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Mid-American Conference play begins in earnest this weekend — Ball State and Eastern Michigan have played one conference game — after an impressive nonconference slate that included four victories over Power Five teams.

Bowling Green beat its second Big Ten team this season (Maryland was the first) with a 35-28 road victory over Purdue behind quarterback Matt Johnson, who had 402 yards passing and one touchdown.

Johnson leads the country in passing (1,760 yards) and has 13 touchdowns. Against Maryland and Purdue, he was 79-for-114 for 893 yards and seven touchdowns.

The other five teams in action last weekend against Power Five opponents lost — Western Michigan, 38-12 at No. 1 Ohio State; Central Michigan, 30-10 at No. 2 Michigan State; Ball State, 24-19 at No. 16 Northwestern; Northern Illinois, 17-14 at Boston College; and Ohio, 27-24 at Minnesota.

CMU starts with challenge

It’s hard to believe Central Michigan was picked to finish fifth in the West after playing well in losses to Oklahoma State (24-13), Syracuse (30-27, OT) and Michigan State.

“I think it’s always great to be able to measure yourself against the very best,” coach John Bonamego said. “Certainly when you’re playing the best and you feel like you’re hanging in there with the big boys there’s a lot of confidence that comes along with that.

“But, we’ve got some work to do. We’re making too many mistakes right now and we have to clean those up.”

But, does Central Michigan have a shot to topple five-time defending West champion Northern Illinois on Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium?

With quarterback Cooper Rush (1,268 yards, six touchdowns), there’s a chance.  In last season’s 34-17 victory at Northern Illinois, Rush finished 20-for-31 for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

“Out of all the quarterbacks we’ve played the last few years he probably has the best ability to get rid of the ball in the pocket under duress,” Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said. “He’s got complete command of that offense and he is running it very efficiently.”

Northern Illinois’ offense has struggled the last two weeks in losses to Ohio State (190 yards) and Boston College (153 yards).

Another battle for EMU

Eastern Michigan has the worst defense in the FBS against the run, allowing an average of 373 yards.

Army ran through the Eastern Michigan defense last weekend for 556 yards, scoring on runs of 63, 56 and 27 yards.

Next up is a trip to No. 9 LSU on Saturday — and Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette. Fournette (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) has 631 yards and eight touchdowns.

“I think regardless of who we’re playing this week we just need to continue to focus on ourselves and get better because we’re pretty good when we’re clicking on all cylinders,”  Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said.

WMU earns a break

After playing Michigan State and Ohio State in nonconference, Western Michigan gets a break before opening conference at home versus Central Michigan on Oct. 10.

Western Michigan showed balance against Ohio State with 169 yards passing and 169 rushing.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

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