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Wednesday College Football Odds & Picks: How to Bet Northern Illinois vs. Ball State, 2 More MACtion Matchups

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Tom Pennington/Getty Images. Pictured: Darius Phillips.

  • Midweek MACtion rolls on with three games on Wednesday's evening slate, and our college football betting analysts have you covered with game guides for all three contests.
  • BJ Cunningham breaks down Northern Illinois vs. Ball State, while Collin Wilson covers Toledo vs. Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan vs. Central Michigan.
  • Check out all three breakdowns, including updated odds and our analysts' picks below.

Wednesday night MACtion. The stuff that bettors’ dreams are made of.

There’s no better way to follow up Tuesday night MACtion than with three more games on Wednesday. It’s truly a gift.

Our college football experts wanted to add a little more to that gift by breaking down all three MACtion games for Wednesday night and sharing a betting pick for each.

But don’t be too sad when Wednesday night MACtion is over. Because that just means there’s the college edition of Thursday Night Football that kicks off in less than 24 hours. And just as the famous line from the “Friends” theme song goes — we’ll be there for you.

  • 7:00 p.m. ET | Northern Illinois vs. Ball State
  • 7:00 p.m. ET | Toledo vs. Eastern Michigan
  • 7:00 p.m. ET | Western Michigan vs. Central Michigan
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Kickoff Time
Matchup
7:00 p.m. ET
Northern Illinois vs. Ball State
7:00 p.m. ET
Toledo vs. Eastern Michigan
7:00 p.m. ET
Western Michigan vs. Central Michigan

Northern Illinois vs. Ball State

by BJ Cunningham

Northern Illinois Odds +14.5 [BET NOW]
Ball State Odds -14.5 [BET NOW]
Moneyline +440 / -715 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 60 (-112 / -109) [BET NOW]
Time 7 p.m. ET
TV ESPNews
Odds updated Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. ET and via DraftKings. Get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today.
(Photo Credit: Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Northern Illinois heads east to take on division rival Ball State on Wednesday night in the MAC. The Huskies have been torched in their first two games, giving up 40 or more points to Buffalo and Central Michigan. Ball State started off its season losing to Miami (OH) in the worst possible way.

Ball State has aspirations of winning the West division and has a huge game with Western Michigan looming next week. In a six-game season, the Cardinals cannot afford to drop this game at home as two-touchdown favorites.

This is not the Northern Illinois of years past. With a lot of transition on offense, the Huskies will need to figure something out quickly or they could be headed toward a winless season.


Northern Illinois Huskies

Offense

Northern Illinois brought in South Dakota State offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness to try to create more of a wide-open attack. So far, things have not gone as planned as the Huskies are gaining a measly 4.3 yards per play.

The problem is their passing game, which was the concern coming into the season. Cal transfer Ryan Bowers’ struggles from last year have carried over into 2020, as he is only averaging 5.7 yards per attempt through his first two starts.

The bread and butter of the Huskies’ offense over the last year has been its running game. However, this season, the rushing attack has been nonexistent, gaining only 2.9 yards per attempt. There is talent on the offensive line, so the rushing attack should improve going forward, especially since they played two of the best defenses in the MAC in their first two games.


Defense

Although it’s been torched by Buffalo and Central Michigan, the Huskies’ defense is the strength of the team. Last year, Northern Illinois was top-50 in both rushing and passing success allowed and are set up to repeat those numbers this year. The linebacking corps and secondary return a lot of starters from last season and should improve from their first two games of giving up 6.8 yards per play.

Ball State has been running the ball with a ton of success through its first two games, so the Huskies’ defense will need to show up against the run if it wants to stay in this game.

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Ball State Cardinals

Offense

The MAC’s No. 1 offense from 2019 has continued its success in 2020. The Cardinals’ offense is led by their rushing attack and Caleb Huntley, who is averaging a ridiculous 6.1 yards per attempt. That has led the Cardinals to the second-ranked offense in terms of Rushing Success.

However, the passing game has held them back, as Drew Plitt and the Cardinals’ offense is 76th in Passing Success Rate and 125th in passing explosiveness, according to College Football Data.

Ball State benefited in its first two games from fantastic field position; its average drive is starting around the middle of the field this season, which is the best in the country. However, that is unlikely to be sustainable, so it’ll be interesting to see how its offense holds up when it doesn’t have incredible field position to start drives.


Defense

Ball State’s defensive line was a big issue last season, and those issues have carried over into 2020. In 2019, the Cardinals were 92nd in Defensive Line Yards, 98th in Defensive Rushing Success and 91st in Power Success Allowed.

