College Football Odds and Picks for Northern Illinois vs. Kent State: The Spread Bet to Make for Wednesday Night MACtion

College Football Odds and Picks for Northern Illinois vs. Kent State: The Spread Bet to Make for Wednesday Night MACtion article feature image
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Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Eric Rogers.

Northern Illinois vs. Kent State Odds

Wednesday, Nov. 3
7 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Northern Illinois Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
+3.5
-115
71
-115o / -105u
+150
Kent State Odds
Spread Total Moneyline
-3.5
-105
71
-115o / -105u
-170
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

We have Wednesday night MAC football for the first time this season, and if you don’t love weekday MACtion, then we can’t be friends.

As usual, the Mid-American Conference has been rather unpredictable so far this season. Look no further than Northern Illinois’ undefeated 4-0 record in conference play, putting the Huskies a full two games ahead at the top of their division.

That’s something nobody else saw coming. And from a power ratings perspective, the Huskies still remain the worst team of the six in the MAC West.

While Northern Illinois currently sits in the driver’s seat for the division, expect the unexpected when it comes to MACtion. I wouldn’t pencil the Huskies into the conference title game in Detroit just yet — although a road win on Wednesday night at Kent State will certainly make that path much easier.

NIU’s final four games include dates with Western Michigan and Ball State at home, in addition to two road trips against Buffalo and Kent State.

I expect the close game luck to run out and the Huskies to finish 4-4, which means tiebreakers may come into play.


Northern Illinois Huskies

As I mentioned above, the Huskies have certainly exceeded preseason expectations, as evidenced by the fact that they went over their season win total prior to the month of November.

However, the Huskies have been quite fortunate in a number of games. In fact, they have gone 5-0 in one-possession games, including each of their four conference wins.

Just take a look at their five FBS wins (excluding a victory over FCS Maine):

  • 22-21 comeback victory over Georgia Tech (outgained, 429-301)
  • 27-20 win over EMU (had two gifted scores early in game and were outgained 376-326)
  • 22-20 victory over Toledo (Rockets went 1-for-13 combined on third and fourth down)
  • 34-26 win over BGSU (had a kick return TD and were outgained, 396-357)
  • 39-38 victory over CMU (trailed by 18 in second half; CMU fumbled game-winning FG attempt)

That’s five FBS victories by a combined 19 points for an average margin of victory of 3.8 points. Lady luck has certainly been on their side.

The strength of the team so far has been the rushing offense. That has kept NIU alive in some of these games and put it in position to steal a few unlikely victories.

Freshman Harrison Waylee averaged over 100 yards rushing over the first five games before going down with an injury. Fellow freshman Jay Ducker then picked right where Waylee left off, carrying the ball 64 times for 393 yards (6.1 yards per carry) over the past two contests.

Overall, NIU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush, which puts it in the top 40 nationally.

Regardless of who gets the bulk of the workload, the Huskies should have success on the ground against a weak Kent State run defense that’s allowing 5.3 yards per carry, which puts it in the bottom 15 nationally.

However, the passing attack hasn’t matched the output on the ground. For the most part, Rocky Lombardi has struggled, ranking 97th in QB Rating and 123rd in adjusted completion percentage out of 133 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks.

Although, the receivers have made key catches and created explosive plays in critical moments.

While the special teams, coaching and offense have all performed better than expected, the defense really has no redeeming qualities. It’s just a putrid unit that has allowed 6.4 yards play (115th). I personally have the Huskies defense ranked 118th in FBS.

Head coach Thomas Hammock has this young team fighting each week and has the program headed in the right direction, but this NIU team is nowhere close to as good as its record.

Major regression looms, especially in close games.

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Kent State Golden Flashes

Kent State finished September with a 1-3 record, as expected after a grueling nonconference schedule that included three road games against Maryland, Iowa and Texas A&M with a nice break in Week 2 against VMI.

The Golden Flashes have since gone 3-1 in league play to get back to .500, but the product hasn’t been as pretty as head coach Sean Lewis had hoped.

They escaped with wins over Buffalo, Ohio and Bowling Green — all by 10 points or less — and got absolutely clobbered on the road against Western Michigan by a final score of 64-31.

Quarterback Dustin Crum headlines the MAC’s most dynamic rushing attack. Kent State has a three-headed monster in the backfield with Crum and backs Marquez Cooper and Xavier Williams.

There’s also plenty of talent on the outside at receiver for the pro prospect Crum to work with downfield. Kent State has a fast-paced offense that I have rated behind only Western Michigan in the conference.

Kent State’s problems all come in the other two phases.

Its run defense is absolutely horrendous, especially along the undersized defensive line. I actually really like the experienced secondary, which has excelled in coverage and has picked off opponents 13 times already. However, that doesn’t matter as much when opponents can run for 5.5 yards per carry.

The special teams are also horrid.


Northern Illinois vs. Kent State Matchup Analysis

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

Northern Illinois Offense vs. Kent State Defense
Offense
Defense
Edge
Rush Success 31 97
Line Yards 18 98
Pass Success 72 116
Pass Blocking** 95 106
Big Play 126 115
Havoc 23 93
Finishing Drives 43 87
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Kent State Offense vs. Northern Illinois Defense
Offense
Defense
Edge
Rush Success 7 125
Line Yards 10 125
Pass Success 102 64
Pass Blocking** 73 108
Big Play 105 73
Havoc 79 121
Finishing Drives 86 117
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling 33 92
Coverage 115 76
Middle 8 107 106
SP+ Special Teams 65 119
Plays per Minute 114 2
Rush Rate 68.4% (5) 61.6% (20)

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


Northern Illinois vs. Kent State Betting Pick

Both defensive fronts rank outside the top 100 in Line Yards and Opportunity Rate. That should lead to plenty of success for two offenses that rank in the top 10 in rush attempts per game and top 25 in rush rate.

It’s going to be particularly tough for an NIU defense that ranks third-worst in the country in tackles for loss per game to ever get the Kent State offense behind schedule.

I don’t expect either run defense to provide much resistance, but I trust Kent State’s passing attack much more in passing situations against an NIU defense that ranks outside the top 100 in Sack Rate and coverage.

Not only do the Golden Flashes have the much better quarterback, but they also have the superior secondary. There’s a reason why they have 13 interceptions on the season, while Northern Illinois has picked off just one pass.

In a game where I don’t anticipate many stops, Kent State forcing an extra turnover or two should make all the difference.

Ultimately, this is a good opportunity to sell high on NIU after some fluky early-season results and also buy low on a Kent State team that I think has underperformed to date.

Kent State’s special teams do worry me a bit, but there’s too much value to pass up here in a game I project slightly over a touchdown.

And there’s plenty of overdue regression coming for NIU in a variety of areas. For example, the Huskies have gone 12-of-16 (75%) on fourth-down attempts this year while holding opponents to just 6-of-18 (33%). Both rank in the top-20 nationally and shouldn’t persist.

Opponents have also connected on the ninth-lowest field goal percentage in the country. These are just massive factors when you consider NIU keeps stealing one-possession games.

In regards to the total, I think this is over or nothing, but I don’t show a ton of value in the number. While Kent State wants to play as fast as any team in the country, Northern Illinois prefers to play at a snail’s pace.

Pick: Kent State -4 (Play to -5)

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