The push for bowl eligibility in the MAC continues this week when the Northern Illinois Huskies play host to the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Kickoff is at 7:30 EST on Tuesday, November 19 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Illinois. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Current betting odds list the Huskies as 4.5-point favorites at home with an over/under of 54 points. Click here for a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
The Huskies are barely clinging onto bowl hopes in Thomas Hammock’s first season as head coach. A week ago, NIU blew a 21-point lead against Toledo, only to score on a late field goal to pick up a huge 31-28 road win. That win got the Huskies to 4-6 overall, meaning they still need to win their two remaining games to reach a bowl game. If they can survive Eastern Michigan this week, the Huskies would still have to knock off MAC favorites Western Michigan next week. Northern Illinois has only failed to reach a bowl game once since 2008, so it would be a huge setback for the program if they fail to qualify this year.
Meanwhile, the Eagles are trying to get to their third bowl game in the last four years, which would be a massive accomplishment for a program that has only played in four total bowl games. EMU took care of business last week, beating a winless Akron team 42-14 to snap out of a two-game losing skid. However, the Eagles still sit at 5-5, needing one more win to become bowl eligible and two wins to guarantee they don’t get left out of the bowl selection process. On top of that, Eastern Michigan is likely to finish last in the MAC West division if they don’t beat Northern Illinois, so there’s a lot on the line for the Eagles in this game.
In addition to trying to get to a bowl game, Eastern Michigan would also love to snap their 11-game losing streak at the hands of Northern Illinois. These teams have met every year since 1997 with the Eagles only beating the Huskies three times during that span. EMU’s last win over NIU came in 2007. For what it’s worth, the Eagles have only lost to the Huskies by a field goal in each of the last two seasons.
The Eagles might finally get that long-awaited win against Northern Illinois this year. The Huskies have just three wins inside the MAC this year, and the two that weren’t against winless Akron both came by a field goal. That’s a good indication that they won’t be able to maintain a comfortable lead against Eastern Michigan. Plus, while NIU gets a home-field boost, the Eagles might be the better team in this game. I’ll take EMU to at least beat the spread.
Most years, Northern Illinois is one of the top defensive teams in the MAC. But that’s not how things have unfolded this season with the Huskies giving up close to 28 points per game. In fairness, NIU’s schedule has included three games against power-conference teams, including Utah and Nebraska. However, if you take away their shut out of Akron, the Huskies are giving up 33 points per game against MAC teams.
While the Eastern Michigan offense isn’t the most dynamic in the MAC, they should be able to put some points on the board against NIU. Senior running back Shaq Vann has provided a spark since returning from injury in mid-October. He’s rushed for at least 97 yards in three of the four games he’s played since then, scoring six touchdowns over that span. That’s a ton of production for a team that struggled to run the ball while he was out.
Meanwhile, the Eagles also have a senior quarterback in Mike Glass to lead the way. Glass has had an up and down year and missed part of the loss to Buffalo due to injury. But he looked healthy last week in the win over Akron. He’s also completed 65% of his passes on the season with 16 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions. Admittedly, he’s been far from perfect this season. But I like how Glass measure up against a defense that gave up 300 passing yards to Toledo’s third-string quarterback last week and has been shredded through the air by mediocre quarterbacks most of the season.
On the other side of the ball, I’m still not sold on the NIU offense, especially since they’re usually asked to win shootouts. Despite some success on the ground last week, Tre Harbison and the rushing attack have been up and down all season. Backup quarterback Marcus Childers helps sometimes, but the Huskies are still relying on Ross Bowers as their primary quarterback. Bowers has more interceptions than touchdowns this year, not to mention a completion percentage under 58%. Those numbers don’t fill me with much confidence for a 4.5-point favorite.
Ultimately, I think this game turns into a classic MAC shootout. Even at home, I think the NIU offense is more likely to blink first. With a lackluster defense and an unconvincing quarterback, I don’t like NIU’s chances of winning this game, much less winning by a comfortable margin. I’ll side with Eastern Michigan despite all of the history working against them.