Ohio Bobcats (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS), Week 14 NCAA Football, 7:00 p.m. EST, 2011 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship, Friday, December 2, 2011, Ford Field, Detroit, Mich., TV: ESPN2
by Badger, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: OU +4/NIU -4
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Its championship week in the FBS of college football, and although its slightly overshadowed by a bigger automatic-qualifying conference game just a few channels over, the Mid-American Conference should have a very good MAC Championship game at Ford Field when the East Division-winner Ohio Bobcats meet the West Division-winner Northern Illinois Huskies Friday night on ESPN2.
Anyone who has followed the MAC this season, and how can you not since the conference brass made the brilliant move to play Tuesday and Wednesday games for ESPN to broadcast worldwide, you can truly say that the two most complete teams in the MAC will be meeting in the title game.
After starting out in 1-2 in MAC conference games Ohio went on a five-game win streak from late October on to essentially take the East Division title race when every one else faded down the stretch. Last week in a meaningless game the Bobcats took a half to go through the motions, then scored 21 straight points to take the game over after halftime in a 21-14 win over rival Miami (Ohio).
Just like Ohio, the Huskies started out the MAC season on a down note with a shocking 48-41 loss at Central Michigan, but then Northern Illinois ran the table the rest of the way with seven wins to notch the West Division title. For Northern Illinois it was a, 63-60, victory over Toledo back on November 1st that won the division title for them, giving them the tiebreaker advantage over the Rockets.
Since that big win over Toledo the Huskies have sort of kicked it into cruise control, struggling a little with Ball State (41-38 win in week 12) and Eastern Michigan (18-12 win in week 13) down the stretch in the final two weeks of play instead of burying these teams early and clinching the West title going away.
Ohio may be riding a hot streak into the MAC title game at Ford Field, but the Huskies seem to find a way to flip the switch when they need too with a senior-led team that appears to be checking off their preseason goals and objectives list each week as they go along.
With two evenly matched teams going at it on Friday, it appears the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have been forced to focus on the more offensive of the two by installing Northern Illinois as the early 4-point favorite. The number held at minus -4 for the first 24 to 48 hours after it was posted, but as the week goes on it has dropped to minus -3.5 points at just about every book in Vegas and all of the offshore sportsbooks on the Internet.
The offensive nature of both of these teams is why the over/under total opened at 70 once it was released.
When handicapping the offenses in this game its hard to look past the role of quarterback, and both teams have a dandy one with Northern Illinois Chandler Harnish and Ohios Tyler Tettleton set to duel in the title game.
Harnish, the senior from Bluffton, Indiana, is literally the Huskies offense, and when you consider that Northern Illinois is ranked 9th in the NCAA in overall offense (488 ypg), 8th in rushing offense (255 ypg_ and 11th in scoring (39.6 ppg), thats saying quite a lot. Harnish is a master at the read-option offense the Huskies run, running for over 1,300 yards on the ground (7.9 yards per carry) and pulling it out to throw for over 2,600 when he decides to pass it. Overall his 34 total touchdowns (11 rushing) is marked with just four interceptions, so his solid decision-making skills have been crucial to the Huskies success this season.
Tettleton, the redshirt sophomore and son of former MLB catcher Mickey Tettleton, has made steady progress all season long and has literally played himself into the figurehead role of the Bobcats offense. Ohio has a little more balance around it with Donte Harden at running back and LaVon Brazill at receiver, but the Bobcats made their push in the MAC down the stretch due to the maturity of Tettleton at QB and getting more and more comfortable with making the read-option play and pulling it out and running it for big gains (Ohio - 211 ypg rushing 20th).
What could be the biggest difference in this game, and quite possibly the biggest deciding factor on the outcome is defense.
Neither team plays what most football fans would consider quality defense, it is the MAC after all. But statistically speaking at least the Bobcats defensive unit comes into the game with a defensive ranking in the top-40 (overall 36th 350 ypg; scoring 33rd 22 ppg).
Northern Illinois has one of the most prolific offenses in the country and it appears that the offense gets most of the athletes, because their defense is a nightmare (91st 421 ypg) that gives up huge yards on the ground (182 ypg 84th) and a ridiculous 32 points per game (94th). It was a recipe that nearly hurt them in the games where the opponent could keep up with their pace on offense (Toledo, Ball St., C.Mich), and with Tettleton and Ohio playing as well as they are it could end up costing them the MAC title.
Ohio and Northern Illinois havent met on the field since the 2009 season, and even though they are both in the MAC theyve only faced each other three times in the last decade. Thats a good thing for Northern Illinois and their fans, as Ohio won the game in 2009 at home in Athens, 38-31, and has won five of the last six head-to-head meetings since 1986.
Ohio is also a perfect 3-0 ATS in the three games in the last decade, covering the point spread as huge underdogs in 2003 (+21.5 points) and 2006 (+19 points) before getting a token -1.5 points spread in the 09 victory. Ohio is also 7-1 ATS in their last eight Friday games, and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 as an underdog, so the betting trends are favoring the Bobcats in this spot.
NIU is 11-5-1 ATS in their last 17 MAC games, but they are 1-7 ATS in their last eight neutral site games, so take that first number for what its worth.
The under wager also has a few nice trends, going 4-1 in Ohios last five neutral site games, 6-1 in Northern Illinois last seven neutral site games, and 5-2 in the Huskies last seven Friday night games.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: If offense was all it took to win games then I would have jumped in bed quickly with the Huskies in this game, because they will score points and could easily run away with this game quickly. But Ohio should be able to score with them, it what could turn into one of those 100-point, 1,000-yard MAC shootouts for the title. Im taking Ohio plus the points in a game I think will go over too.
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