Western Michigan vs. Michigan Odds, Pick, Prediction: MAC Underdog is Live in Ann Arbor (Sept. 4)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Cade McNamara.
- The Western Michigan Broncos take on the Michigan Wolverines in an in-state rivalry game to open the 2021 season.
- BJ Cunningham and Collin Wilson both have the Broncos projected as shorter underdogs, so they both see value there.
- Check out Cunningham's full betting guide with odds, picks, and predictions for the game.
Western Michigan vs. Michigan Odds
Michigan looks to start its season off on the right foot when it hosts in-state foe Western Michigan on Saturday.
Western Michigan has steadily declined since the peak years under PJ Fleck, but the Broncos bring back an incredibly potent offense in Year 5 under Tim Lester. Kaleb Eleby was one of the best Group-of-Five quarterbacks in the country last year in a short sample size, and if he can continue that play over a full season, the skies are the limit for the Broncos in the MAC.
Western Michigan does lose a lot on both sides of the ball from a TARP perspective, bringing back only 58% on offense and 48% on defense. The secondary will certainly be a question mark, but the defensive line brings back a ton of talent.
The Broncos are +750 to win the MAC and have a season wins total of six. Western Michigan has been above .500 the past three seasons, so I’d expect that to continue with a solid quarterback under center.
It was a short sample size, but Kaleb Eleby absolutely lit up MAC defenses in 2020. The sophomore averaged a whopping 11.2 yards per attempt and threw 18 touchdowns compared to only two picks. He was graded as the No. 24 quarterback in the country in 2020, per PFF, putting up a 8.4% big-time throw rate and only a 2.1% turnover-worthy play rate, both of which were top 10 in the country.
Eleby does lose his top target D’Wayne Eskridge, but he gets back the rest of his receiving corps, including Skyy Moore, who was graded as the No. 18 wide receiver in the Group of Five last season, per PFF. So, the Broncos passing attack may take a dip from ranking 16th in Success Rate, but it will still be lethal with Eleby under center.
Eleby also gets four of his five offensive lineman back from a season ago, who were tremendous in both run blocking and protection, ranking inside the top 30 in Offensive Line Yards, Havoc, and Sack Rate.
Western Michigan also has a very potent rushing attack behind La’Darius Jefferson, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2020. Although it was a MAC-only schedule in 2020, the Broncos ranked fourth in Rushing Success, which is still very impressive.
Their offensive coordinator, Jake Moreland, has moved on to the NFL, but they promoted quarterbacks’ coach Eric Evans and running back’s coach Mike Bath to co-offensive coordinator roles. Evans was the passing game coordinator last season, so I don’t expect a big dropoff for the Broncos offense since they are still under the same system.
It’s a tale of two stories for Western Michigan’s defense heading into 2021. The defensive line returns everyone from last season and is one of the most talented units in the MAC.
Ali Fayad will be wreaking Havoc in the Michigan backfield all afternoon from the defensive edge position. He had four sacks in six games and earned a 90.4 pass-rushing grade, per PFF. The defensive line as a whole tore up the MAC last season, ranking top 35 nationally in Sack Rate, Defensive Line Yards, and Havoc.
The secondary is going to be a big issue for Western Michigan all season long. In 2020, it had a coverage rank of 112th and ranked 94th in expected points added allowed per pass play, per PFF.
The good news is the Broncos return everyone in the secondary and added a couple of transfers to improve their depth. But the bottom line is they have to take a step forward this season, and in this first game against Michigan, Cade McNamara is going to throw all over them.
Michigan enters Year 7 under Jim Harbaugh after a tumultuous 2020 season that saw the Wolverines go 2-4. Harbaugh is 49-22 over his time at Michigan, which would be outstanding if he wasn’t coaching one of the blue bloods of college football.
Going into 2021, it’s going to be difficult for the Wolverines to even sniff the Big Ten East title with Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana all projected to finish ahead of them.
Harbaugh just recently announced that Cade McNamara will be the starting quarterback for the opener against Western Michigan, beating out Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman and five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy.
