USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: McKenzie Milton, Maleek Irons and Marcus Childers
This article will hit on all three of Thursday’s college football games:
- Northern Illinois at Akron: 7 p.m. ET
- Ohio at Western Michigan: 7 p.m. ET
- Temple at UCF: 7:30 p.m. ET
All odds as of Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NCAAF odds and track your bets.
Northern Illinois at Akron Betting Odds
- Spread: Northern Illinois -6
- Over/Under: 37
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
- TV: CBS Sports Network
This matchup has the lowest over/under (37) since the start of last season. And it might move down even more with 79% of dollars on the under at the time of writing (see live data here).
One Key Trend
By Evan Abrams
Over the past five seasons, games that closed with a total below 40 are 21-11 to the under, according to our Bet Labs data. These games went under the total by 3.8 points per game.
There’s not much wiggle room, but there will be punts. There will be incompletions. And hopefully there will be very few points.
Note Northern Illinois’ Offensive Splits
NIU willingly schedules a brutal nonconference slate every year. This year — Iowa, Utah, Florida State, BYU.
The Huskies offense has been much better in MAC play than it has been against those nonconference opponents, which all have top-50 S&P+ defenses (three of them are in the top 20).
NIU is 4-0 in MAC play and leads the West.
- Points per game, 4 non-conference games: 9.75
- Points per game, 4 MAC games: 24.5
In three of those MAC games, NIU has scored exactly 24 points. The other, it had 26. That’s consistency.
Just How Bad Are These Offenses?
Bad. So, so bad. And their defenses are just that much better.
These two teams combined have scored more than 26 points against an FBS team just once this season — when Akron beat Northwestern 39-34.
Last week, NIU beat BYU 7-6.
The Pick: You really want this at 38, which is a fairly key number with a total this low, but the under is still worth a good look here, if you can stomach it.
NIU could get to 20, so you have to count on its defense holding Akron to about two scores or fewer. This total will likely come down to one play either way.
Ohio at Western Michigan Betting Odds
- Spread: Ohio -3
- Over/Under: 64.5
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPNU
This is a brutal scheduling spot for both teams, which will each play their third game in 13 days. However, Ohio got much more rest for its starters ahead of this MAC clash after two huge, home blowouts over Bowling Green and Ball State.
The big news out of Western Michigan is a change under center, as the Broncos likely lost starting quarterback Jon Wassink for the year after he suffered an injury against Toledo.
Freshman Kaleb Eleby — one of the highest-rated recruits to ever enroll at WMU — did come in and light it up through the air. He went 23-of-28 for 293 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INT.
But things are a lot different in the first start for a true freshman than they are when you unexpectedly come in and can chuck without pressure in a blowout.
Ohio Has Ground Game Edge
Ohio has really gotten its ground attack going recently, rushing for 392 and 411 yards in those two recent blowouts.
I expect that to continue in Kalamazoo on Thursday night against a very poor Bronco rushing defense. WMU allows 4.7 yards per rush (96th in the country) and S&P+ ranks its rush defense outside of the top 100.
X-Factors Favor Ohio
The WMU defense ranks 122nd in IsoPPP (including 115th rushing and 118th passing), which spells disaster against an Ohio offense that ranks 18th in that same category (including 30th in rushing and 15th in passing).
Ohio should break plenty of big runs and hit a few deep balls, especially if it can establish an effective rushing attack, which it should be able to do.
No exaggeration, WMU might have the worst special teams unit in the nation (it ranks 129th of 130 in special teams S&P+), while Ohio has an above-average group.
That difference starts in the kicking and punting games, where Ohio has a reliable junior kicker and punter, whereas WMU has two freshmen who have been extremely shaky. The Bobcats should win the field position battle all night.
The Pick: I like the Bobcats, who I think still hold value in the market after a slow start to the season wiped out some lofty preseason conference expectations.
Ohio has a dreadful pass defense, but I trust the reliable Ohio ground game more than I do WMU’s freshman quarterback, despite his rocket arm.
Temple at UCF Betting Odds
- Spread: UCF -10.5
- Over/Under: 62
- Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
UCF, which has won 20 straight games, was ranked No. 12 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Thursday marks the beginning of a stretch that could tell us just how good the Knights are.
Milton a Game-Time Decision
Temple is preparing to face two quarterbacks this week, since UCF star QB McKenzie Milton didn’t play two weeks ago against ECU. He’ll be a game-time decision on Thursday, coach Josh Heupel said.
Darriel Mack replaced Milton vs. ECU and was great on the ground, but completed just 12-of-20 passes for 69 yards. Mack is a power runner at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, much bigger than Milton.
UCF Has Been a Covering Machine, But …
By Evan Abrams
Central Florida has won 20 consecutive games straight up. That is pretty damn impressive. Against the spread, Central Florida is 13-6-1 (68.4%) over that span, covering the spread by 6.6 PPG.
But this will be just the fourth time during this stretch that UCF will be favored against a team that is both above .500 SU and ATS. The Knights won those three games by just 7, 10 and 7 points.
Can Temple Slow UCF’s Elite Offense?
There are few reasons why I think Temple’s defense — which ranks fourth nationally in yards per play (trailing only Miami, Clemson and Michigan) — can slow down the potent UCF offense and can keep this within 10:
- The Owls can defend the pass: Temple leads the nation in pass yards per attempt allowed at a stingy 4.5 and S&P ranks the Owls as the No. 1 overall passing defense. They also have the second-best passing efficiency.
- They can limit explosiveness: Temple ranks No. 1 in limiting explosiveness and passing explosiveness, in addition to being No. 1 in big-play (20-plus yards) rate.
- Temple plays excellent red zone defense: The Owls have allowed scores on only 65.4% of opponent red zone drives, which ranks third in the nation, including a dominant 50% TD rate.
Will Temple’s Offense Do Enough?
And on the other side of the ball, I think Temple can move it down the field with a short passing attack. The Owls’ offensive line is an excellent pass-blocking unit (sixth adjusted sack rate) that should dominate a UCF defense that doesn’t really generate much pressure on the quarterback (100th adjusted sack rate).
The Knights do a great job of limiting the big play, but that’s not really Temple’s offense. Believe it or not, the Owls have a top 25 overall passing S&P+ offense.
The Pick: Temple +10.5