Ohio Bobcats (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. No. 13 Western Michigan Broncos (12-0 SU, 9-3 ATS)
2016 Marathon Mid-American Conference Championship Game
Date/Time: Friday, December 2, 2016, 7:00 PM EST
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
TV: ESPN2, DirecTV 209
by Badger, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: OHIO +19/WMU -19
Over/Under Total: OFF
The undefeated and 13th-ranked Western Michigan Broncos continue to take out everyone in their path, but they are still one win away from claiming the 2016 Mid-American Conference title and a date in a New Year’s Day bowl game if they can find a way to get past the Ohio Bobcats in the MAC Championship game Friday at Ford Field in Detroit.
The Broncos finished off a perfect regular season last Friday with a resounding, 55-35, victory over Toledo in Kalamazoo. The win not only clinched the Broncos a perfect 12-0 season, their first undefeated campaign since 1941 before they joined the MAC, but it also earned them the MAC’s West division title and a chance to play the MAC Championship. This will be Western Michigan’s first trip to the MAC Championship game since losing to Marshall back in 2000, and with a win it would be the Broncos first MAC title since they won it back in 1988.
Ohio clinched their appearance in the MAC Championship as the East division representative with a rather pedestrian, 9-3, victory over Akron on Tuesday night on ESPN’s last mid-week MACtion telecast of 2016. Ohio had a chance to clinch the East a week before, but a 27-20 loss at Central Michigan on November 15th made the Bobcats and their legendary head coach Frank Solich have to wait a week and sweat it out for an extra week before popping the cork on a victorious season. Not only will Ohio be looking to spoil the perfect season of Western Michigan on Friday, but they will also try and exercise the demons of MAC Championships past, since the Bobcats have been to Ford Field three previous times (in 2006, 2009 and 2011) and have lost all three recent trips to the MAC title game
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If the opening point spread is any indication of what football insiders think of Ohio’s chances, let’s just say it will be considered a miracle long shot for the Bobcats since Western Michigan opened as large as 18-point favorites for the neutral-site title game on Friday. After some early steam from short-memoried “public” bettors drove the point spread up to as high as Western Michigan minus -19.5 at a few sportsbooks, the sharp bettors have come in on the side of the Bobcats since and it has stopped the line movement dead in its tracks at the minus -19 number at most books.
As of press time, an over/under total has yet to be released for this title game so the total is currently off at sportsbooks both offshore and out in Las Vegas.
The main reason why Western Michigan rolled through the MAC this season is because they were virtually unstoppable on offense (No. 1 in scoring offense – 44.8 ppg; No. 2 in total offense – 504.4 ypg). But the facet of the Broncos game that gets overlooked and overshadowed is its defense, a defense that finished tops in the MAC in scoring defense allowing just 19.2 points per game and third-overall in total defense allowing 361 yards a game. Add into the defensive equation the fact that the Broncos led the MAC in turnover margin (+18), had 14 interceptions (including 4 returned for TDs), nine fumble recoveries and 25 sacks and you have an easy recipe for success in any league. Also, I could easily carry on and on about the Broncos offensive dominance, including only five turnovers all year, a 95 percent red zone efficiency (57 of 60 trips into red zone), time of possession (ave. 34 minutes per game), 4th-down conversions (12 of 14 attempts), third-down attempts (56.8%) …. shall I continue? I think you get the idea, the Broncos dominated the MAC this year like no other team in the league.
The only hope for Ohio to stay in this game on Friday is to pin all of their hopes on the strength of their team … its defense. Ohio ended No. 2 in scoring defense behind the Broncos (21.7 ppg) and No. 2 in total defense (359.8 ypg). They do have the best run defense in the MAC, allowing just 105.1 yards a game on the turf, and ran away with the league’s top sack total with 40 in 12 games (nine more than second place Ball State). But the area that has to concern Solich and the Bobcats defensive staff is their pass defense, as their pass defense was 9th allowing 255 yards a game and the Broncos senior-to-senior combo of QB Zach Terrell to WR Corey Davis has been nearly unstoppable all season long (Davis ended with 1,266 yards and 17 TDs; Terrell 3,086 yards passing and 30 TDs to just one INT).
Historically, Western Michigan has won five of the last six meetings with Ohio including three straight and the last meeting last season in Athens, Ohio, by a lopsided 49-14 score. The Broncos have also covered the spread in six of the last seven meetings, including three straight, although the highest number they’ve been favored by was 8.5 (in both 2014 and 2008) and not the daunting number of minus -19 that they currently face in the title game Friday.
Badger's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Western Michigan is having a story book season, for sure. But we’re talking about betting on this game, not a moneyline wager on who will win. So when you look at the fact that the Broncos are just 2-3 ATS when favored by a huge number (failed to cover as 17.5 point favorites against Northern Illinois, as 21-point favorites at Kent State and as 25.5-point faves against Eastern Michigan; but covered as 17.5 vs. Ball State and 34.5 faves vs. Buffalo), you have to pause and not let their gaudy statistical numbers impress you to the point of not eating that much chalk. I say Western Michigan rolls in this game, and they could very well win it easily by 20 points or more. But Ohio is a solid team with a solid defense and has earned the right to play in this title game, so I don’t think they will just roll over and die. I’m taking Ohio plus the huge 19 points on Friday.
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