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Here is the 2021 CFB betting guide preview for the MAC.
After 16 seasons with the Bobcats, coach Frank Solich announced his retirement July 14, saying he needed "to focus on a cardiovascular health issue." Under Solich, Ohio won the MAC East Division four times but lost in the conference championship game every time, most recently in 2016. Offensive coordinator Tim Albin was hired to replace Solich. Due to COVID-19, the Bobcats played only three games in 2020 and finished 2-1. Ohio returns 17 starters, including QBs Kurtis Rourke and Armani Rogers, its top two running backs, its seven top receivers and four offensive linemen. Additionally, Ohio added offensive lineman T.J. Jackson, a grad transfer from Virginia Tech. Jackson will likely start at left tackle.
The MAC East is pretty close at the top with Kent State, Buffalo and Miami (Ohio), but the Bobcats’ schedule is the separator. Ohio avoids Western Michigan and defending MAC champ Ball State in crossover games, hosts one of the MAC West favorites, Toledo, and hosts Miami and Kent State. The Bobcats’ three road games in the division are against Buffalo, Akron and Bowling Green. Despite Solich’s retirement, the manageable schedule and the talent returning is a reason 600 might be worth a look for Ohio to win its first conference championship in over five decades. The Bobcats open the season at home against Syracuse. If Ohio, as a 1-point underdog, can beat the Orange, the Bobcats should be able to surpass their win total.
Pick: Over 7
A year after winning the MAC, Miami played only three games in 2020 because of COVID-19. The RedHawks went 2-1, including a season-opening 38-31 win over eventual conference champion Ball State. The return of RBs Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton gives Miami a massive boost. Bester and Shelton combined to rush for 1,328 yards in 2019 but missed last year with injuries. Bester rushed for 14 touchdowns in 2019. Brett Gabbert and AJ Mayer, the two quarterbacks who saw significant action in 2020, are back as well. While Miami is not the favorite to win the MAC East, 3300 (DraftKings) is way too high for a team seeking its second conference title in three years. Miami opens against neighborhood rival and likely preseason Top 10 team Cincinnati. The RedHawks will also be underdogs at Minnesota and Army. Then they face conference road games against Ball State, Ohio and Kent State. While there is some value on Miami to win the conference, there’s only one way to go here.
Pick: Under 5.5
The theme in the MAC this year is returning starters. No team benefits more from one returning player than Kent State. First-team All-MAC QB Dustin Crum is back for another season. Crum is an electric playmaker in coach Sean Lewis’ “Flash Fast” offense. Kent State scored 62 and 69 points in back-to-back games last season. Crum accounted for 16 touchdowns (12 passing and four rushing) in just four games. The Golden Flashes return 10 starters to an offense that averaged 607 yards per game. The lone loss was first-team All-MAC WR Isaiah McKoy. Defense was Kent State’s problem last year. Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson rushed for 409 yards and eight touchdowns against the Golden Flashes. Kent State does return eight starters on defense and added a pair of Power 5 transfers to the secondary. Road games at Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Ohio make the conference schedule challenging, but with the best QB in the conference on its side, a 1200 (South Point) flyer to win the MAC isn’t that bad a bet. The nonconference schedule is rough with trips to Texas A&M, Iowa and Maryland. But the Golden Flashes host VMI, and with Crum under center, the Golden Flashes will be a dangerous team.
Pick: Over 5.5
The Bulls were stunned as double-digit favorites in the MAC championship game last December, falling to Ball State 38-28. Perhaps more stunning was the departure of coach Lance Leipold in late April when he took the job at Kansas. Leipold’s staff all departed as well, triggering a roster exodus. Seven players followed Leipold to Kansas, and starting safety Tyrone Hill transferred to Washington State. Additionally, the Bulls lost All-America RB Jaret Patterson and DE Malcolm Koonce to the NFL. It’s not all doom and gloom for Buffalo. The Bulls hired Maurice Linguist to replace Leipold. He was the defensive backs coach at Buffalo in 2012-13 and spent last year as the defensive backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Earlier this year, he was hired as Michigan’s co-defensive coordinator before getting the Buffalo job. QB Kyle Vantrease and RB Kevin Marks return for the Bulls. Despite Patterson’s All-America season, Marks is not a massive drop-off. Marks rushed for 741 yards last season and 1,035 yards in 2019. Defensively, linebacker James Patterson, the Bulls’ leading tackler, is back. The MAC schedule is not ideal for the Bulls. They end the regular season at Ball State and host one of the MAC West favorites in Western Michigan. Buffalo also visits Kent State and Miami. Due to their performance last season, the Bulls are priced too high in the market. South Point’s 350 price to win the MAC is too short for a team with the rough offseason the Bulls had. The Bulls’ nonconference schedule isn’t that daunting, with trips to Nebraska and Old Dominion. Buffalo will also host Coastal Carolina and Wagner. However, because of all of the upheaval, Buffalo could be in for a bumpy season.
