MACtion is back and it's going to be fun again in 2018
The MAC should be another fun conference to follow this coming season. The usual suspects are going to be atop the mix with Northern Illinois and Toledo, but there are some intriguing squads that could throw a wrench into that. You'll read more about it later, but I really like Buffalo. It's time for the final conference of our tour around FBS as we look at the win totals provided by South Point sportsbook and chime in on whether there's value in the over/under.
Over 4.5 wins -105...Under 4.5 wins -115
Non-Conference Games: at Nebraska, Morgan State, at Northwestern, at Iowa State
Terry Bowden is 31-44 in six seasons with the school. The Zips' defense is going to be really good with nine starters returning. That side of the ball improved by five points per game in 2017 and should see more of that in '18. The problems come on offense where they need to work on quarterback and running back issues. Thankfully the offensive line is almost intact. Five of the team's first seven games are on the road so Akron needs to figure things out pretty quickly.
Verdict: I've got 4-5 wins for the Zips so no play here.
Over 4.5 wins -110...Under 4.5 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: at Oregon, Maryland, Eastern Kentucky, at Georgia Tech
Bowling Green has a lot of issues that the Falcons need to look at entering the season. The defense has been horrendous so the school went out and hired new coordiantor Carl Pelini to try and turn it around. Teams averaged more than 500 yards against Bowling Green while putting up 38 points per game. The offense failed to score 20 points on four different occasions last season. Quarterback Jarret Doege is back to try and improve things after making five starts as a freshman. The Falcons do get three of their first four at home, but they close out with three of their final five on the road.
Verdict: I've got 4-5 wins so no play.
Over 6.5 wins -125...Under 6.5 wins +105
Non-Conference Games: Delaware State, at Temple, at Rutgers, Army
Buffalo is my favorite team in the MAC and I will probably be playing the Bulls often this season especially as an underdog. The record in 2017 may have been just 6-6, but it would have been a whole lot better if quarterback Tyree Jackson had stayed healthy. When he got hurt, Buffalo's offense felt the pain. But he returned in late October to help the Bulls go 3-1 down the stretch. Anthony Johnson is an underrated wide receiver who should be getting more love from NFL scouts. The defense features Khalil Hodge, who is a tackling machine at linebacker. Road trips to Toledo and Ohio scare me, but Buffalo does not draw Northern Illinois.
Verdict: The over is my favorite play in the conference.
Over 2.5 wins EVEN...Under 2.5 wins -120
Non-Conference Games: at Illinois, Howard, at Penn State, t Ole Miss
Kent State did themselves no favors with this non-conference schedule. The only thing it accomplishes is a nice paycheck for the program because the Golden Flashes aren't going on the road and winning these games. Last year they lost by 53 at Clemson, 21 at Marshall and 39 at Louisville. The defense saw an increase in points allowed despite not being a terrible unit. They didn't get a lot of rest considering how many times the offense went three-and-out. Kent State scored just 12.8 points per game in 2017. The team is hoping to play faster under new head coach Sean Lewis. We'll see how the Golden Flashes do in that respect with just four starters returning on offense.
Verdict: This is a one- or two-win team. The under is probably worth a look.
Over 6.5 wins EVEN...Under 6.5 wins -120
Non-Conference Games: Marshall, at Cincinnati, at Minnesota, at Army
Miami lost five games by eight points or fewer in 2017 so the RedHawks were close to making their second straight bowl game. Eight starters return on each side of the ball. The offense and defense both averaged 24 points per game, another reason why Miami went 5-7. Quarterback Gus Ragland was very good and he's got his top weapon back in wide receiver James Gardner (927 yards, 11 TDs). Nine of the 12 top tacklers from last year return, which bodes well for the defense maintaining its level of play. The RedHawks have just five true home games and road trips to Minnesota, Buffalo and Northern Illinois to worry about.
Verdict: The money move isn't bad. This could be a very good team with an ugly record due to a tough schedule.
Over 8.5 wins +115...Under 8.5 wins -135
Non-Conference Games: Howard, at Virginia, at Cincinnati, UMass
Frank Solich has done wonders with the school going 97-71 as he enters his 14th year with the Bobcats. Last season they went 9-4 behind an offense that averaged nearly 40 points per game. Nine starters return on that side of the ball, including talented quarterback Nathan Rourke and 1,000-yard rusher A.J. Ouellette. Wide receiver Papi White has the potential to be very good as well, meaning Ohio's offense should be tough to slow down once again. The defense has to replace seven starters, including most of its font seven. The Bobcats have a stretch of four road games over five weeks.
