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Northern Illinois favored to win another MAC Title

By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The oddsmakers were way off target last preseason labeling Ohio the heavy 3-1 favorite to win the Mid-American Conference championship.

Fortunately, yours truly steered the public on the right path as this is what was written for Northern Illinois last July: "Without (Chandler) Harnish, the public might not expect too much (from the offense) so bet on Northern Illinois early and often. In addition, take the Huskies to win the MAC at the generous odds of 6-1."

It also is important to point out the Huskies were 8-3 against the spread (ATS) versus Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents during the regular season. Can they duplicate last year's glory in 2013? Read on to find out.

Time now to take a deeper look into the league, along with predicted straight- up (overall and conference) records for those wagering on over/unders for total team victories. The over/under number posted is for the entire season, not league totals. In addition, all statistics provided in the offense and defense sections are from conference-only play unless otherwise indicated. (All odds and totals courtesy of 5Dimes.)

WEST

6) EASTERN MICHIGAN (70-1) - The Eagles are 2-12 ATS off a straight-up (SU) victory the last six years.

Offense - Trending steady. With the emergence of quarterback Tyler Benz a season ago, the Eagles ran the ball just 59 percent of the time after rushing 74 percent in 2011. The change in style didn't affect the offense as it averaged the same 21 points per game (ppg). Expect similar to slightly improved numbers in 2013.

Defense - Trending steady. After finishing 115th nationally in both scoring and total defense, it will be extremely difficult for the Eagles to put forth better numbers due to the loss of five of their top six tacklers.

Prediction - Eastern Michigan has had just one above .500 ATS record since 2005. This year will be no different. Over/under total - 2.5 (2-10, 1-7).

5) CENTRAL MICHIGAN (20-1) - The Chippewas are 2-13 as underdogs the last two years.

Offense - Trending down. Even though the Chippewas averaged seven more ppg last year (compared to 2011), they gained fewer yards per game (ypg) in the process. The loss of quarterback Ryan Radcliff and left tackle Eric Fisher will see the numbers fall from 33 ppg to 27.

Defense - Trending steady. The defense was on the field for 611 plays last year, second most in the conference. That was one reason Central Michigan finished 10th in both scoring and total defense. Not much will change in 2013, particularly with Ohio replacing Akron on the schedule.

Prediction - Seven of the first 10 games are on the road where the Chippewas are 5-14 SU and 7-12 ATS the last three years. Expect a third 3-9 season since 2010. Over/under total - 4.5 (3-9, 2-6).

4) BALL STATE (6-1) - The Cardinals are 24-7 as road underdogs the last seven years.

Offense - Trending down. The last time the Cardinals lost four starting linemen, their ppg average dropped from 38 down to 20. The descent won't be as catastrophic this time around, especially with Keith Wenning still at quarterback, but there will be a decline from the 36-point mark in 2012.

Defense - Trending steady. The Cardinals have allowed 30 points per game or more in each of the last three seasons. They go into 2013 without last year's top three tacklers - so expect more of the same.

Prediction - Ball State should make its second consecutive bowl game, but it won't be as easy as last year when the Cardinals had one of the most underrated offensive lines in the country. Over/under total - 9.5 (6-6, 4-4). The top play in the MAC is under 9.5 at -215.

3) WESTERN MICHIGAN (18-1) - The Broncos are 7-13-1 as road underdogs the last five years.

Offense - Trending up. Western Michigan averaged just 36 fewer ypg than in 2011, but scored a whopping 10 fewer ppg. The Broncos lose four starting linemen, but the last time that occurred, the offense actually averaged more ppg the following season.

Defense - Trending up. This unit lost four of its top five tacklers coming into 2012 and the defense allowed 61 fewer ypg. With last year's top five tacklers back this year, the Broncos could have the No. 1 defense in the division.

Prediction - Western Michigan was 7-4 ATS in 2011 and 3-8 in 2012. Expect another reversal of form in 2013. Over/under total - 5.5 (6-6, 5-3).

2) TOLEDO (6-1) - The Rockets are 9-3 as road underdogs the last three years.

Offense - Trending up. The last three seasons the Rockets returned nine starters their scoring average improved by 10 ppg from the year before. Expect a massive increase this season as the offense brings back nine starters.

Defense - Trending down. Toledo lost eight of its top 11 tacklers heading into 2012, but allowed fewer ppg. That anomaly won't happen again, particularly with the loss of four of the top-five tacklers.

Prediction - At 7-2 odds, the Rockets are the value play to win the West. Over/under total - 8.5 (8-4, 6-2).

1) NORTHERN ILLINOIS (2-1) - The Huskies are 9-2 as road favorites the last three even-numbered years and 1-6 as road favorites over the last three odd- numbered years.

Offense - Trending steady. The offense has averaged 40 points or more three straight years. Expect a fourth in Jordan Lynch's senior season.

Defense - Trending down. Northern Illinois allowed 14 fewer ppg compared to 2011. However, the defense gave up just 24 fewer ypg. Look for a major increase in points allowed with the loss of seven of the top 10 tacklers.

