It’s been a completely different season for the two teams in the MAC championship Game. While Northern Illinois has escaped most Games, Buffalo has ran away from the Conference and that’s the main reason it’s favored. The Bulls opened at -4 with an over/under of 49.5 (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) for the Game at Ford Field in Detroit.
Northern Illinois won just one Game by more than 10 points this year and it conveniently came against a solid Toledo squad. Of course, the Huskies have also lost their last two against Miami Ohio and Western Michigan. It’s been a little different for Buffalo, who had an easier non-Conference Schedule, but also won five of its MAC Games by double digits. OUtside of the weird 52-17 loss at Ohio, they ran through every team in the conference.
While Buffalo has the more electric offense, the results weren’t much different for these teams in Conference play, at least in terms of winning and losing. NIU beat Ohio 24-21, the lone MAC team that beat Buffalo, while Buffalo beat Miami Ohio 51-42, a team that NIU only scored seven points against.
The Buffalo offense is the main talking point having scored 35 points per Game, including at least 44 in three of the final Four Games. Quarterback Tyree Jackson isn’t efficient completing 55.5% of his passes, but he doubled his touchdown total to 25 with the help of top receivers Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn. The running attack is still the biggest threat for this group with Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks combining for more than 1,600 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
Making this matchup more interesting is that’s the area NIU’s defense excels in, allowing just 107 rushing yards, 2.6 yards per carry and 20.9 points per Game. If the Huskies can limit that offense, there’s no reason an upset isn’t possible. Of course, Buffalo has only been stopped once this year and that was in the fluky Ohio loss.
The offensive side is where the Huskies can win the Game, but they’re a harder group to bet on. Quarterback Marcus Childers has done nothing exciting, completing 57 percent of his passes for 5.06 yards per attempt, 11 touchdowns and nine picks. His mobility could at least be a bonus in this Game combined with top running back Tre Harbison, who is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and is 50 yards from 1,000 for the season. The reason NIU can stay competitive in this Game is because Buffalo’s run defense is its weakness, allowing 170 yards per Game on 4.2 yards per carry.
If NIU can move the ball on the ground, that would keep Jackson and Buffalo’s offense off the field. That’s definitely possible, but you’d also be betting on an NIU offense that’s scoring 15 points less per Game than Buffalo’s. When these teams met in 2017, it was a defensive contest that NIU won 14-13, though Buffalo covered as a 7.5-point underdog.
The Huskies are 4-16-1 ATS in their last 21 neutral-site Games, while the Bulls are 8-1 ATS in their last nine Conference Games and 5-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in the last five meetings between these schools.
Our Pick – No Ill +3.5