The Western Michigan Broncos will try to wrap up the MAC West division title and a spot in the conference championship game when they visit the Northern Illinois Huskies in midweek MACtion. Kickoff is set for 7:00 EST on Tuesday, November 26 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Illinois. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
The Broncos are currently listed as 7-point favorites on the road with an over/under of 57 points. Be sure to check out all of this week’s college football betting odds.
For the Broncos, everything is on the line this week. Tim Lester’s team is one win away from reaching the MAC Championship Game for the first time since 2016 when Western Michigan won the conference title under current Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck. The Broncos have survived close calls with Ball State and Ohio over the last two weeks, keeping them tied atop the MAC West Division with rival Central Michigan at 5-2 in league play.
With their win over CMU earlier this season, Western Michigan holds the tie-breaker. That means a win on Tuesday will be enough to win the West and send them to the title game against Miami (Ohio), a team they beat by 22 points earlier this season. However, if the Broncos lose, they’ll sit around nervously until Friday, hoping that Toledo and can beat Central Michigan
Meanwhile, win or lose, this will be the last game of the season for Northern Illinois. The Huskies are used to being contenders in the MAC West Division, but it’s been a tough year under first-year head coach Thomas Hammock. NIU faced a tough non-conference schedule that included games with Utah, Nebraska, and Vanderbilt, contributing to a 1-4 start that put them behind the 8-ball in terms of getting to a bowl game.
Last week’s 45-17 home loss to Eastern Michigan officially eliminated the Huskies from going to a bowl game for just the second time since 2008. However, Northern Illinois would like to get a win to help avoid finishing last in the MAC West. Plus, they still have a chance to play spoiler for Western Michigan.
Northern Illinois has dominated this series for most of the past decade, going 8-2 against Western Michigan since 2009. Fortunately for the Broncos, they’ve beaten NIU in two of the past three seasons, including a 28-21 win last year. However, Western Michigan hasn’t won a game in DeKalb since 2007, as the Huskies have held serve on their home field against WMU in five straight meetings.
I was a little tempted to take Northern Illinois in this game because crazy things tend to happen in midweek MAC games, especially when there’s a spot in the conference title game on the line. But NIU’s performance last week against Eastern Michigan was off-putting, to say the least. Losing 45-17 at home with their bowl hopes on the line wasn’t exactly an endearing performance by the Huskies. I can’t put my faith in NIU after a performance like that. Instead, I’ll lean toward the Broncos to take care of business and win by at least a touchdown.
The issue with Northern Illinois that isn’t going away is the normally-reliable defense. If you take away the shutout of winless Akron, the Huskies are giving up over 35 points per game against their MAC opponents this season. That’s nowhere close to the NIU defense of previous years. After giving up 45 points to a modest Eastern Michigan team last week, I can envision the Huskies struggling to slow down the Broncos this week.
The WMU offense is perhaps the most balanced in the MAC. LeVante Bellamy is easily the best running back in the conference, amassing nearly 1,300 yards and scoring 21 rushing touchdowns this season. He’s been complemented nicely this season by veteran quarterback Joe Wassink, who has a chance to reach 3,000 passing yards on the season with a good performance on Tuesday. Wassink isn’t exactly lighting it up this year, but he’s thrown 19 touchdowns this year and hasn’t thrown an interception during WMU’s current three-game winning streak. Between his steady play and Bellamy’s production on the ground, the Broncos are a good bet to do some damage against the NIU defense.
Meanwhile, the Northern Illinois offense lacks the explosiveness to win a high-scoring game. They’ve topped 24 points in just three games this year, and one of those games was against winless Akron. Starting quarterback Ross Bowers remains in concussion protocol after taking a vicious hit against Toledo, so his status is uncertain. While backup Marcus Childers boasts plenty of experience and helps a lackluster running game, he’s not a proficient passer. Childers threw 15 or more touchdown passes in each of the past two seasons before his demotion to backup duties this year. However, he was also just 12 for 26 for 99 yards with three touchdowns last week against EMU.
Unless the Northern Illinois defense can suddenly turn things around, the Huskies have a narrow path to victory in this game. The Western Michigan offense will be tough to keep contained for four quarters and the Huskies don’t have the playmakers on offense to keep pace. In the end, I think the Broncos should create enough breathing room to win and cover.