Date/Time: November 5, 8:00 p.m. ET
Spread: Northern Illinois -3
This may not be the same Northern Illinois team that fans and bettors are used to seeing, but this is still a MAC team that knocked off Northwestern earlier this season. Ball State isn’t the same team either, but they’ve got an upset in mind this Wednesday in Muncie. Both teams lost their quarterbacks from the 2013 season to the NFL, as Jordan Lynch and Keith Wenning made the jump from setting records in the MAC to being part of NFL organizations. With nearly 5,000 yards of offense from Jordan Lynch to replace and over 4,000 yards of offense from Keith Wenning to replace, neither of these teams are lighting up the scoreboard at the same level, but they’re still formidable MAC teams.
It seemed like all of the turnover in the Northern Illinois program would catch up with the team eventually, yet they’re still in the midst of what could be another double-digit win season. The Huskies were expected to take a major step back when Chandler Harnish left as the program’s all-time leading passer, but Jordan Lynch stepped in and led the team to a BCS bowl appearance in 2012 against Florida State. After some debate on who would fill Lynch’s shoes, head coach Ron Carey has tapped Drew Hare as the next NIU signal caller. Hare has an 11/1 TD/INT ratio to date this season with a completion percentage of 60.8 percent. He’s also the team’s leading rusher with 581 yards on 76 carries for a 7.6 average. It’s not the numbers that Lynch put up, but Hare is just a sophomore.
At the skill positions, the Huskies returned most of their talent from the previous season. Da’Ron Brown leads the team with 37 catches and 662 yards, more than double the next closest player in both categories. Cameron Stingily’s season began a bit late, but he has 477 yards on 91 carries with five rushing touchdowns. The NIU defense has had a handful of flat performances, including one in which they gave up 41 points to Miami of Ohio. Jimmie Ward, their top player from 2013, was a first round pick and most of the 2012 defense has moved on. That group was one of the best in school history, holding opponents to 19.9 points per game.
Some people were a bit surprised that head coach Pete Lembo didn’t bolt when his record-setting quarterback made the move to the NFL, but he stayed loyal to the program. After a season-opening win over Colgate, the Cardinals lost five straight games before getting back in the win column with a rather impressive win at Central Michigan. Ozzie Mann was named the starter following the preseason, but Jack Milas, a redshirt freshman, has now taken over and could be Lembo’s golden goose over the next four years. Milas was excellent against Western Michigan with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Though he has struggled over the last two games, Ball State won both and he didn’t turn the ball over. Jahwan Edwards has been the bell cow at running back for the Cardinals with 178 carries in eight games with a 4.7 average and eight touchdowns.
The Cardinals averaged 38.5 points per game last season and that’s dropped up substantially to 26.9 points per game. The defense is a tad worse at preventing points, but a lack of consistent offense has had something to do with that. The Cardinals also had to replace five linemen from last season’s team and they certainly have felt the impact of that in the trenches. The Cardinals were also +12 in turnover margin last season and with some regression in that category, we have seen what can happen.
Rod Carey was 12-2 straight up and 8-6 against the number last season. The Huskies are off to a 6-2 start and they are just 3-5 ATS on the season. They’ve failed to cover in each of their last five games. In Pete Lembo’s first three seasons, Ball State was 25-13 straight up and 24-14 ATS. This season, the Cardinals are 3-5 SU and 4-4 ATS. They are 3-1 ATS on the road, so they have struggled on their home field.
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Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.