It’s conference title game week and it kicks off with a matchup between the Bowling Green Falcons (9-3, 7-1) and the Northern Illinois Huskies (8-4, 6-2) in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game Friday night. Northern Illinois has won four of the last five meetings, including a 51-17 win in the MAC Championship Game as a 5 point favorite on December 5, 2014. This marks the third straight time that the two schools have met in the conference title game.
Bowling Green closed out the regular season with a 48-10 romp over Ball State last Tuesday night for their eighth win in nine games. Northern Illinois had their six game win streak snapped with a 26-21 loss to Ohio at home last Tuesday; the Huskies won the MAC West title via tie-breaker over Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Toledo when the Rockets were beaten by the Broncos 35-30 last week. The game kicks off from Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan at 8:00 pm ET and will be televised on ESPN2. Bowling Green is currently a 12 point favorite in this contest with the over/under set at 69.5 points.
Bowling Green put together a solid performance to bounce back from their loss to Toledo by romping over Ball State. The Falcons jumped to a 27-0 halftime advantage and never looked back in the contest. Bowling Green outgained Ball State 576-264 and racked up 22 first downs while allowing 15 in the game. The Falcons were beaten soundly in the time of possession battle 37:34 to 22:26 but that wasn’t a factor in the contest. Bowling Green forced three Ball State turnovers while not committing one of their own; three Falcons scoring drives covered at least 90 yards.
The Falcons are currently standing 3rd in the nation as they light up opposing defenses to the tune of 387.8 yards per game through the air; they average 178.2 yards (currently 58th in the nation) a contest on the ground. Bowling Green is currently tied for 4th in the nation as they score 44.2 points per game. That kind of performance makes up for a poor defensive performance as Bowling Green stands tied for 73rd in the nation in scoring defense at the moment by giving up 27.8 points per game. Matt Johnson, the senior, has been brilliant running the offense as he’s hit 68.9 percent of his throws (343 of 498) for 4,465 yards with 41 touchdowns against six interceptions plus 149 yards and four scores on the ground. James Knapke (14 of 20, 173 yards, TD) is the backup should Johnson get knocked out. Travis Greene is the main man on the ground with 183 carries for 1,036 yards and 12 scores; Fred Coppet chips in 120 carries for 712 yards plus four scores. Four players have reeled in at least 53 passes this season and six have caught at least 17 passes: Roger Lewis leads the team with 76 grabs for 1,401 yards and 14 scores while Ronnie Moore (62 receptions, 818 yards, 5 TD), Ryan Burbrink (53 grabs, 608 yards, 4 TD) and Gehrig Dieter (82 catches, 882 yards, 9 TD) all can move the sticks as well. Tyler Tate has hit 68 of 72 extra points but is only 8 of 15 on field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards.
Northern Illinois backed into their sixth straight appearance in the MAC title game by getting a little help from their friends. The Huskies were outgained 398-328, lost the first down battle 19-17 and allowed Ohio to hold the ball for 35:37 to Northern Illinois’s 24:23 in the contest. Northern Illinois forced a pair of turnovers while committing only one to end up on the plus side of the turnover battle. Unfortunately for the Huskies, falling behind 20-7 at the half after allowing 13 Ohio points in the second quarter proved to be too much to overcome.
The Huskies stand 61st (227.3 yards) in the nation in passing offense and 26th (213.3 yards per game) in rushing this season; Northern Illinois averages 34.6 points per game, which is tied for 33rd in the nation in scoring offense, and is tied for 52nd in scoring defense by allowing 24.8 points per contest. Drew Hare completed 164 of 257 pass attempts for 1,962 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions while he was held to 252 yards and a score on the ground; he’s done for the year with a torn Achilles tendon. Ryan Graham has completed 48 of 81 passes for 653 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions while rushing for 153 yards; the pressure will be on him to run the offense with Hare done for the year. Tommy Fiedler (9 of 17, 113 yards, TD, 20 rushing yards) is the backup to Graham. The run game averages 4.5 yards per carry and has hit the end zone 31 times on the year; Joel Bouganon is the feature back in the ground game with 261 carries for 1,212 yards plus 18 touchdowns. Jordan Huff is the second back with 76 carries for 617 yards and five scores. In the passing game, Hare’s favorite target is Kenny Golladay, who has grabbed 70 passes for 1,107 yards plus 10 scores; Tommylee Lewis contributes 33 receptions for 387 yards plus three scores while Aregeros Turner chips in 37 grabs for 335 yards plus a score on the year. Christian Hagan has booted 49 of 51 extra points and 14 of 18 field goals with a long of 52 yards.
Bowling Green is 7-0 ATS in their last seven after allowing less than 275 yards, 6-1 ATS in their last seven after scoring at least 40 points, 6-1 ATS in their last seven conference games, 6-1 ATS in their last seven overall, 6-1 ATS in their last seven on fieldturf and 8-2 ATS in their last 10 after allowing less than 20 points in their last game. Northern Illinois is 1-4 ATS in their last six after a straight up loss, 2-8 ATS in their last 10 in December and 1-4-1 ATS in their last six neutral site games.
The Huskies may be the MAC West representative again but they’re not the same team without Hare running the offense. Bowling Green has been firing on all cylinders with Johnson running the offense. In the third straight MAC title game featuring these two teams, the Falcons are clearly the better team right now, especially offensively. Give the points as the Falcons put up 40 plus points once again.