So far this season, Ball State ranks 116th in Defensive Rushing Success and allowed 4.3 yards per attempt to Miami (OH) and Eastern Michigan.

The strength of Ball State’s defense is in its linebackers, as it returns three of its four starters from last season. However, in the secondary, the Cardinals lost their leading tackler from last season in safety Ray Wilborn. So far, they’ve struggled without him, allowing a whopping 8.8 yards per attempt.


Betting Analysis & Pick

Northern Illinois struggled against the two best teams in the MAC to start its season. The Huskies have a much better opportunity on Wednesday night to get back on track on both sides of the ball. Bowers has struggled under center since coming over from Cal, but he should have a great opportunity to open up Northern Illinois’ passing attack given how bad Ball State’s secondary is.

I only have Ball State projected as a -8.44 favorite, so I think there’s a little bit of value on Northern Illinois at +13.5.

Pick: Northern Illinois +13.5 (down to +12.5)

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CLICK THE DROPDOWN ARROW TO EASILY NAVIGATE TO ANY GAME
Kickoff Time
Matchup
7 p.m. ET
Northern Illinois vs. Ball State
7 p.m. ET
Toledo vs. Eastern Michigan
7 p.m. ET
Western Michigan vs. Central Michigan

Toledo vs. Eastern Michigan

by Collin Wilson

Toledo Odds -7 (-107) [BET NOW]
Eastern Michigan Odds +7 (-114) [BET NOW]
Moneyline -245 / +195 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 61.5 (-108 / -113) [BET NOW]
Time 7 p.m. ET
TV CBS Sports Network
Odds updated Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. ET and via DraftKings. Get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today.
(Photo Credit: Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Toledo Rockets

The Rockets must bounce back from a deflating loss after taking a 10-point lead with less than three minutes remaining against Western Michigan.

The offense continues to be efficient: Toledo has achieved at least two first downs on eight of its 12 possessions. Quarterback Eli Peters is ahead of the curve compared to his 2019 numbers, notching a 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a completion rate of 64%.

Toledo’s offense has not seen interruptions in scoring, but the defense requires attention after crumbling against the Broncos. The Rockets defense ranks 94th in Rushing Success Rate and 109th in pass rush, per Pro Football Focus.

While the front seven hasn’t been successful in stopping the run, Toledo has been outstanding on third down. Opponents have converted only five out of 24 third-down attempts against the Rockets. Co-defensive coordinators Vince Kehres and Craig Kuligowski have built the seventh-best unit in regards to defensive Havoc. A large portion of that disruption comes via 14 passes defended (PBUs) in just two games. Cornerback Samuel Womack leads the way with four PBU’s on 10 targets and has allowed only five total yards after catch.


Eastern Michigan Eagles

Head coach Chris Creighton continues to be a cash cow as an underdog. After covering against Ball State in Week 11, Creighton now reports a 22-10-1 record against the spread as an underdog at Eastern Michigan.

The variable that Ball State could not stop was quarterback Preston Hutchinson in the red zone. The junior ran for over 100 yards and three touchdowns and racked up an additional 250 yards passing. Any defense not prepared for a dual-threat quarterback will have issues stopping the Eagles offense.

Hutchinson has led the Eagles offense to a top-20 rank in Finishing Drives, a statistical category in which the defense has struggled. On defense, Eastern Michigan ranks outside the top 100 in categories such as Success Rate, coverage and tackling. The one category Eastern Michigan has had success in is stopping the explosive pass. Ball State was limited to just one pass over 20 yards and posted just a 30% Success Rate in passing downs against the Eagles defense.


Betting Analysis & Pick

When Creighton is given more than a touchdown in MAC play, it’s almost an automatic bet, as I showed in the Action App on Sunday night. The Action Network projection has this game at Toledo -5.5; the market has shifted below a touchdown for Eastern Michigan since the opener. With the Rockets market deflated, the memory of the Western Michigan meltdown will be fresh on the minds of the gambling masses.



The handicap on this game is simple enough: Does the Toledo defense have what it takes to limit Hutchinson on the ground and in the air? According to the advanced statistics, the answer is a resounding yes. The Rockets are one of the best teams in FBS in Line Yards, Power Success Rate and Stuff Rate. All of those stat categories are needed when facing a short-yardage rush attack.

Toledo ranks 28th in PFF coverage grade, which should give Hutchinson issues hitting his favorite target, Tanner Knue, who went for over 120 receiving yards last week.

The Rockets’ poor pass rush is not a big factor, because Hutchinson only reports a 7% difference in completion rate with or without pressure. So, rather than rushing the passer, the real key to making Eastern Michigan a one-dimensional offense is by playing elite pass coverage. Toledo matches up excellently in that department.

