Handicappers must always try to learn from their failures – and successes – predicting football games.
I’m not sure how much my missed pick on last season’s MAC Championship Game relates to any potential red-flags for gamblers in 2019’s match-up however. 2018-champion Northern Illinois and runner-up Buffalo were each dominant teams in stretches last autumn, and my mistake involved thinking NIU couldn’t find a way to slow-down the Bulls’ impressive offense.
There haven’t been any dominant MAC programs in 2019. Central Michigan and Miami are simply the teams that won close games and crucial contests more often than division rivals did. In fact, the RedHawks could easily have lost to Akron, probably the worst outfit in the FBS these days, in a November scrum that was expected to be a gigantic blow-out.
Yet here’s Miami playing for what would be its 1st conference championship in 9 years, set to take on a Central Michigan program which has been wanting for the hardware since 2009. Bookmakers set a tight point spread on Saturday’s game, perhaps thinking of the surprise outcomes and tight 4th quarters over a long season of rivalry battles.
But the betting public loves the Chippewas to prevail in Detroit, and not by a tiny margin.
Who: Central Michigan Chippewas vs Miami of Ohio RedHawks
When: Saturday, December 7th, 12 PM EST
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Lines: CMU (-7) vs Miami-OH (+7) / O/U Total: (54)
Don’t get the wrong idea – the MAC hasn’t exactly sucked this year. In fact, the Mid-American Conference is arguably (Akron and Bowling Green notwithstanding) among the deeper leagues in the Group of 5 right now. 8 of the 12 teams in the MAC finished the regular season 6-6 or better, and Miami had to emerge from a tight game with Buffalo (sound familiar?) in Week 5 to earn a shot at the title. Defensive back Mike Brown took an INT 25 yards for a score early in the 3rd quarter to put Miami ahead after a 14-13 halftime deficit – the junior became 1 of just a small handful of DB’s to have 2 pick-6s over the last 14 weeks.
Miami had to win a bunch of close games, but ripped-off 5 straight Ws after a 38-16 loss to Western Michigan. The ‘Hawks have also beaten Northern Illinois and Ohio by a FG apiece. Central Michigan didn’t fare as well against Buffalo, but has won 6 of 7 coming into Saturday with the only blip coming in the form of the 43-20 loss to the fast, athletic Bulls.
While we’re analyzing games against common opponents it’s interesting to see how the schools each fared against Ball State. Miami was leading 27-14 at the half against the Cardinals, and ended up beaten 41-27. RedHawk skipper Chuck Martin’s offense was just 2-11 on 3rd down and 0-2 on 4th down. However, the division-winners played reserves in the 2nd half, knowing that they had already reached a title bid and bowl-eligibility. Meanwhile, CMU survived a scare from Ball State in a 45-44 road victory 2 weeks ago.
That was nothing compared to the complete-team form flashed in a 49-7 rout of Toledo last week in which tailback Kobe Lewis rushed for 131 yards and 2 scores. That impressive performance gives the Chippewas an average of 47.3 points over the last 3 games. Coach Jim McElwain boasts a run-heavy attack with short, quick screens and runs-after-catch, an unorthodox (and often deadly) attack led by 2-time transfer QB Quinten Dormady.
Over the 3 -game season-capping stretch, Dormady has completed 75% of his passes for 894 yards with a 5:1 TD/INT ratio. The 23-year-old took over on October 8th for Memphis transfer David Moore (suspended for PEDs) and is 5-1 as CMU’s starter, taking credit in large-part for sparking the program’s big-time turnaround after a dreary 2018 campaign:
The 23-year-old graduate transfer quarterback from Houston recognized the talent on the team, but what he didn’t see were accountability and discipline. That’s what first-year coach Jim McElwain added into the mix. Along with McElwain’s style, Dormady brought veteran leadership to the offense at the quarterback position, regarded as the most important spot on the field. His newfound teammates started to buy in, and that’s when he noticed a shift in the program’s culture – an identity was discovered.
Evaluating options as a transfer, Dormady said he wanted to find a program that best fit his offensive style. Having senior running back Jonathan Ward and sophomore running back Kobe Lewis, along with receivers like Scott, Kalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan, added with 6-foot-7 Poljan, helped make Dormady’s decision simple. Dormady credits those players, as well as his offensive line, for his success.
Bettors – or a majority of them – clearly think CMU’s superior play at the QB position will produce a win-and-cover at Ford Field. They might be right – but 21 other players will line-up at a time on Saturday afternoon.
I’m not in love with either side of the Over/Under total, because the 2 defenses involved are feast-or-famine type units. Either could hold a quality opponent to less than 20 points, but each unit is prone to getting blown off the ball once things go wrong in the 1st half.
The best scenario for good defense is having a lead, and I do think CMU will stake-out 1 or 2-TD edge in the 1st half thanks to the Chippewa offense playing in a pass-friendly indoor environment.
But at that point, it will be a vulnerable RedHawk defense – all due respect to Mr. Brown – to lose its grip whether the CMU quarterback has a brilliant day or not.
Take the Chippewas to cover (-7).