College Football Odds, Picks, Previews: How We’re Betting Tuesday’s MACtion Showdowns
Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: A Ball State flag.
We waited 10 weeks for college football on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. And for the past few weeks, it’s been a blast. Now, midweek MACtion sings its swan song.
For the last time in 2021, we’ll be treated to Tuesday MAC games, as Western Michigan battles MAC West leader Northern Illinois and Ball State hopes to reach bowl eligibility when it takes on Buffalo.
Now, there’s only one thing left to do: Place some bets and make some money on our beloved Mid-American Conference schools.
Our Collin Wilson and BJ Cunningham broke down both games from a betting perspective and shared a pick for the 7 p.m. ET contests below.
It’s time to enjoy what we have while we have it. Because soon enough, midweek MACtion will be gone and we’ll be counting down the days, patiently waiting for its return.
Tuesday College Football Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college football staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.|
Western Michigan vs. Northern Illinois
Midweek MACtion wraps with the regular-season finale of two teams that have been the complete opposite of preseason expectations.
Northern Illinois has won the MAC West and will head to Ford Field in Detroit to compete for the conference title. With a one-game lead in the division, all tiebreakers favor the Huskies, making this last game in DeKalb irrelevant for conference and bowl season purposes.
The Huskies have won six conference games by a combined 25 points.
Western Michigan entered the season as one of the division challengers but has lost three of the past four conference games.
Inconsistency in defending the explosive play and special teams have led to struggles against Akron and Eastern Michigan, but when the Broncos are on, they’re as good as any team in the MAC with evidence coming in the form of a 33-point demolition of Kent State.
The Broncos enter this game at 6-5 on the season with our Brett McMurphy projecting a Camellia Bowl trip on Christmas.
Not all six-win teams make the postseason. When enough college football teams qualify, it’s the MAC teams that stay home. Head coach Tim Lester had this experience as a 6-6 team in the 2017 season that resulted in no bowl trip. A seventh win for the Broncos will guarantee a postseason trip.
The Broncos have one of the most successful rushing attacks in the nation, ranking 16th in Success Rate and 15th in Line Yards. Lester runs 63% of snaps out of the 11 formations with a pivot to an empty-back set on 20% of offensive attempts.
The 10 formations are run in passing downs when second and third downs fall behind schedule. Quarterback Kaleb Eleby has targeted running backs Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson on 40% of third downs.
The most dangerous weapon on the team is wide receiver Skyy Moore.
Kaleb Eleby drops a dime to his favorite target Skyy Moore for the opening TD of the game. The Broncos strike first.
WESTERN MICHIGAN 7
EASTERN MICHIGAN 0
— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) November 17, 2021
The Broncos can be lethal on passing downs with a rank of 18th in explosiveness. With the offense capable of scoring from any yard marker on the field, Western Michigan has had the same issues with explosiveness on the defensive side of the ball.
The Broncos are 122nd in defensive pass expected points and 127th in standard downs explosiveness. The genesis of the busted plays come in coverage and tackling, both ranking outside the top 100. Western Michigan has given up as many 50-plus yard plays as almost any team in the country.
Head coach Thomas Hammock has done a complete 180 in his third season with the Huskies. Former coach Rod Carey left for Temple, and Hammock was hired after five years as the running backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens.
Northern Illinois went 5-7 during 2019 before a winless six-game pandemic-shortened 2020. Fast forward to the present, and Northern Illinois has comfortably won the MAC West and will head to Detroit for the conference championship next week.
Northern Illinois has the biggest discrepancy in actual game-winning percentage versus post-game win expectancy at 24%, indicating the Huskies should be more like a four-win team.
Hammock runs both 11 and 12 formations with heavy tendencies toward the rush. The Huskies are top-25 in Rushing Success Rate and Line Yards, but a drop to 47th in Passing Downs Success Rate shows quarterback Rocky Lombardi’s struggles when the offense is behind schedule.
.@rocky_lombardi with a beauty to @cole_tucker15 for the 58-yard Touchdown! @NIU_Football | #MACtionpic.twitter.com/Q1zbBFseXn
— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 11, 2021
Similar to Western Michigan, there are defensive issues with Northern Illinois, particularly in defending the explosive rush.
The 4-2-5 scheme has had success in preventing pass explosiveness, but opponents are moving the chains with ease. Northern Illinois ranks in the bottom-10 nationally in Standard Downs Success Rate defensively with a rank of 118th in Finishing Drives.
There has been plenty of turnover luck for the Huskies through the 2021 season.
I stand corrected, this is Northern Illinois 2021 season in one playpic.twitter.com/ISKcRLGdnr
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) November 18, 2021
Western Michigan vs. Northern Illinois Betting Pick
Handicapping Week 13 is similar to bowl season, as statistics and mathematics may take a back seat to motivation.
In this case, Western Michigan will secure a spot in the post-season with a win. For Northern Illinois, a trip to the MAC Championship should be signal that the final home game is not important.
Hammock reiterated to the team this past Friday night the goals of 2021 — more importantly, getting revenge on every team from NIU’s 2020 schedule, including Western Michigan.
The Broncos have a top-10 rank in Stuff Rate on both sides of the ball. A top-25 rank in Offensive Standard Downs Success Rate against Northern Illinois’ defensive mark should put Western Michigan in scoring position often.
