Bowling Green faces Northern Illinois Friday
By Brian Graham
NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES (8-4) vs. BOWLING GREEN FALCONS (11-1)
♦MAC Championship Game♦
Ford Field – Detroit, MI
Kickoff: Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Bowling Green -12.5, Total: 70
Northern Illinois and Bowling Green will play in the MAC Championship for the third straight season when the schools collide Friday in Detroit.
In the 2013 conference title game, the Falcons were tabbed as a slight 3-point underdog and recorded a 47-27 blowout, but the Huskies returned the favor in last year’s championship with an even more lopsided 51-17 result. Northern Illinois (8-3-1 ATS) has been playing great football lately with six wins in the past seven games, but the one defeat was a shocking 26-21 loss to double-digit underdog Ohio in the regular-season finale on Nov. 24. Because of injuries to its top two quarterbacks, true freshman QB Tommy Fiedler is expected to start on Friday. Bowling Green (9-3 ATS) also had a recent surprising loss when it fell 44-28 at home to 8-point underdog Toledo on Nov. 17, but closed out the regular season with a 48-10 blowout win over Ball State. These teams are meeting for the 10th time since 1997 with the Huskies holding a slight 5-4 SU advantage and the Falcons keeping an even 4-4-1 ATS mark. There are more betting trends expecting Bowling Green to win big on Friday, as the school is 8-0 ATS after a conference win by 21+ points in the past three seasons and 11-1 ATS under head coach Dino Babers after gaining 6.25+ yards per play in its previous game. However, bettors expecting a single-digit margin can point to Northern Illinois going 8-1 ATS in non-home games after playing Under the total in the past two years and its 37-17 ATS mark versus teams with 60+ penalty YPG since 1992. On the injury front, the Falcons are in great shape with no significant ailments while the Huskies will be without top QB Drew Hare (leg, out for season) and probably No. 2 QB Ryan Graham (leg), who is listed as highly questionable. They also lost DL Corey Thomas (knee) for the season last game and No. 2 WR Tommylee Lewis (387 rec yds) is listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
If freshman QB Ryan Graham (48-of-81, 653 yds, 8.1 YPA, 6 TD, 3 INT) isn’t able to return from a leg injury he suffered when he took a sack against Ohio, third-string QB Tommy Fiedler will get his first career start. Although very green as a true freshman, the left-hander stands tall at 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds and was decent against Ohio last week in completing 9-of-17 passes for 113 yards (6.5 YPA), 1 TD and 0 INT. Fiedler also carried the football three times for 20 yards. Whoever is throwing the football will continue to use junior WR Kenny Golladay (70 rec, 1,107 yds, 10 TD) as the top target. The Huskies have been a strong offensive team this season with 34.6 PPG on 441 total YPG, and not all the pressure is on the quarterback because of a productive ground game that eats up 213 YPG on 4.4 YPC. In last year’s conference championship, NIU steamrolled Bowling Green for 334 rushing yards on 6.5 YPC and four touchdowns. RB Joel Bouagnon had 57 yards on just nine carries (6.3 YPC) in that win, and he has been the main back this season with a hefty 1,212 yards on 4.6 YPC with 18 touchdowns. But after rushing for at least 85 yards in six straight games, he has been limited to 107 yards on 37 carries (2.9 YPC) over the past two weeks. The Northern Illinois defense has been average this season in allowing 24.8 PPG on 392 total YPG, but the numbers are actually better away from home (22.5 PPG on 345 total YPG). The team allows 159 rushing YPG on 3.8 YPC, and 233 passing YPG on 6.3 YPA and 56% completions. Turnovers have also been key, as the Huskies have multiple takeaways in four straight games and the Falcons committed five turnovers just two games ago.
Despite Bowling Green’s five giveaways in the loss to Toledo, the team has turned the football over only six times in the other 11 games combined. This ball protection has led to stellar offensive numbers of 44.2 PPG and 566 total YPG this season. While the team has a quality rushing attack with 178 YPG on 4.6 YPC, the Falcons prefer to air out the football with 388 passing YPG on 8.9 YPA. Senior QB Matt Johnson has completed 69% of his passes this year for 4,465 yards (9.0 YPA), 41 TD and only six interceptions. He was injured for last season’s MAC title game, but in 2013 he torched the Huskies in capturing the conference crown by completing 21-of-27 throws for 393 yards and five touchdowns with no picks. His top target this season has been sophomore WR Roger Lewis (76 rec, 1,401 yds, 14 TD) who has seven 100-yard games, including three for 200+ yards. But in the past two games, Lewis has been limited to 45.5 receiving YPG as defenses try to take him out of the equation. That has allowed junior WR Gehrig Dieter to see a ton of targets, as Dieter has 24 receptions for 184 yards and 4 TD in the past two games. On the ground, the Falcons rely most heavily on the tandem of RBs Travis Greene (1,036 rush yds, 5.7 YPC, 12 TD) and Fred Coppet (712 rush yds, 5.9 YPC, 4 TD). Greene was the lone offensive bright spot in the loss to NIU last season when he rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries (5.8 YPC). The Bowling Green defense gives up 27.7 PPG on 422 total YPG, but those numbers are significantly better against MAC foes (21.9 PPG on 394 total YPG). The team allows 167 YPG on 4.1 YPC on the ground, while surrendering a beefier 255 YPG on 6.7 YPA through the air. This is a very opportunistic unit though, as it has racked up 16 takeaways over the past seven contests, and is facing an NIU team with multiple giveaways in seven different games this season.