds of Ohio winning the MAC East aren't excellent, but there's still a chance that it could happen! Plus, NIU's in the driver's seat for the MAC West race.
Northern Illinois running back Clint Ratkovich carries the ball against Eastern Michigan’s defense in a conference-opening game in October 2021. Image via Eastern Michigan Athletics.
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! The Drive to Detroit is a series where I look around the Mid-American Conference’s football landscape and see what it’ll take for these teams to make it to the championship stage. Right now, Northern Illinois is in the driver’s seat to win the MAC’s West division, and the East’s two leaders, Kent State and Miami OH, play each other at the end of the year to settle that race.
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MAC Standings, through Week 11
MAC West Race
There are a few different ways and fun-looking tiebreakers that I could show you how the MAC West division could look when we reach the finish line, but know that there are only three teams still in it — Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, and Western Michigan — but it’s really just NIU’s race to lose at this point.
The other two, WMU and CMU, still have a shot, but each only have one specific shot at winning the West to go to Detroit.
Broncos’ only shot: WMU win out, NIU lose out, Ball State beats CMU, Toledo loses at least one of next two games — WMU wins West
I was stupid and wrong last week when I said WMU didn’t have a chance in the West race. Let me clear that up by saying WMU still has a (1) chance in the West still.
Not only does WMU have to win out, but it’ll have to get some help out of the East with Buffalo needing to beat NIU and Toledo to lose at least once in its upcoming crossover games against Ohio and Akron.
Chippewas’ only hope: CMU win out, NIU lose out — CMU wins West.
CMU cannot survive a tie breaking scenario with NIU because of a loss suffered earlier in the year. Entering this week 4-2 in MAC play, CMU must finish the year 6-2, NIU (5-1) must finish 5-3, and the rest of the West’s games are irrelevant since nobody else will be able to keep up this late in the year.
If CMU’s going to Detroit at all, it’s because 1. CMU won its last two games at Ball State and vs. Eastern Michigan, and 2. NIU lost its final two games. Do all that, and the Chippewas would head to the MAC Championship for the second time in three years.
Every other scenario you could draw up — NIU wins West.
It’s NIU’s race to lose because of its current lead and current wins over divisional opponents: EMU, Toledo, CMU, and Ball State. NIU could very likely survive the Western loss. The only way NIU wouldn’t win the division after a loss to the Broncos is if… a bunch of stuff we already talked about happened too. There are tie-breaking scenarios where three or five teams finish with West race with 5-3 records in MAC play (go ahead and try it yourself) but none of them, other than the aforementioned WMU-winning scenario, will give you a West champion other than NIU.
MAC East Race
Kent State win out — Kent State wins East.
Kent State’s next two game are at Akron and at home against Miami. Beating both teams is definitely do-able, and is probably the safest bet to make right now. That said, this is the MAC, and “safe bet” is an oxymoron around this league.
Miami outright — Miami wins East.
Up next, the RedHawks have Bowling Green at home and Kent State on the road. Beating Kent State’s going to be tough, but I’ve been proven wrong on a lot of things in this league before, so let’s just add more to the pile. If the RedHawks win out, they’ll get to go to Ford Field — a surprise finish at that.
Ok, now let’s get messy with the standings.
3 East 5-3’s Finish 1: Kent State beats Akron, Miami loses to BGSU, Miami beats Kent State, Ohio wins out (bonus: Akron beats Toledo) — Kent State wins East IF BGSU finishes 4th.
The 5-3 teams would not be able to settle things with a simple head-to-head tiebreaker; Kent State holds a win over Ohio, Ohio holds a win over Miami, and Miami, in this scenario, would beat Kent State. The next step is to play survivor: which of these teams lost to the fourth-placed MAC East team?
Bowling Green, here, would have a win at Miami and a loss to Ohio, and Buffalo must lose its two crossover games to NIU and at Ball State. Those two teams would then finish the year 2-6, and Bowling Green’s 56-44 upset at Buffalo would separate the two, and make the Falcons a fourth-place team in the East. Of the 5-3 teams, Miami would get the short-end of the stick for losing in Week 12, and Kent State would beat Ohio in the head-to-head separator.
Bonus: If we include Akron ending the year with a win over Toledo, this is the best-possible ending to the MAC East’s season if the goal is to have the standings be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. There would be three East teams to finish the MAC season 5-3, and three East teams to finish the year 2-6.
To organize that, Buffalo and BGSU are each 1-2 vs. teams in the top-half of the division while Akron is 0-3, so since Akron’s late surprise would only come against a team from the West division, we’d still read the East’s standings as: 4. BGSU, 5. Buffalo, 6 Akron. Which means the top-half would still read 1. Kent State, 2. Ohio, 3. Miami.
3 East 5-3’s, Finish 2: Kent State beats Akron, Miami loses to BGSU, Miami beats Kent State, Ohio wins out— Miami wins East IF Buffalo finishes 4th.
Instead of three bottom-half teams going 2-6, the only thing we’re going to change here is that Buffalo will win one or two of its upcoming crossover games (vs. NIU, at Ball State) to finish either 3-5 or 4-4. Either way, a fourth-place finish by the Bulls ends up being bad news for the Flashes in this round of survivor.
Of the three 5-3 teams, Ohio gets bumped for a previous loss to the Bulls. The Miami RedHawks, with a win over Kent State in Week 13, would go on to Detroit for its second time in three years.
Kent State beats Miami — Kent State wins East.
While I don’t expect Kent State to lose to Akron, the Zips did just put up 40 points on Western Michigan last week, so I won’t totally rule it out.
Still, all of the other 5-3 stories you just read included Kent State losing to Miami. If Kent State loses the Wagon Wheel rivalry game to Akron, but regroups and picks up the win the following week, the Flashes will still be able to go to Detroit.
Ohio could win its final games to make it a three-way tie at 5-3, but Kent State already holds a head-to-head tiebreaker of that team, and would have have a win over division-tying Miami too.
Fast Crash: Kent State lose out, Ohio win out, Miami lose to BGSU — Ohio wins East.
Again I’m not forecasting here, just trying to be an ambassador for chaos.
Ohio and Miami would finish the MAC season tied at 5-3, with Kent State third at 4-4, Akron, BGSU and Buffalo in whatever order, just as long as Kent State finishes 4-4.
Since Ohio was able to capture the 35-35 rivalry win over Miami a couple of weeks ago, Ohio would win the head-to-head tiebreaker over the RedHawks and make it to Detroit.
After starting the year with a 1-7 overall record, taking the Bobcats to Ford Field — in his first year after suddenly taking over for Frank Solich a month before the season — would be an absolutely insane start to Tim Albin’s head coaching life for Ohio, and an undeniably unpredictable finish to the year.
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