|Northern Illinois Odds||+13.5 [BET NOW]|
|Ball State Odds||-13.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||+380/-560 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||62 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET|
Northern Illinois heads east to take on division rival Ball State on Wednesday night in the MAC. The Huskies have been torched in their first two games, giving up 40 or more points to Buffalo and Central Michigan. Ball State started off its season losing to Miami (OH) in the worst possible way.
Ball State has aspirations of winning the West division and has a huge game with Western Michigan looming next week. In a six-game season, the Cardinals cannot afford to drop this game at home as two-touchdown favorites.
This is not the Northern Illinois of years past. With a lot of transition on offense, the Huskies will need to figure something out quickly or they could be headed toward a winless season.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Northern Illinois brought in South Dakota State offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness to try to create more of a wide-open attack. So far, things have not gone as planned as the Huskies are gaining a measly 4.3 yards per play.
The problem is their passing game, which was the concern coming into the season. Cal transfer Ryan Bowers’ struggles from last year have carried over into 2020, as he is only averaging 5.7 yards per attempt through his first two starts.
The bread and butter of the Huskies’ offense over the last year has been its running game. However, this season, the rushing attack has been nonexistent, gaining only 2.9 yards per attempt. There is talent on the offensive line, so the rushing attack should improve going forward, especially since they played two of the best defenses in the MAC in their first two games.
Although it’s been torched by Buffalo and Central Michigan, the Huskies’ defense is the strength of the team. Last year, Northern Illinois was top-50 in both rushing and passing success allowed and are set up to repeat those numbers this year. The linebacking corps and secondary return a lot of starters from last season and should improve from their first two games of giving up 6.8 yards per play.
Ball State has been running the ball with a ton of success through its first two games, so the Huskies’ defense will need to show up against the run if it wants to stay in this game.
Ball State Cardinals
The MAC’s No. 1 offense from 2019 has continued its success in 2020. The Cardinals’ offense is led by their rushing attack and Caleb Huntley, who is averaging a ridiculous 6.1 yards per attempt. That has led the Cardinals to the second-ranked offense in terms of Rushing Success.
However, the passing game has held them back, as Drew Plitt and the Cardinals’ offense is 76th in Passing Success Rate and 125th in passing explosiveness, according to College Football Data.
Ball State benefited in its first two games from fantastic field position; its average drive is starting around the middle of the field this season, which is the best in the country. However, that is unlikely to be sustainable, so it’ll be interesting to see how its offense holds up when it doesn’t have incredible field position to start drives.
Ball State’s defensive line was a big issue last season, and those issues have carried over into 2020. In 2019, the Cardinals were 92nd in Defensive Line Yards, 98th in Defensive Rushing Success and 91st in Power Success Allowed.
So far this season, Ball State ranks 116th in Defensive Rushing Success and allowed 4.3 yards per attempt to Miami (OH) and Eastern Michigan.
The strength of Ball State’s defense is in its linebackers, as it returns three of its four starters from last season. However, in the secondary, the Cardinals lost their leading tackler from last season in safety Ray Wilborn. So far, they’ve struggled without him, allowing a whopping 8.8 yards per attempt.
Betting Analysis & Pick
Northern Illinois struggled against the two best teams in the MAC to start its season. The Huskies have a much better opportunity on Wednesday night to get back on track on both sides of the ball. Bowers has struggled under center since coming over from Cal, but he should have a great opportunity to open up Northern Illinois’ passing attack given how bad Ball State’s secondary is.
I only have Ball State projected as a -8.44 favorite, so I think there’s a little bit of value on Northern Illinois at +13.5.
Pick: Northern Illinois +13.5 (down to +12.5)