It’s championship week in the world of college football, and the first one on the docket kicks off on Friday night at 7 PM EST. Ford Field in Detroit is the venue for this year’s Mid-American Conference championship game, which pits the Buffalo Bulls versus the Northern Illinois Huskies.
While the MAC as a whole flies under the radar in comparison to the power conferences that are chock full of bigger schools, it does have a cult following among football aficionados and handicappers across the nation. This one shapes up to be an intriguing and closely-contested tilt, and conference bigwigs really couldn’t ask for a better way to close out what has been another entertaining year of MAC-tion.
Let’s take a look at this game in full detail, starting with the way the oddsmakers see things.
Northern Illinois vs. Buffalo, 7 PM EST, ESPN2
Northern Illinois vs. Buffalo pick:
Don’t let the disparity in overall records fool you. As the spread indicates, these two squads are closely matched.
Northern Illinois has fallen on hard times in recent weeks by dropping two in a row, but the team was ultimately able to finish a game ahead of MAC West division rivals Eastern Michigan, Toledo, and Western Michigan, all of whom had identical 7-5 overall and 5-3 conference records. Buffalo had a slightly easier go of things in the MAC East division, but they still just finished one game ahead of rivals Miami-Ohio and Ohio.
|Record||Conf. Rec.||PF||PA||Streak||Standings||CFP Rank|
|Northern Illinois||7-5||6-2||239||251||L2||1-MAC West||NA|
The Huskies started off the season in disappointing fashion by winning just one of their first three. However, they quickly turned it around from that point and ripped off six straight victories. The team played with fire as the season wound down by dropping a pair of close ones to Miami-Ohio and Western Michigan in the last two weeks.
It has been a different story for the Bulls, whose season has been defined by two long winning streaks. They kicked things off by winning their first four, but that streak was snapped when they fell to Army by a score of 42-13. It was a five-game winning streak from that point, which was ended with a loss to Ohio. Buffalo closed out the season with a 44-14 victory over Bowling Green.
A quick gander at the stats tells us that Buffalo is the more productive squad on offense. NIU has a slight overall edge on defense, but the Bulls have the edge in defending against the pass. The Huskies are the top team in the nation when it comes to generating pressure, but they also allow their own quarterback to get hit an awful lot.
Buffalo does a solid job of getting to the QB as well, but they do a much better job of protecting their own. The Bulls have seen a few more balls bounce in their direction in 2018. From a bottom line perspective, the overall performance of these two squads in 2018 points to an intriguing matchup for the MAC crown.
These two schools have hooked up in each of the last three years, and ten times in total since 1999. Over that span, NIU is a perfect 10-0 straight up and 7-3 against the spread. The Over has come out just twice over those ten games, and only once in the last four.
For the most recent stretch of three games, two of them were on the close side while one was a blowout. Last year, NIU was a 14-13 road victory in a game in which they favored by seven points with a projected total of 49.5 points.
The spread is tighter for this year’s game at 3.5 points, while the total is in the same vicinity at 50.5 points. Notably, this marks the first time that Buffalo has been favored over NIU in recent times.
History appears to be on the side of NIU, and we’re not just talking on a head-to-head basis. This will be NIU’s eighth trip to the MAC title game (they have gone 3-4) but just Buffalo’s first. That said, history doesn’t outweigh what we have seen from both squads in 2018.
NIU gets it done with defense, but their offense is on the anemic side. Buffalo is much more productive on offense, and they haven’t exactly been slouches on defense. As we have seen throughout the 2018 season, offenses have a clear edge over defenses, and it looks like that will apply here as well.
While it’s not out of the question for NIU to turn back the football clock and win a low-scoring smashmouth affair, recent history is not on their side. They will definitely give the Bulls a tough time, but we see the more complete team pulling away in the end and taking down their first MAC title.
We’ll take Buffalo minus the points.