The Northern Illinois University football program opens its 118th season as 11-point home underdogs against the University of Buffalo program that is the 3-to-1 favorite to win the Mid-American Conference in a six-game shortened season. It’s one of six #MACtion games on the schedule Wednesday giving the conference huge publicity for future recruits and giving their best pro prospects a better chance to be seen by NFL scouts. And for most of us, it gives one extra day to bet some live football.
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 - 7:00 pm ET
Spread: Buffalo -11, Total: 51
Circa Sports opened the first college football spreads in Nevada on Sunday at 2:00 pm PT with Buffalo as a 9-point favorite and the total set at 48.5. With five minutes they took immediate action on the over to bump it up to 51. Five minutes late action pushed Buffalo to -10.5 and on Monday morning they adjusted down to -10. Later on Monday afternoon, they were pushed to Buffalo -11 and the total has stayed at 51
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Kenny White has worked non-stop throughout the end of last season to compile his 2020 rating and then had to follow the drama during the pandemic of what teams were opting out, what players were opting out, and then re-do everything when every conference decided to play through it. He has Buffalo rated as his No. 87 team with a rating of 95.0. He has Northern Illinois rated as his No. 106 team with a 92.5 rating. No home field edge here so he has a rating saying Buffalo should be -2.5 on a neutral field and a total set at 53.
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Head Coach Lance Leipold starts his sixth season at Buffalo with 15 starters returning from an 8-5 team that led the MAC in most defensive categories such as sacks, total defense, and points allowed. The defense allowed just 292 yards-per and allowed only one 100-yard rusher. Seven starters return from that squad that is trending to be even stingier this season and part of the reason the spread is so high.
The area of concern is at quarterback where they have two good ones, sophomore Matt Myers and junior Kyle Vantrease, but coach Leipold hasn’t announced a starter yet after both played several games last season.
“We’re probably not going to name a particular starter at this time, until closer to game time,” Leipold told reporters Thursday on a video conference. “We’re devising a couple different game plans that kind of highlight each guy’s ability right now.”
Myers won the starting job as a freshman and then got injured and missed the rest of the season after completing 48% of his passes with six TDs and 4 interceptions. Vantrease finished the season completing 58% with 8 TDs and 2 picks. He helped Buffalo win six of its last seven games ending with a 31-9 win and cover (-6) in the Bahama Bowl Charlotte.
Whoever starts at QB will have the top-8 receivers from 2019 returning and the top-2 running backs who each gained over 1,000 yards. Jarrett Patterson rushed for 1,843 yards and 19 TDs and Kevin Marks rushed for 1,078 yards and 8 TDs. They helped the offense average 253 yards rushing per game which is the most since Leipold has been coaching and their pass percentage dropped to only 54%, the lowest of the Leipold era.
In Leipold’s last three seasons, the Bulls have gone 25-12-2 ATS while going 24-15 straight-up showing his teams hold up to the expectations and even exceeds what the oddsmakers think about his program.
Thomas Hammock starts his second year as head coach for the Huskies, the team that he led in rushing with over 1,000 yards each in 1999 and 2000. Prior to taking the NIU job last year, he was the NFL Ravens running-back coach for five seasons. He ended last season with a disappointing 5-7 record (7-5 ATS) but only returns 10 starters, one of which in senior QB Ross Bowers who completed 57% of his passes last season but threw only 7 TDs and offered 8 interceptions. The two leading rushers from last season are gone, but the offense should some sign of improvement in the second year of running Hammock’s offense run by offensive-coordinator Eric Eidsness who came over from the same position at South Dakota State.
The problem NIU is going to have issues with is its defense that returns only four players. Four of their top five tacklers are gone from 2019, a team that got virtually no pressure on opposing QBs with only 14 sacks while allowing 28.2 ppg.
One area NIU doesn’t have to worry about is the kicking game behind sophomore Joh Richardson who was 30-for30 on extra-points and 14 of 18 on field-goal attempts, 10-of-11 from 39 yards in. That’s better than some NFL kickers in 2020.
No, the fans won’t even be allowed to tailgate in the parking lot due to the state of Illinois, Mid-American Conference, and NIU regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they will allow family members of the coaches and players which will give it some noise.
Northern Illinois carries a 12-game win streak against Buffalo with Buffalo’s only win coming in their first meeting back in 1968. The home team is 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings and NIU is 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings. Four of the last six meetings have stayed under the total. The last meeting was in the 2018 MAC Title game and it was NIU winning 30-29 as +3 underdogs.
DID YOU KNOW?
Buffalo is one of 21 football teams that has never been nationally ranked.
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