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August 20, 2019

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Countdown to college football: Picking every MAC team’s win total

Circa Sports Book Opens at Golden Gate

Steve Marcus

A view of the first Circa sports book at the Golden Gate in downtown Las Vegas Friday, May 31, 2019.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has posted win totals on 80 college football teams heading into the season. Not a single one comes from the Mid-American Conference.

That’s not out of line with other local sports books either. The MAC gets no love in Las Vegas, not until its midweek schedule picks up in October anyway.

That’s not going to stop Talking Points, though, in the blog’s quest to pick the win totals of every college football team going into the season. The MAC is part two, following the Mountain West, so read below for a team-by-team handicap.

Ball State

Total: 4 (over minus-120, under Even)

Last Season: 4-8 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

Injuries have derailed the Cardinals in each of the last two years, as they’ve been amongst the most banged-up teams in the nation. Sometimes, that’s a systemic issue, but more often, it’s just bad luck. Mike Neu has shown some promise as a coach and recruited well. His team could be a surprise if they stay marginally healthy.

Guess: Over 4 wins at minus-120

Central Michigan

Total: 4 (over plus-115, under minus-135)

Last Season: 1-11 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

The Chippewas are guaranteed to improve with the coaching change to Jim McElwain, but can the former Florida and Colorado State head do it drastically in the first year? His work is cut out for him considering Central Michigan had a historically bad offense last season, gaining a national-worst 3.7 yards per play. McElwain has already upped recruiting returns, including landing former Tennessee quarterback Quentin Dormady, but he might need a couple years in a situation this dire.

Guess: Under 4 wins at minus-135

Eastern Michigan

Total: 6.5 (over minus-110, under minus-130)

Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread

It’s time to give Chris Creighton his due for one of the most impressive coaching runs of the last few years. Creighton has transformed the Eagles from the worst program in the country to a weekly tough out. They’ve been a highly profitable bet too, going 26-11-1 against the spread the last three years. This season brings unique challenges though in trying to rebuild both the offensive and defensive fronts, which is typically an important red flag.

Guess: Under 6.5 wins at minus-135

Northern Illinois

Total: 6.5 (over plus-110, under minus-130)

Last Season: 8-6 straight-up, 7-7 against the spread

Some straight sorcery must be going on in DeKalb, Ill., to win two conference titles and three divisional crowns in the last six years despite rarely having the most efficient team. The Huskies certainly didn’t have the best team in last year’s banner year, but they went an opportunistic 6-2 in games decided by less than a touchdown — including a 30-29 MAC Championship Game win over Buffalo — to outperform expectations. They’re losing quite a bit going into this year, including coach Rod Carey and All-American edge rusher Sutton Smith, so regression should strike.

Play: Under 6.5 wins at minus-130

Toledo

Total: 8 (over plus-145, under minus-165)

Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 6-7 against the spread

In recent seasons, the Rockets often have the most talented roster in the MAC on paper but rarely demonstrate it on the field. Defense held them back last year — they gave up nearly 6 yards per play — and there’s not a lot of reasons to see the problem resolving this year. This looks like a 7-5 team for the second straight year, but bettors have come in so strong on the under, that there’s no value in paying such an inflated price.

Guess: Over 8 wins at plus-145

Western Michigan

Total: 7.5 (over minus-110, under minus-110)

Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 4-9 against the spread

This could be the last gasp for the glorified recruiting classes former coach P.J. Fleck brought to Kalamazoo, Mich. It might be a big one. Senior running back LeVante Bellamy is the MAC’s best after averaging more than 6 yards per carry last season. Senior quarterback Jon Wassink is a three-year starter. The entire defense is back after showing signs of life late in the season under new coordinator Lou Esposito. Watch out for Western Michigan.

Play: Over 7.5 wins at minus-110

Akron

Total: 3.5 (over plus-135, under minus-155)

Last Season: 4-8 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

A lot of teams lean on their quarterbacks, but Akron is really going to lean on its quarterback this year. The Zips are hoping junior Kato Nelson can build on the promise he showed last season, as he’s one of the only constants in what’s otherwise a total rebuilding year under new coach Tim Arth. Workin in Arth’s favor is one of the weakest schedules in the nation.

Guess: Over 3.5 wins at plus-135

Bowling Green

Total: 3 (over minus-145, under plus-125)

Last Season: 3-9 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread

New Bowling Green coach Sean Loeffler is totally overhauling both the offense and defense, which has led to an exodus of players including presumed quarterback Jarret Doege, who bailed after spring practice. Loeffler’s coordinator choices — Brian VanGorder on defense and Terry Martin on offense — are recognizable names whose production has not matched their reputations at recent stops. This might be a rebuilding job that takes more than a season or two.

Guess: Under 3 wins at plus-125

Buffalo

Total: 6 (over minus-145, under plus-125)

Last Season: 10-4 straight-up, 9-5 against the spread

Blowing a 19-point lead to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game, and then losing to Troy in the Dollar General Bowl, might be the type of end to the season that still stings going into a new year. Except the Bulls are hardly the same team. Last year’s leaders are gone, leaving Buffalo the least experienced team in the conference. The season will be a referendum on whether coach Lance Leipold has built a sustainable program and not just one standout team that crested. As Leipold’s 18-7-1 against the spread record over the last two seasons may hint, it’s not smart to doubt him.

Guess: Over 6 wins at minus-145

Kent State

Total: 4 (over plus-155, under minus-175)

Last Season: 2-10 straight-up, 7-5 against the spread

Former Auburn quarterback Woody Barrett steps into the run the offense, which played at the conference’s fastest pace in coach Sean Lewis’ first year. Lewis has now brought in two highly-regarded recruiting classes in addition to the bulk of upperclassmen who claimed the majority of the playing time last year. The problem is the schedule, as many better MAC teams in the past have been undone by slates easier than Kent State’s starting the year with trips to Arizona State, Auburn and Wisconsin in the non-conference.

Guess: Over 4 wins at plus-155

Miami (Ohio)

Total: 6 (over plus-150, under minus-170)

Last Season: 6-6 straight-up, 8-4 against the spread

The RedHawks will need to win close games to bag its first winning season under coach Chuck Martin, something it’s shown no ability to do. Miami (Ohio) is now 7-20 in one-score games under Martin, and the sample is getting a little too large to be a coincidence. Martin is one of the most conservative coaches in the nation, a trait that could be contributing to the continued struggles.

Lean: Under 6 wins at minus-170

Ohio

Total: 7.5 (over minus-130, under plus-110)

Last Season: 9-4 straight-up, 8-4 against the spread

For some inexplicable reason, Ohio is not the favorite to win the MAC. The Bobcats are 3-to-1, trailing Toledo at plus-250 (risking $1 to win $2.50), despite clearly being the best team on paper. Quarterback Nathan Rourke is the best player in the league, having racked up more than 6,000 all-purpose yards the last two years. Ohio rated foruth in the nation last year in earning 7 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Think of Ohio as the inverse of Northern Illinois — It’s been the best MAC teams on several recent occasions despite not having a title to show for it. That should change soon.

Play: Over 7.5 wins at minus-130

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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