Verdict: The money move is right and the under is the way to go.
Over 4 wins -105...Under 4 wins -115
Non-Conference Games: Central Connecticut State, at Notre Dame, at Indiana, Western Kentucky
If the Cardinals can survive a tough start to the year, they have four of five at home at the end of September into October. It was a long 2017 for Ball State under center as four different quarterback combined for 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Riley Neal will try to take a stranglehold of the position after playing just three games before suffering a knee injury. James Gilbert and Caleb Huntley are really good running backs with each cracking the 1,000-yard mark previously. If they can stay healthy, then the offense should hold up its end of the bargain. The defense has to improve after allowing more than 40 points per game last year.
Verdict: Four is a good number.
Over 4.5 wins -110...Under 4.5 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: at Kentucky, Kansas, Maine, at Michigan State
The Chippewas are rebooting at the quarterback position after Shane Morris moved on. If you look at the depth chart, you'll notice that Devon Spalding has actually moved to wide receiver so they could keep him healthy. CMU has to replace solid tight end Tyler Conklin and find a go-to receiver. The Chippewas' top three pass catchers are gone from last year. Top pass rusher Joe Ostman also has departed but the defense returns six starters. CMU closes out with three of the final four on the road.
Verdict: The over is not a bad play, but not my favorite.
Over 5.5 wins -125...Under 5.5 wins +105
Non-Conference Games: Monmouth, at Purdue, at San Diego State, Army
EMU has four of its first six games on the road including some tough non-conference matchups. The Eagles have won 12 games over the past two seasons after picking up just 15 total over the previous seven years. Shaq Vann and Ian Eriksen are a solid duo at running back and they'll have to produce considering the holes at quarterback and wide receiver. The defense should maintain its status as one of the best in the MAC. EMU lost all six of its games from last season in a row and all by seven points or fewer. Hopefully, a few more breaks will go the Eagles' way in 2018.
Verdict: This is a really tough schedule I think. I'd consider a look at the under at the plus price.
Over 6.5 wins -115...Under 6.5 wins -105
Non-Conference Games: at Iowa, Utah, at Florida State, at BYU
NIU never runs away from a tough non-conference schedule and this year is no different. Playing three games away from home against good competition will either toughen the Huskies up for conference play or take them out of things early. The schedule makers also did them no favors with a road trip to Akron on the first Thursday night in November followed by a home date with Toledo just six days later. The matchup with the Rockets could be the most important one in the entire MAC slate. Marcus Childers should get the first crack at quarterback as the team tries to find stability at the position. End Sutton Smith brings that more and to the defense after racking up 14 sacks and 29.5 tackles for a loss last season. NIU has the tools to be a threat in the MAC.
Verdict: I have 6-7 wins for this team so no play on the total.
Over 8 wins -110...Under 8 wins -110
Non-Conference Games: VMI, Miami, Nevada, at Fresno State
Unlike Northern Illinois, Toledo has a very friendly schedule. The Rockets do not play their first true road game until the last Saturday in September when they travel to face Fresno State. Getting Miami at home is a great opportunity for them. Toledo gets three opponents off their bye week. The team has to replace QB Logan Woodside, which won't be easy. Cody Thompson and Diontae Johnson are back as part of a very good wide receiving corps. The defense just has to do enough to keep the Rockets in games. Their front line is a question mark while the back end figures to be pretty strong.
Verdict: The under seems worth a look here. Toledo's quarterback situation scares me a bit as well as three of the final five games coming on the road.
Over 6 wins -120...Under 6 wins EVEN
Non-Conference Games: Syracuse, at Michigan, Delaware State, at Georgia State
An ACC school comes to Kalamazoo in week one as the Broncos take on Syracuse. Tim Lester will be familiar with the Orange after he spent some time there. Lester went 6-6 after replacing P.J. Fleck and has 12 starters back. The team needs QB Jon Wassink to stay healthier after he got hurt in 2017. He won't have leading rusher Jarvion Franklin, but the running back group has some talent to work with. The defense lost a bunch of linebackers and their top cornerback so a step back should be expected. WMU hosts Toledo and Northern Illinois in MAC play.
Verdict: The under may be worth a look although six wins is a pretty solid number.
-- Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of NIUHuskies.com)