Pick: Under 7.5
After flirting with the possibility of joining Brandon Staley’s Los Angeles Chargers staff, Akron coach Tom Arth decided to stay with the Zips. Staley was Arth’s defensive coordinator when he was the head coach at Division III John Carroll. Akron was the worst team in the country in 2019, Arth’s first season. The Zips got on the board last season with a 31-3 victory over Bowling Green. QB Kato Nelson returns after missing all of last season due to offseason shoulder surgery. Zach Gibson started a pair of games last year, but Nelson will likely have the job. Leading rusher Teon Dollard (666 rushing yards and six touchdowns) was suspended this spring, but if available, the Zips could have an exciting backfield. The Zips return 18 starters and could give some teams in the MAC a tough time as the program continues to improve under Arth. If the Zips can beat FCS Bryant and Bowling Green, they’ll need just one more win to top their total.
Pick: Push 2
In sports, there is always a team that finishes in last place. In the MAC East, that is Bowling Green. Last year the Falcons went 0-5 and were outscored 225-57, including a 28-point loss to Akron. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder retired, and the Falcons promoted cornerbacks coach Eric Lewis. That could help energize a defense that allowed 6.6 yards per play and 45 points per game. The only game in which Bowling Green will likely be a favorite is Sept. 18 against FCS Murray State. The Falcons are 34-point underdogs at Tennessee to open the season. Bowling Green’s best chance for a conference win will come at home against Akron on Oct. 9. It’s hard to imagine Bowling Green winning multiple conference games, but the game against Murray State makes it tricky for the season win total, though the Racers are a solid FCS program. The Falcons do host Akron, but the Zips seem the superior program at this point.
Pick: Under 1.5
In last year’s VSiN College Football Betting Guide, we touted Ball State as the Mid-American Conference champ at 10-1. The Cardinals came through, and they return 18 starters and look like the class of the West Division to earn a trip back to the MAC championship game. Quarterback Drew Plitt (66%, 2,164 yards, 17 TDs) returns along with almost all of his top receiving targets, including undersized but dangerous slot receiver Justin Hall (49 receptions, 665 yards, 4 TDs). The defense wasn’t great last year, as BSU won most of its games in shootouts, but it really stepped up in the MAC title game against Buffalo and in the 34-13 Arizona Bowl rout of San Jose State. If the defense plays like that this season, the Cardinals will easily go Over their win total of 8. But if the defense plays like it did most of the regular season, some of those narrow wins could go against them. Regardless, the Cardinals should go at least 6-3 in MAC play, in part because their toughest games, against Toledo and Buffalo, are at home and they avoid Ohio on their interdivision slate. They should beat Western Illinois in the season opener, and they’ll probably be double-digit underdogs at Penn State, though an upset of the Nittany Lions would catapult Ball State to another epic season. Assuming a loss at Penn State, going Over the total might come down to nonconference games at Wyoming and home against Army, both of which should have low point spreads. If the Cardinals split those, they’ll probably go Over 8 as long as they take care of business in the MAC.
Pick: Over 8
The Rockets’ Over/Under seems set just right at 8, and we wouldn’t be surprised at a push. But when deciding between Over and Under, we have to lean to the Over. Toledo is seemingly always in the MAC West race, boasting 11 straight seasons with a winning record, so nine wins look more likely than seven. QB Eli Peters left the team during spring football because of all the abuse his body has taken, but the Rockets know how to reload and have a capable backup in Carter Bradley. He passed for 432 yards against Central Michigan last year, though he could get challenged by a deep QBs room. The rest of the team is solid, with all five offensive linemen returning and other standouts in RB Bryant Koback, WR Isaiah Winstead and WR Matt Landers, a Georgia transfer. The defense should also rank among the MAC’s best. Toledo should get off to a 2-1 start, with a tough game at Notre Dame sandwiched between winnable home nonconference games against Norfolk State and Colorado State. The key MAC West game comes early — Sept. 25 at Ball State — but then there’s another gimme at Massachusetts before the rest of the MAC schedule, which Toledo should breeze through, except for a tough test Nov. 16 at Ohio. That game looks like it will determine whether Toledo gets its ninth win to go Over the total or has to settle for the push.