Michigan also has a new defensive coordinator in Mike McDonald who spent the last seven years as the linebackers coach under Jim’s brother, John Harbaugh, with the Baltimore Ravens. So, with all of the changes we will see if Jim Harbaugh can write the ship and bring Michigan back to one of the best teams in the Big Ten.
Throughout the summer, everyone thought that Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman was the presumed starter against Western Michigan. However, Cade McNamara won the job, but what we saw in limited sample size last season, he’s not going to be the savior for Michigan.
He started the game against Rutgers throwing for 260 yards on 36 attempts and four touchdowns, but he then struggled and got injured against Penn State, throwing for only 91 yards on 25 attempts. Additionally, in his limited sample size he only received a 65.9 passing grade, per PFF.
McNamara does get his top two pass-catchers Ronnie Bell and Cornelius Johnson back, which should provide some stability for a Michigan offense that is gradually moving to complete spread offense under offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
In 2018, the year before Gattis was hired, Michigan ran heavy sets 65% of the time. Last season, Gattis’ offense spent only 33% of the time in heavier sets. The change hasn’t translated to much success, as Michigan ranked 67th in Offensive Success Rate in 2020, but Jim Harbaugh is giving Gattis more control of the offense.
Coming into the 2020 season, the Michigan rushing attack was set to be a tandem between Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet. Haskins emerged as the clear No. 1 back, rushing for 6.1 yards per carry and six touchdowns.
The result of that is Charbonnet hit the transfer portal and is now with Chip Kelly at UCLA. Michigan will get four starters back on an offensive line that struggled in the running game, ranking 89th in Offensive Line Yards but was good in pass protection, ranking inside the top 20 in Sack Rate and Havoc.
The key for Michigan in this game is the play of Cade McNamara against Western Michigan’s weak secondary. If he can efficiently throw the ball down the field, the Wolverines should have a lot of success on offense.
Michigan’s defense under Dom Brown last season was horrendous. Brown’s blitz-happy style of defense wasn’t effective in getting to the quarterback, since Michigan ranked 121st in Sack Rate and left the Wolverines secondary exposed, as it ranked 62nd in Passing Success Rate and 76th in coverage, per PFF.
Things aren’t going to change with Mike Macdonald coming in because the Ravens had the highest blitz percentage in the NFL last season. So, what often happens with Michigan’s defense is they blitz and play man coverage, but that doesn’t work if you can’t create any Havoc (ranked 120th last season).
From a TARP perspective, Michigan only returns 61% of its defense, which is very low in the year of the super senior. A lot of the holes Michigan has to fill are in the front seven. If the Wolverines do continue to blitz at a high rate with a ton of new faces, things are not going to get any better for Michigan’s defense.
The secondary does have two very good safeties returning in Daxton Hill and Brad Hawkins, along with both of its starting corners, but the problem for Michigan in this matchup is Western Michigan is going to try to run the ball right down the Wolverines’ throat. The Broncos ran the ball close to 60% of the time last season, and for Michigan’s defense that ranked 62nd in Rushing Success and 93rd in Defensive Line Yards, that’s a big problem.
Western Michigan vs. Michigan Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Western Michigan and Michigan match up statistically:
Western Michigan Offense vs. Michigan Defense
Michigan Offense vs. Western Michigan Defense
Pace of Play / Other
There is a ton to love about this Western Michigan offense and its matchup against Michigan’s defense. The Broncos can beat you in a multitude of ways and should be able to run the ball with a lot of success against the Michigan defensive line that was extremely poor against the run and is under a new defensive coordinator. That also should open up the field for one of the best quarterbacks in the MAC to light up the Wolverines secondary down field.
Western Michigan vs. Michigan Betting Pick
This line opened up at Michigan -17.5 and changed quickly, with Western Michigan at +16.5 at some shops. However, there are still some +17’s out there, specifically at BetMGM.
I only have Michigan projected at -8.76, and the great Collin Wilson, whose projections you can check out under the PRO Projections on the Action Network App, has Michigan projected as only -11.1 favorites, so I think there is some value on the Broncos at +17 at -110 and would play it down to +15.