There are so many great races in many Group of Five conferences and the MAC East is among the ones that should be the most tightly contested.
Last year, West Division champ Toledo beat East champion Ohio 17-7 in the MAC championship game.
Toledo again appears to have the edge in the West, with a 4-0 record, including a 37-35 victory over Northern Illinois, which is second in the West at 3-1. Last week Toledo beat Miami (Ohio) 21-17 and it’s not farfetched to suggest these two could meet again in the MAC title game.
Then again, nothing is close to being assured in the East Division, which is both top and bottom-heavy.
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Maimi, Ohio, and Buffalo are 3-1 in the division, while Bowling Green is 2-2.
Left at the bottom are Akron and Kent State, both 0-4.
For the second straight week, Miami will have a showdown when the Redhawks visit Ohio.
Here are the remaining schedules for the top four teams in the East and their MAC records.
Miami (OH) (3-1)
Oct. 28 at Ohio (3-1)
Nov. 8 Akron (0-4)
Nov. 15 Buffalo (3-1)
Nov. 25 at Ball State (1-3)
Oct. 28 Miami (OH) (3-1)
Nov. 7 at Buffalo (3-1)
Nov. 15 Central Michigan (2-2)
Nov. 24 at Akron (0-4)
Oct. 31 at Toledo (4-0)
Nov. 7 Ohio (3-1)
Nov. 15 at Miami (OH) (3-1)
Nov. 21 Eastern Michigan (2-2)
Bowling Green (2-2)
Nov. 1 Ball State (1-3)
Nov. 8 at Kent State (0-4)
Nov. 14 Toledo (4-0)
Nov. 21 at Western Michigan (1-3)
What’s interesting is that Buffalo, Miami, and Ohio all still have to play one another. Bowling Green, on the other hand, is done playing all three, having lost to Miami and Ohio by a combined 65-7 score, but also having won at Buffalo 24-14.
Here’s a vote for Buffalo having the most difficult remaining schedule, the only school among the East’s top four that plays teams that are all either .500 or better.
This week’s feature game finds Miami (OH) at Ohio. The first question is whether Miami can sustain enough energy to be involved in two showdowns in one week.
Miami showed plenty of fight in last week’s home loss to Toledo. The Redhawks trailed 21-3 at halftime but scored two third-quarter touchdowns to make it 21-17 before neither team scored in the fourth quarter.
Miami forced Toledo to punt seven straight times in the second half.
The biggest blow was losing redshirt junior QB Brett Gabbert to a lower-body injury late in the third quarter.
On Monday, Miami coach Chuck Martin announced that Gabbert is out for the season after having surgery. Martin didn’t get into specifics about the injury, but said he felt Gabbert was a candidate for MAC Player of the Year and he didn’t downplay the difficulty of the situation before mentioning how the team has no other choice but to move on.
Now it is on to the Battle of the Bricks against host Ohio, 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in a game that will be televised by CBS Sports Network.
Redshirt sophomore Aveon Smith replaced Gabbert against Toledo and completed 3 of 7 for 23 yards.
BetMGM lists Ohio as -7 and there is no doubt that Gabbert’s absence contributed to this line being so favorable to Ohio.
Ohio continues to live dangerously, playing one close game after another. The Bobcats’ lone MAC loss was 23-13 at Northern Illinois. Ohio (6-2 overall) suffered its other loss in the opener, 20-13 at San Diego State.
The Bobcats have won three games by a TD or less, including last week’s 20-17 home victory over Western Michigan, making them bowl-eligible for the second straight year.
The Ohio-Miami game has a chance to be a low-scoring affair, unlike last year’s 37-21 win by visiting Ohio.
This year these two lead the MAC in scoring defense. Ohio is allowing 13.9 points per game while Miami is allowing 19.4.
Miami is second in scoring (29.4 PPG), while Ohio is sixth (22.5 PPG).
One of the keys will be the play of Ohio graduate QB Kurtis Rourke, last season’s MAC Offensive Player of the Year.
His season was cut short a year ago by an ACL tear, and he has come back, but not to the level of last year when he threw 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions. This year he has nine scoring passes and five interceptions, including three in the loss at Northern Illinois.
With Gabbert out, Rourke gives Ohio a big edge at the most important position. Whether Miami can rally around its new quarterback remains to be seen, but what is known is that the winner of this game will clearly be in the driver’s seat in the tight MAC East.