Pick: Over 8
Like many conferences, the MAC has several teams that are clear title contenders and several teams that have virtually no shot. However, Central Michigan is one of the few that could go either way. The defense is the main concern after allowing a MAC-worst 297.2 passing yards per game last year. The rushing defense is better, though that’s probably because teams didn’t have to run on the Chippewas, and several key players return. Redshirt freshman QB Daniel Richardson had a decent season before suffering a leg injury, and he now has competition from Washington transfer Jacob Sirmon. If a top QB emerges, CMU has all five starting offensive linemen back and enough returning weapons, led by WR Kalil Pimpleton and RBs Lew Nichols and Kobe Lewis, to be a decent MAC offense. However, even if everything comes together, it will be a tough road to get above .500. The Chippewas have road games at Missouri and LSU, and it doesn’t get much easier with key road conference games at Miami (Ohio), Ohio, Western Michigan and Ball State. In addition, CMU doesn’t get to face East Division bottom-feeders Akron and Bowling Green. This looks like a middle-of-the-road team, so take the Under 6.5.
Pick: Under 6.5
Like most MAC teams, Eastern Michigan should have a decent offense, having averaged 400 yards and 33 points per game last season. But it falls short on defense. The Eagles had only nine sacks in six games last year, as they allowed 36 points per game and never seemed to get a key stop when they needed it. Preston Hutchinson (64%, 1,657 yards, 12 TDs, 8 rushing TDs) is reportedly getting challenged by Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant for the starting QB job, but it won’t matter if the defense doesn’t show vast improvement. Eastern Michigan should get off to a nice start with nonconference games against St. Francis (Pa.), Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Texas State. The Eagles will likely be more than 20-point underdogs at Wisconsin, but the other three games are winnable. They should be able to get at least three conference wins — at Northern Illinois, at Bowling Green and a split against the other Michigan directional schools. That would give them six wins, but it will take a major upset to find that seventh victory to go Over the total of 6.5.
Pick: Under 6.5
The Broncos are coming off a 4-2 record in the abbreviated 2020 season and are 24-20 under coach TIm Lester without a losing season, so they’re usually right around .500. That would make sense if this were just another middling Western Michigan team, but there’s plenty of upside that makes the Over the more likely winner and a push on a 6-6 season as the worst-case scenario. Kaleb Eleby (65%, 18 TDs, only 2 INTs) ranked No. 3 in the nation last year in passing efficiency behind only Mac Jones and Zach Wilson, who both went in the first round of the draft. Two of his favorite targets, Skyy Moore and Jaylen Hall, return, and the Broncos add Chattanooga transfer Bryce Nunnelly to the attack. Western Michigan has a tough nonconference schedule, facing Michigan (assume a loss), Illinois State (win), Pittsburgh (loss) and San Jose State (loss), so they’re likely to start 1-3 unless they can pull an upset. That means they need to go 6-2 in conference play to finish over .500. They don’t have to play Ohio or Miami (Ohio) from the MAC East, plus they get to face Ball State, Kent State and Central Michigan at home. The tough scheduling spots are the Oct. 2 date at Buffalo and the Oct. 23 date at Toledo, and the latter is especially important if the Broncos are in the MAC West race. A sweep of those games would give Western Michigan a shot at the MAC title game, but even if they lose both, we can’t see the Broncos below .500.
Pick: Over 6
It wasn’t that long ago that NIU was averaging more than 10 wins a season, racking up 57 wins from 2010 to 2014. But the Huskies are coming off an abbreviated 0-6 season and are ranked as the bottom team in the MAC West. However, NIU has some upside, and the Over/Under is set really low. The offense returns all five starting linemen and RB Harrison Waylee. The biggest reason for optimism is the arrival of Michigan State transfer QB Rocky Lombardi. There’s decent depth at WR, led by Tyrice Richie (53 receptions, 597 yards, 4 TDs) and transfer TE Miles Joiner. The defense returns seven starters, though last year’s unit allowed 38.7 points per game. The Huskies will undoubtedly take their lumps in the first three games of the season against Georgia Tech, Wyoming and Michigan, though they get Wyoming in DeKalb and could be live home dogs. Even if they don’t pull that upset, they should beat FCS school Maine as well as Bowling Green on Oct. 16. If NIU improves during the season, it could beat one of the Michigan directional schools and then would need to find just one more upset to get over the low total.
Pick: Over 3.5