The Eagles were the play over a touchdown, but leading up to kick, I will be playing back Toledo at -6 or better. The combination of a substandard Eastern Michigan defense and Toledo’s probable ability to limit Hutchinson makes the Rockets the side. If relegated to live betting, look for Eastern Michigan at any number above +8 and Toledo at any number -6 or better.

Pick: Toledo -6 or better.

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CLICK THE DROPDOWN ARROW TO EASILY NAVIGATE TO ANY GAME
Kickoff Time
Matchup
7 p.m. ET
Northern Illinois vs. Ball State
7 p.m. ET
Toledo vs. Eastern Michigan
7 p.m. ET
Western Michigan vs. Central Michigan

Western Michigan vs. Central Michigan

by Collin Wilson

Western Michigan Odds -1 (-105) [BET NOW]
Central Michigan Odds +1 (-115) [BET NOW]
Moneyline -110 / -110 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 59.5 (-105 / -115) [BET NOW]
Time 7 p.m. ET
TV ESPN2
Odds updated Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. ET and via PointsBet, where you can get $250 FREE instantly after signing up.
(Photo Credit: Steve Conner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Western Michigan Broncos

There may not be enough words to put into context how Western Michigan’s game against Toledo summarized everything that MACtion stands for.

The Broncos never led until the 17-second mark in the fourth quarter when quarterback Kaleb Eleby threw the game-winning touchdown on a fake spike. The game featured a Toledo kickoff from the Western Michigan 35-yard line, 20 penalties, and the MACtion referee crew made questionable decisions.

There were plenty of positives from Western Michigan in the advanced box score. The Broncos defense posted 10 tackles for loss and held Toledo to an average third-down distance of 9.3 yards. The offense posted explosive drives in 33% of its possessions, which is a significantly higher rate than the national average of 13%.

Western Michigan tops the list of the most explosive passing attacks in the nation per expected points. Kaleb Eleby has completed more 50-yard passes than 70% of other offenses in FBS after just two games.


Central Michigan Chippewas

The Chippewas defense did its part in a blowout victory over Northern Illinois.

That same Huskies offense put up nearly 400 yards of offense against Buffalo in its MAC conference-opener. Yet, Central Michigan stuffed Northern Illinois on 15 out of 32 Huskies rush attempts and held NIU to zero explosive drives.

Central Michigan has a top-20 Defensive Success Rate rank and sits in the top 25 in Finishing Drives and coverage grade per Pro Football Focus. Through 125 defensive snaps, no player on the Central Michigan defense has recorded more than two missed tackles.

The bigger question heading into the season was at quarterback: David Moore was initially suspended for substance abuse. Freshman Daniel Richardson has filled in admirably with 439 yards passing and a 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. There has been no drop off in adjusted completion percentage when Richardson has faced pressure.


Betting Analysis & Pick

The biggest hurdle to the MAC West division title comes in this game between the Chippewas and Broncos.

Defeating Western Michigan would grant CMU the inside track through tiebreakers to compete for the conference title. For the Chips, Toledo and Ball State come at the end of the shortened season.



The handicap of this game comes in two parts: Can the Central Michigan defense slow down the Broncos’ explosiveness, and will Richardson find continued success under center for the Chippewas?

The Central Michigan defense must bring stellar play from its linebackers and secondary, and its coverage grade needs to put a speed bump in the road against the Western Michigan offense. Head coach Jim McElwain’s defense has been one of the best in third-down situations, allowing opponents only six conversions in 26 attempts.

Broncos wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge will be the primary target for Central Michigan. The explosive playmaker averages 24.6 yards per catch and has accumulated 131 yards after the catch. The Chips field three of the highest-graded safeties per PFF, and have held opposing quarterbacks to less than a 50% completion rate when targeted.

A large difference in these defenses is tackling. Western Michigan ranks outside the top 100 with five players who have three or more missed tackles. Defensive backs Patrick Lupro and Harrison Taylor have combined for 12 missed tackles, and they’re going against a Central Michigan passing attack that is top-five in passing expected points. Richardson should be well protected in coverage, but the run game will be a big factor against a Broncos trench that has been pushed around by Toledo and Akron.

Central Michigan will be able to limit the Broncos’ explosiveness while continuing to be the best third-down defense in the conference. Look for the Chips to do enough in the rushing attack to set up explosive passes later in the game. As for the market, plenty of Western Michigan steam is expected. Find the cheapest moneyline price on the Chippewas and enjoy another night of MACtion.

Pick: Central Michigan -130 or better

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