It’s November, and that means the MAC gets center stage on Wednesday nights. This week, the honors go to the Ohio Bobcats and the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, who have an in-state rivalry known as the Battle of the Bricks. Kickoff is set for 8:00 EST on Wednesday, November 6 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. Fans can watch the game on ESPN2.
Betting this week has opened with the Bobcats as 7-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 54.5 points. Click here for all of this week’s college football betting odds.
This year’s Battle of the Bricks meeting is essentially a play-in game for the MAC Championship Game. Both teams enter this game with a 3-1 record inside conference play, putting them in a tie atop the MAC East division. On top of that, both have head-to-head wins over Buffalo and Kent State, the two teams in the East division that have two conference losses. That means the winner of this game would need to then lose two of their final three games to have any chance of not winning the East division. In other words, Wednesday’s winner will have one foot in the conference title game.
Naturally, both teams enter this game playing some of their best football. Miami faced a challenging non-conference schedule early in the season, losing to Iowa, Cincinnati, and Ohio State by lopsided margins. But the Redhawks have been much better in conference play, winning three of four and putting them in a good position to at least go to a bowl game for just the second time since 2010.
The Bobcats also started the season 1-3, although they had a less daunting non-conference schedule, losing to the likes of Pitt, Marshall, and Louisiana-Layfayette. Nevertheless, Ohio has won three of four since the start of MAC play with their only loss being a 39-36 heartbreaker against Northern Illinois. Like the RedHawks, Ohio is in good shape to play in a bowl game this year, which would make it 10 bowls in 11 years under longtime coach Frank Solich.
Miami is also hoping to turn the tide in this rivalry after pulling off a surprising 30-28 win last year. Despite losing last season, the Bobcats have beaten the RedHawks in 11 of the past 13 Battle of the Bricks. Also, Miami hasn’t won in Athens since 2005, which was the last of a six-game winning streak in this rivalry for the RedHawks.
Ohio may have owned the RedHawks for the last decade, but Miami is for real this season. They took their lumps early in the season, but those losses to top-25 teams seem to be paying off since the start of MAC play. With a 7-point cushion, I’ll take Miami as road underdogs to at least make this a close game.
For the most part, the RedHawks have done it with defense this year, holding their MAC opponents to just under 25 points per game. In the MAC, giving up that many points will usually keep you in the game, if not give you a comfortable lead. More importantly, the RedHawks have been able to keep their MAC opponents in check on the ground. Three of Miami’s four opponents in conference play have been held to under 200 yards rushing. The one exception to that is a game the RedHawks still won. Even Western Michigan, who has the MAC’s leading rusher, LeVante Bellamy, was held in check on the ground against Miami.
If the RedHawks can continue to stay strong against the run, they’ll have a chance against the Bobcats. Year after year, Ohio is one of the best rushing teams in the MAC. But they can be vulnerable if opposing teams can keep the running game somewhat contained. To be honest, I haven’t been as impressed with Ohio’s running game this season as I have in past years. Quarterback Nathan Rourke is the team’s leading rusher, which isn’t always a good sign. In fact, the Bobcats have more passing yards than rushing yards on the season, as something isn’t clicking with the ground game as it usually does for Ohio.
While Rourke is a capable passer, it’s not the strength of his game. He has just 10 touchdown passes through eight games, which is way down after he threw 23 touchdowns a year ago. His production has picked up a little during conference play. However, he’s struggled against some of the better teams in the MAC. More importantly, Ohio doesn’t have a standout running back. Instead, it’s all on Rourke’s shoulders.
Meanwhile, I think Miami has just enough offense to keep pace with the Bobcats. Freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert has the arm talent to make some plays despite some uneven numbers this year. He had a dreadful game in the loss to Western Michigan, throwing three picks and getting sacked six times. But he’s been a steady game manager otherwise. It should help that Ohio has allowed at least 20 points in every game this year and is giving up close to 30 points per game in MAC play.
In the end, I’m not convinced that Ohio will pull away in this game. The Bobcats have played mostly close games this year and I think Miami is as good as any team in the MAC. I can’t rule out the RedHawks pulling off the upset, so I’m taking Miami as the road underdog.