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Kent State vs. Northern Illinois College Football Odds & Picks: How To Bet MAC Championship Game (Dec. 4)

Kent State vs. Northern Illinois College Football Odds & Picks: How To Bet MAC Championship Game (Dec. 4) article feature image
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Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Nykeim Johnson (left) and Jack Bailey (right).

Kent State vs. Northern Illinois Odds

Saturday, Dec. 4
12 p.m. ET
ESPN
Kent State Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-3.5
-110
75.5
-105o / -115u
-160
Northern Illinois Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
+3.5
-110
75.5
-105o / -115u
+140
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

We have one final round of MACtion left in the college football season to determine the 2021 conference champion when Kent State takes on Northern Illinois in Detroit on Saturday.

The Golden Flashes, who lost their only conference championship appearance in 2012, are seeking their first conference title since 1972. Meanwhile, NIU has had much more recent success with a 4-4 overall record in the MAC title game with its most recent appearance coming back in 2018.

If Kent State wants to capture that elusive conference title for the first time in 49 years, it will have to defeat NIU for a second time this season after holding on for a 52-47 victory earlier this season.

While it’s not a huge surprise that Kent State made the conference championship (on the last play of the regular season), but it’s certainly a shocker to see NIU here after nobody really expected the very young Huskies to do much of anything this season.

Oddsmakers set their season win total at just four, which they doubled up en route to an 8-4 record.

KENT STATE WINS! ⚡️⚡️⚡️@KentStFootball | #MACtion pic.twitter.com/5KBBSNAXwg

— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 27, 2021

Can the Huskies finish off their magical season with a conference title, or will Kent State finally end a near 50-year drought? Let’s take a closer look.


Kent State Golden Flashes

Kent State goes as its offense goes.

The Golden Flashes feature one of the most explosive offenses in the country with a three-headed monster rushing attack that includes the rushing ability of quarterback Dustin Crum, who flawlessly executes the Kent State read-option offense. He also has an abundance of dangerous weapons at wide receiver.

The Golden Flashes want to play as fast as possible with their “Flash Fast” mentality. No team in FBS had more touchdown drives that took fewer than two minutes.

The offensive line has also performed at a high level, ranking in the top 10 nationally in Line Yards and Opportunity Rate. It should have no issues pushing around a horrendous NIU defensive front that sits in the bottom 10 nationally in almost every category.

The one weakness Kent State has is sacks allowed on passing downs, but the NIU defense is helpless in that area, ranking 121st in Passing Downs Sack Rate.

In contrast, the Kent State defense struggles in almost every area. Overall, it’s a bottom-20 unit in the country. The secondary features the most talent and experience, but it doesn’t get much help from a defensive front that ranks 125th in Sack Rate.

Kent State’s undersized front also can’t stop the run. It ranks outside the top-100 in both Line Yards and yards per carry.

When it does have rare success on early downs, it also can’t get off the field, ranking 119th in opponent third-down conversion percentage.

Lastly, the special teams are a major liability. More on that later.

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Northern Illinois Huskies

While NIU surpassed all preseason expectations with eight wins, it has been quite fortunate in a number of areas.

First of all, the Huskies went 7-2 in one-possession games, including 4-0 in games decided by one or two points. Yes, they won four games decided by one or two points.

That’s even more unbelievable when you consider how fortunate they have been on fourth downs

  • NIU fourth-down offense: 19-of-23 (82.6%) leads the nation.
  • NIU fourth-down defense: 10-of-25 (40%) ranks in the top 25.

The lack of opponent success on fourth downs is stunning against a defense that ranks in the bottom 10 in the country in almost every category:

Despite struggling immensely on early downs, NIU has been quite fortunate on the much more higher-variance late downs. That doesn’t seem sustainable given its profile and other underlying metrics.

Regression looms for the Huskies when it comes to fourth downs, late-down defense and results in close games.

From a profile standpoint, you can almost take everything I said above about Kent State and apply it to Northern Illinois. Look no further than the charts below in the matchup analysis section.

The only difference is NIU likes to play at a much more methodical pace than Kent State’s “Flash Fast” offense — but it still goes as the offense goes and just tries to hold on for dear life when on defense.

NIU has been excellent all season on offense with Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi, who gets rid of the ball as quick as any quarterback in the country. He has some uber-talented wide receivers to work with on the outside in Tyrice Richie (who could return from injury this week) and Trayvon Rudolph, who amazingly had over 300 yards receiving in the first meeting with Kent State.

The Huskies have used a number of different lead backs this year and all have had success moving the ball on the ground. That shouldn’t be an issue against a very undersized Kent State defensive front.

And just like Kent State, NIU has a bottom-20 defense that does nothing well.

Unlike Kent State, Northern Illinois has actually performed decently well on special teams this season — especially by MAC standards. That could be an area to watch if the underdog Huskies want to swing this game their way.


Kent State vs. Northern Illinois Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Kent State and Northern Illinois match up statistically:

Kent State Offense vs. Northern Illinois Defense
Offense
Defense
Edge
Rush Success 6 126
Line Yards 6 128
Pass Success 74 100
Pass Blocking** 61 126
Big Play 44 90
Havoc 55 120
Finishing Drives 73 118
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Northern Illinois Offense vs. Kent State Defense
Offense
Defense
Edge
Rush Success 12 104
Line Yards 19 109
Pass Success 55 118
Pass Blocking** 71 90
Big Play 53 90
Havoc 50 94
Finishing Drives 55 116
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling 86 61
Coverage 73 116
Middle 8 62 107
SP+ Special Teams 106 81
Plays per Minute 3 100
Rush Rate 61.5% (20) 63.5% (11)

Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.


Kent State vs. Northern Illinois Betting Pick

I’m going back to the well with a Kent State over as I’ve done a few times over the past month. I don’t really see either defense getting many stops. In the first meeting, these two teams combined to score 99 points after a slow start (7-0 after one quarter).

Nothing suggests NIU has any path to getting stops or even forcing the Golden Flashes to take even a few minutes to score.

And after Kent State scores, expect NIU to start with excellent field position, as the Golden Flashes have one of the worst kickoff units in the country. Their kicker is simply incapable of booting the ball past the 20, as evidenced by an FBS-low six touchbacks on the season. Kent State’s opponents routinely start at the 40- or 45-yard line. That’s a recipe for more quick points against one of the worst defenses in the country. I just don’t think the market has properly captured this aspect accurately of late.

Also, keep in mind this game will be played on a fast track at Ford Field, which I think is worth about 1.5-2 points in this particular matchup.

MAC teams routinely have to play on slower surfaces and deal with poor weather on a weekly basis. That won’t be a concern on Saturday. For reference, indoor overs in conference championships have gone over by an average of 1.8 points per game over the past 15 years.

From a side perspective, I do like Kent State — especially at -3 or better in a game I project the Golden Flashes as more than a six-point favorite.

If you read my annual preseason MAC Manifesto, you may have Kent State futures to win the conference. I have some 14-1 that I’m mainly going to let go other than a small wager for my original stake on Northern Illinois +3.5 since there’s now a more likely chance of a middle with the line cross over the key number of 3.

Plus, always expect the unexpected in the MAC. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that underdogs in the MAC conference championship have gone 11-4-1 ATS (73.3%) since 2005, per Action Labs. That’s the best clip of any conference over that span.

NIU also just finds ways to make every game close — even when you least expect.

It’s also worth noting that NIU likes to go for two frequently in some bizarre situations, which might make the moneyline more intriguing if you do like Kent State here.

Pick: Over 74.5 (Play to 75)

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