By Brian Edwards
Matchup: Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois
Date: Friday, Dec. 4
Time/TV: 8:00 p.m. ET – ESPN2
Venue: Ford Field
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Line, Total: Falcons -12.5, 69.5
Bowling Green and Northern Illinois are set to collide Friday night at Ford Field in Detroit for the MAC Championship Game. The Huskies won the MAC West for the sixth straight season, while the Falcons took the East for a third consecutive year.
This is essentially a rubber match after these schools split the last two meetings in Motown, blowing out the other in 2013 and ’14. When Dave Clawson was at the helm for Bowling Green, his team blasted the Huskies by a 47-27 count as a four-point underdog. Then last year, NIU returned the favor by smashing the Falcons 51-17 as a 6.5-point ‘chalk.’
As of Thursday, most books had Bowling Green (9-3 straight up, 9-3 against the spread) installed as a 12.5-point favorite with a total of 69.5points. The Huskies were +385 on the money line (risk $100 to win $385).
Bowling Green is dealing with the distraction of its head coach being courted by a number of schools over the last week. As of Thursday, Dino Babers was considered in the mix for a number of jobs, including the Syracuse gig.
Babers’ team is led by senior quarterback Matt Johnson, who leads the nation in passing yards (4,465) and is second in touchdown passes (41). He has only been intercepted six times this year and his career touchdown-to-interception ratio is 68/14. Johnson has rushed for 149 yards and four TDs.
Johnson’s favorite target is sophomore WR Roger Lewis, who was a first-team All-MAC selection as a true freshman last year when he had 73 receptions for 1,093 yards and seven TDs. In 2015, Lewis has made 76 catches for 1,401 yards and 14 TDs. Gehrig Dieter has 82 receptions for 882 yards and nine TDs, while Ronnie Moore has hauled in 62 catches for 815 yards and five TDs.
Babers also has a pair of quality running backs at his disposal. Travis Greene has run for 1,036 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Fred Coppet has 712 rushing yards and four TDs with a 5.9 YPC average.
Bowling Green is fourth in the nation in scoring, averaging 44.2 points per game. The Falcons rank third in the country in total offense (566 yards per game) and passing yards (387.8 YPG). On the flip side, they are 90th in total defense, 101st in pass defense, 64th in run defense and 74th in scoring defense (27.8 PPG).
No. Illinois (8-4 SU, 7-3-2 ATS) saw its six-game winning streak snapped last Tuesday when it was upset by Ohio 26-21 as an 11-point home favorite. The Huskies had compiled a 5-0-1 spread record during their six-game surge. Nevertheless, they won the four-way tiebreaker between Toledo, Central Michigan and Western Michigan to take the MAC West title.
NIU finds itself in a rich underdog spot because of injuries at the QB position. Star Drew Hare suffered a season-ending injury in the first half of road game at Toledo in early November. Nevertheless, the Huskies were still able to capture a 37-32 win over the Rockets at The Glass Bowl.
Graham went down with a leg injury against the Bobcats last week. He is listed as ‘questionable’ but is expected to be available although Rod Carey has already given the starting nod to true freshman Tommy Fiedler, who hadn’t taken a collegiate snap until last week.
Filling in for Graham against Ohio, Fiedler completed 9-of-17 throws for 113 yards and one TD without an interception. He also rushed three times for 20 yards. When asked by the media this week if he expected to be starting in the MAC Championship Game, Fiedler said, “Not this year.”
NIU lost a pair of one-possession games in non-conference play, losing 20-13 at Ohio St. and 17-14 at Boston College. The Huskies have thrived as underdogs since 2005, compiling a 23-10 spread record. They are 3-0 ATS as ‘dogs this season and 6-2 ATS since Carey took over in 2013.
Look for Carey’s offense to lean on junior RB Joel Bouagnon, who has rushed for 1,213 yards and 18 TDs while averaging 4.6 YPC. Jordan Huff should get plenty of touches as well. The sophomore speedster has 617 rushing yards and eight TDs to go with an 8.1 YPC average.
Kenny Golladay, a junior who transferred in from North Dakota, has emerged as the team’s best pass catcher. Golladay has 70 receptions for 1,107 yards and 10 TDs. Tommylee Lewis has 33 catches for 387 yards and three TDs, but he’s missed three straight games with an ankle injury that has him listed as ‘questionable’ for Friday night.
The defense will be without junior DT Corey Thomas, who went down with a season-ending injury two weeks ago. Thomas had made 26 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Bowling Green lost three starters, including its place-kicker and OT Christian Piazza, to season-ending injuries earlier this year. However, the Falcons have no new injuries and come to Motown healthy.
Bowling Green has been money as a double-digit favorite, posting a perfect 5-0 spread record in those situations. The Falcons played a quality non-conference schedule, winning at Maryland (48-27) and at Purdue (35-28). They lost at home to Memphis by a 44-41 count in a thriller and also dropped a 59-30 decision at Tennessee in the season opener However, we should note that Babers’ squad trailed just 35-27 late in the third quarter at Neyland Stadium.
Totals have been an overall wash (6-6) for No. Illinois, but it has seen the ‘under’ cash in back-to-back games and three of its last four. The Huskies have seen their games average combined scores of 59.4 points per game. They have had only one total in the 70s, with the ‘over’ appearing in a 57-26 win over Murray St. that saw the 83 combined points eclipse the 77-point tally.
Totals have also been an overall wash (6-6) for Bowling Green, but it has watched the ‘under’ hit in three straight outings and four of its last five. The ‘under’ has gone 4-3 in the Falcons’ seven games with totals in the 70s. They have seen their games average combined scores of 71.9 PPG.
Kickoff is slated for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.