College football fans can enjoy some midweek MACtion as the Ohio Bobcats host the Ball State Cardinals. Kickoff is at 7:00 EST on Thursday, October 25, at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. The game can be found on CBS Sports Network.
Oddsmakers have made the Bobcats 10.5-point favorites at home. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
The Bobcats enter this game still alive in the MAC title race. They are 4-3 overall, but those losses have come against quality teams in Virginia, Cincinnati, and Northern Illinois. More importantly, they are 2-1 in conference play after a blowout win over Bowling Green last week. The Bobcats are still looking up in the standings against Miami (Ohio) and Buffalo, two teams they will meet head-to-head in November. Barring a loss before those games, Ohio still has a chance to play their way into the MAC title game.
Ball State, on the other hand, is just trying to crawl back to .500 on the season. The Cardinals are 3-5 on the season, although a couple of those losses have come at the hands of Notre Dame and Indiana, so they’ve played a challenging schedule. That being said, Ball State still needs to win three of their last four games if they want to finish the season 6-6. Their schedule down the stretch isn’t easy, so beating Ohio on Thursday is critical if they want to avoid their fifth straight losing season.
Being on opposite sides of the MAC, these two teams don’t meet on a yearly basis. The last time Ohio and Ball State met was 2015 when the Bobcats won 48-31. Of course, both rosters have changed drastically since that game.
Ball State’s season is starting to slip away from them, so they’re going to be desperate to get a win on Thursday night. I also think the Cardinals are a little better than their 3-5 record suggests. Whether they’re going to be able to beat Ohio on the road is up in the air. But I think Ball State is good enough to keep this game close and beat the 10.5-point spread.
One area where Ball State has been surprisingly effective this season is in defending the run. They haven’t done it in every game, but there are quite a few times when the Cardinals have kept teams contained on the ground. Even against Notre Dame, who at the time was using running quarterback Brandon Wimbush, the Ball State defense held the Irish to less than three yards per carry. During last week’s loss to Eastern Michigan, the Cardinals were strong against the run but got beat through the air.
Stopping the run will be important for the Cardinals this week because the Ohio offense is dependent on their ability to run the ball. Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke is the team’s leading rusher, so running the ball is obviously a priority for them. To be fair, Rourke is also a good passer who’s had some great performances throwing the ball against MAC teams this year. However, when the Bobcats have been at their best offensively this year, it’s because they’ve had a lot of success running the ball.
If the Cardinals can slow down the Ohio rushing attack, they will slow down the Ohio offense. Ball State has seen a number of good running quarterbacks this season, so they should be prepared to face Rourke. Most of Ball State’s losses this season have come in close games, and it’s because they’ve been able to contain the opposing team’s running game.
The Ohio defense is another reason why I’m wary to swallow the points in this game. The Bobcats are giving up 31 points per game this season. To be fair, that number has come down in MAC play. However, the Bobcats have also played two of the worst teams in the conference in Bowling Green and Kent State. Holding those teams to a reasonable point total doesn’t necessarily translate to doing the same against Ball State.
The Cardinals have been a little up and down offensively this season, but they also have a dual-threat quarterback in Riley Neal who’s capable of creating trouble for opposing defenses. Neal isn’t a threat to put up eye-catching numbers throwing the ball. However, he’s done a nice job of avoiding turnovers this season and can use his legs to help keep drives alive. He’s capable of leading the Ball State offense into the end zone against an Ohio defense that has been vulnerable at times.
In the end, I think Ball State can do enough on both sides of the ball to keep this game close. Outside of last week’s disappointing loss to Eastern Michigan, the Cardinals have only lost one game by double digits, which works in their favor with a 10.5-point spread. Ball State will be motivated to bounce back this week, helping them to beat the spread, even if they don’t win the game.