Midweek MACtion continues this week with a vital game for both teams between the Toledo Rockies and Northern Illinois Huskies. Kickoff is set for 8:00 EST on Wednesday, November 13 at the Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
Early betting odds list the Rockets as 2.5-point favorites at home. Click here to check out betting odds for all of this week’s college football games.
The Huskies enter this game with their back against the wall. It’s been a tough first season for first-year head coach Thomas Hammock, who saw NIU begin the season 1-4 after playing a difficult non-conference schedule that included losses to Utah, Nebraska, and Vanderbilt. Unfortunately, things have only gotten marginally better since the start of MAC play. Following a 48-10 loss to Central Michigan in their last game, the Huskies are 3-6 and just 2-3 in conference play.
Northern Illinois has been to a bowl game in 10 of the last 11 seasons, a stretch that has also included seven appearances in the MAC Championship Game and four conference titles. But now the Huskies have to win their three remaining games just to become bowl eligible. To make matters worse, their remaining schedule includes conference-favorite Western Michigan. Of course, that game won’t matter unless the Huskies can first beat Toledo on Wednesday.
The Rockets, on the other hand, have already become bowl eligible and are likely going to play in the postseason for a sixth consecutive year. Toledo had a promising 4-1 start interrupted by back-to-back losses to Bowling Green and Ball State. But the Rockets have bounced back nicely with a pair of home wins over Eastern Michigan and Kent State.
At 6-3 overall and 3-2 in MAC play, Toledo still has a chance to play in the MAC title game for the second time in three years. The Rockets might need a little bit of help with three other teams in the MAC West division also having just two conference losses. But if Toledo wins out, there’s a good chance they’ll play for a conference title, making this game of the utmost importance for both teams, albeit for different reasons.
The good news for Northern Illinois is that they’ve had their way with Toledo in recent years. The Huskies have won eight of their last 11 head-to-head meetings with Toledo, with a few of those games ultimately deciding who won the MAC West division. NIU continued their domination over the Rockies with a 38-15 win last season. However, Toledo managed to hold serve at home 27-17 two years ago.
Northern Illinois is just good enough and battle-tested enough to make this game tough to call. But the Huskies are coming off a blowout loss to Central Michigan and clearly in the midst of a down year. The Rockets haven’t won by many wide margins this season, but I trust them enough to win by at least a field goal and cover against NIU.
The Huskies had a world of trouble offensively last week, managing just 251 yards and 13 first downs while turning it over four times. Cal transfer Ross Bowers has taken the quarterback job away from Marcus Childers this season but with mixed results. Bowers has completed less than 60% of his passes on the season while throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. He’s also coming back from an injury that caused him to miss most of the game against Miami (Ohio).
For what it’s worth, Childers has played in almost every game to give the Huskies more of an athlete at quarterback. But the NIU rushing attack has suffered without Childers being the primary quarterback, which he was the past two seasons. As a result, the Huskies are gaining just 3.4 yards per carry running the ball this year. Given Bowers’ inconsistency throwing the ball, that’s just not enough production from the rushing attack to give the Huskies a formidable offense.
To be fair, the Rockets also have some quarterback issues at the moment. The Rockets are hoping that Mitchell Guadagni will return at some point, but he hasn’t played in a month due to injury. Backup Carter Bradley also remains sidelined. However, Eli Peters, who was the regular starter for a large chunk of the 2018 season, has filled in nicely. It may not have been pretty, but Peters has led the Rockets to back-to-back wins over Eastern Michigan and Kent State as the starter.
More importantly, the Rockets have one of the best running backs in the MAC in Bryant Koback, who has scored 10 rushing touchdowns and averages 6.5 yards per carry. Backup Shakif Seymour also has over 500 yards on the season. Without the legs of Guadagni to help, that duo has proven to be enough of a rushing attack for the Toledo offense. They should be good enough to create problems for an NIU defense that was gashed for over 300 rushing yards against Central Michigan in their last game.
For the record, I don’t expect the Huskies to go down easy. They have a lot on the line and will put up a fight. However, I think the Toledo offense is more dynamic and has a few more weapons, especially on the ground. That should help the Rockets outlast the Huskies and eventually cover the 2.5-point spread.