Prediction - The Huskies, winners of three consecutive division titles, are the even-money favorites for a fourth. The likelihood of them winning another one is strong, but the price is too short to take this year. Over/under total - 9.5 (10-2, 7-1).

EAST

7) MASSACHUSETTS (23-1) - The Minutemen were 0-4 ATS in non-conference play a year ago but 4-4 inside the MAC.

Offense - Trending up. Massachusetts ranked dead last nationally in both scoring and total offense a year ago. Expect a slight bump in its second season in FBS play.

Defense - Trending down. The Minutemen actually fared better than 20 teams nationally in total defense, including four other MAC clubs. On the down side, they lose their top two tacklers and their top four tackles-for-loss leaders.

Prediction - Massachusetts should match last year's win total. Over/under total - 1.5 (1-11, 0-8).

6) AKRON (28-1) - The Zips are 4-12 as home underdogs the last four years.

Offense - Trending steady. The offense finally put it together last year with Dalton Williams at quarterback. If Kyle Pohl can match Williams' numbers, then the Zips have a chance to maintain their improved offensive production.

Defense - Trending steady. Akron loses its top two tacklers but gain the services of two key transfers in C.J. James and C.J. Mizell. The defense could surprise but will probably give up the same 35 ppg it did a season ago.

Prediction - This year's club will win two league games for the first time since 2009. Over/under total - 2.5 (3-9, 2-6).

5) KENT STATE (8-1) - The Golden Flashes are 4-0 as road favorites the last two years.

Offense - Trending down. Kent State outscored its opponents 37-to-22 a season ago, but outgained its opponents by just 27 ypg. In addition, the last three times the Golden Flashes came into a season with a new quarterback, the scoring average dropped an average of nine points.

Defense - Trending down. Kent State was 44th nationally in scoring, but 74th in total defense, and that was with the return of eight of its top nine tacklers. This year only three of its top 10 are back.

Prediction - The Golden Flashes will have one of the nation's biggest negative turnarounds going from 11-1 to 5-7. Over/under total - 5.5 (5-7, 3-5).

4) MIAMI-OHIO (18-1) - The RedHawks are 17-7 ATS in the last six games of the season over the last four years.

Offense - Trending down. Coach Don Treadwell wants his team to run the ball more this season, which might be a smart move since the offense was 122nd nationally in rushing a year ago. The club also loses its starting quarterback and top two reception leaders.

Defense - Trending up. Tackling was an issue as the RedHawks finished 123th nationally against the run. Improvement is expected with the return of their top three tacklers and lineman Austin Brown, who missed the 2012 campaign.

Prediction - Expect a third straight 4-8 season in Oxford. Over/under total - 4.5 (4-8, 4-4).

3) BOWLING GREEN (9-2) - The Falcons are 12-5 as road underdogs the last five years.

Offense - Trending up. The loss of 2011's top two receivers took its toll last year as quarterback Matt Schilz threw 14 fewer touchdowns. He'll rebound in 2013 to give Bowling Green a much-improved offensive attack.

Defense - Trending down. Just five teams in the country allowed fewer touchdowns than Bowling Green a year ago. The Falcons also were 4th nationally in third-down efficiency. It is doubtful the defense will replicate those numbers, especially with the losses of Chris Jones and Dwayne Woods.

Prediction - Bowling Green's ATS record will not match last year's 8-5 mark. Over/under total - 8.5 (7-5, 6-2).

2) OHIO (5-1) - After going 13-4 ATS in conference play (2009-2010), the Bobcats are 5-12 the last two years.

Offense - Trending up. Ohio averaged almost a full yard less per play last year compared to 2011. A lot of that was due to 203 yards lost in sacks (22 allowed in the final five games). With a pair of second-year starting tackles, the yards, and points per game, will increase.

Defense - Trending steady. Last year's defense finished sixth in both scoring and total defense. The group allowed 5.2 yards per carry, just two years after holding opponents to 3.2 ypc. Injuries played a huge role in the decline, but don't expect much improvement, with the loss of four of the top six tacklers.

Prediction - Ohio finished below .500 ATS for the first time since 2005. Look for a rebound season from the Bobcats. Over/under total - 9.5 (8-4, 6-2).

1) BUFFALO (10-1) - The Bulls are 2-12 as home favorites the last five years.

Offense - Trending up. Both the offense and defense averaged 362 ypg last year. Unfortunately, the offense averaged just 19 ppg while the defense gave up 27. A healthy Branden Oliver and an improving Joe Licata will lift the offense to greater heights.

Defense - Trending up. Buffalo is in line to have the No. 1 defense in the conference. The Bulls were 4th in scoring and second in total defense with just four of their top eight tacklers returning a year ago. This season, eight of the top 10 return.

Prediction - Buffalo hosts both Bowling Green and Ohio, and substitutes Eastern Michigan for Northern Illinois. Take the inflated 10-1 odds on the Bulls to win the MAC. Over/under total - 5.5 (8-4, 6-2). The Bulls at -140 to win six or more games is the second top play in the conference.

07/22 10:49:11 ET