The advantages Western Michigan has on offense are erased with defending explosive plays and a Special Teams SP+ rank that is dead last in the nation. Specifically, punt and kickoff efficiency are the worst in the nation, leading to excellent opponent field position or touchdowns.
The Action Network projections for this game are a pick on the spread with a total of 53.5. Even with the chance of explosive plays, these teams are 104th and 96th in tempo.
The Northern Illinois season has been filled with low post-game win expectancies, but the market has overreacted to the overlook to the MAC Championship.
Considering there is value in the total and side, a rare midweek under and underdog are the best bets, as the Huskies revenge tour comes to a close.
Pick: Under 62 or Better · Northern Illinois +4 or Better
Buffalo vs. Ball State
Ball State looks to become bowl eligible on Tuesday when it hosts Buffalo in one of the final MACtion games of the season.
Buffalo has really struggled in MAC play. The Bulls have just two wins and have lost three straight games, giving up over 30 points in each of their losses. Things haven’t really gone according to plan for first-year head coach Maurice Linguist, as Buffalo is currently 4-7 and will be out of contention for a bowl game.
Ball State has lost three of its last four games to drop to 5-6 on the season but only needs to win Tuesday night in Muncie to go bowling.
The Cardinals have really struggled on the offensive side of the ball this season, but they could find some success against one of the worst defenses in the MAC.
Even though Lance Leipold has moved onto Kansas, Buffalo is still running the ball at a very high rate, carrying the rock 60.3% of the time this season. But with that being said, the Bulls have a pretty average ground attack.
Buffalo averages only 4.3 yards per carry, ranks 57th in Rushing Success Rate and ranks 59th in Offensive Line Yards. Running the ball is also not how teams beat Ball State’s defense, as it has one of the worst secondaries in the conference.
Buffalo is only throwing the ball 39.7% of the time, and it’s likely going to throw it less often on Tuesday with its starting quarterback Kyle Vantrease out for the season. That means Matt Myers will get his second start of the season.
Myers wasn’t called on very often in Buffalo’s overtime loss to Northern Illinois, attempting just 23 passes and putting up 7.0 yards per attempt with an average depth of target of 7.3 yards, per PFF.
So, we’ll see if the Bulls will open up the playbook or stick to the ground game once again on Tuesday night.
Buffalo hasn’t been able to stop anything all season long. The Bulls allow 6.6 yards per play and rank 126th in EPA/Play allowed.
Most of their struggles have come against the run, where Buffalo they’re allowing a whopping 5.4 yards per attempt. Buffalo also ranks 127th in EPA/Rush allowed, 99th in Rushing Success Rate allowed and 129th in rushing explosiveness allowed.
Ball State is a very balanced offense, but it has had much better success on the ground than through the air this season. I think Ball State will be able to run all over one of the worst run defenses in college football.
If only Buffalo’s problems on defense were limited to stopping the run, it might be a bowl team. However, Buffalo is allowing 9.5 yards per attempt, which is 124th in college football.
The Bulls are also 85th in Passing Success Rate Allowed, 101st in EPA/Pass allowed and 128th in terms of a coverage grade, per PFF.
Ball State Offense
Ball State’s offense hasn’t been moving the ball very effectively this season. The Cardinals are gaining only 5.0 yards per play and rank 77th in Success Rate.
They run the ball only 50.8% of the time, and from a Success Rate standpoint, they haven’t been very effective, ranking 70th in college football. However, the Cardinals are 47th in rushing explosiveness, which is huge in this matchup given how prone Buffalo is to giving up big plays on the ground.
Quarterback Drew Plitt hasn’t been very effective moving the ball through the air this season, averaging only 6.2 yards per attempt. Plitt also has a 65.7 passing grade with 13 turnover-worthy plays.
However, this is one of the worst secondaries he has faced all season long outside of Akron, so I think we’ll see an improved performance against the third-worst graded secondary in the country.
Drew Plitt finds Carson Steele for the Ball State TD. The Cardinals take a double digit lead heading into halftime.
BALL STATE 21
— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) November 3, 2021
Ball State Defense
The Ball State defense hasn’t been able to stop anything this season, allowing 5.8 yards per play and ranking 122nd in Success Rate Allowed.
The Cardinals’ front seven hasn’t been good at stopping the run, but they’ve been better than the secondary. Ball State is allowing 4.3 yards per carry while ranking 91st in Rushing Success Rate Allowed and 87th in Defensive Line Yards.
Despite this, Ball State is very good at limiting explosive plays. It ranks 34th in big plays allowed and 19th in rushing explosiveness, so facing a Buffalo offense that is 109th in big plays and 101st in rushing explosiveness will force the Bulls to beat it with consistent three- or four-yard carries.
The secondary is terrible from a Success Rate standpoint, ranking 127th. But it doesn’t allow big plays, sitting second in college football in explosive passing allowed.
Going up against a backup quarterback that hasn’t really taken many deep shots will force Buffalo to beat it in the short-passing game.
Buffalo vs. Ball State Betting Pick
With Ball State having everything to play for and Buffalo having nothing to play for with a backup quarterback, I think this is a perfect spot for the Cardinals who should be able to move the ball with ease against one of the worst defenses in the MAC.
I have Ball State projected at -9.45, so I think there’s some value on the Cardinals to cover and become bowl eligible at -5.5.
Pick: Ball State -5.5
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