In a rematch of the 2016 MAC Championship Game, the Western Michigan Broncos take on the Ohio Bobcats with implications for this year’s MAC title game on the line. Game time is set for 6:30 EST on Tuesday, November 12 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
The early betting line has Ohio favored by 1.5-points at home. Be sure to check out a full list of the Week 12 college football odds.
Western Michigan became bowl eligible last week with a close 35-31 win over Ball State, putting them at 6-4 on the season. More importantly, the win puts Western Michigan at the top of a crowded MAC West division in which four teams are tied with two losses in conference play. The Broncos would win head-to-head tiebreakers with both Ball State and Central Michigan, but they would lose a tiebreaker with Toledo. That means if WMU wins their final two games and Toledo loses at least once, the Broncos will return to the MAC title game for the second time in four years. However, with a loss in one of their two remaining games, things could get messy. Of course, the Broncos hit the road for their final two games, so nothing is certain for Tim Lester and company.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats saw their MAC title hopes take a huge hit last week when they lost to Miami (Ohio) at home. The loss left Ohio 4-5 overall and 3-2 in MAC play. Essentially, the Bobcats will have to win their three remaining games and hope that Miami loses twice in order to win the MAC East. They might also need to win all three games to play in a bowl game for the fifth straight season. The good news is that the Bobcats close their season with road games against Bowling Green and Akron, two of the worst teams in the MAC this year. Tuesday’s home game against Western Michigan is the biggest hurdle they have left this year. A loss and both their conference title and bowl hopes could be dead.
As mentioned, the Broncos topped the Bobcats when they met in the 2016 MAC Championship Game. However, Ohio got a little bit of redemption last season when they crushed Western Michigan 59-14 in Kalamazoo.
As the spread indicates, this could be one of the more intriguing MAC games you see this season. Despite a disappointing record, I’m going with Ohio in this game. Western Michigan is undefeated at home this season but winless on the road. Plus, Ohio has only missed a bowl game once in the last 10 seasons. The Bobcats need this game to get to a bowl, so I’ll put some faith in Frank Solich and Ohio to win and cover a small spread at home.
My biggest concern with Western Michigan heading into this game is how much they’ve struggled to defend the run this season. Even in last week’s win over Ball State, they were shredded on the ground for 261 yards and over six yards per carry. Bottom-tier MAC teams like Bowling Green have also had a surprising amount of success running the ball against the Broncos. This weakness is actually a big reason why Western Michigan is winless on the road this year.
For a team that struggles to stop the run, there is no worse opponent in the MAC to face than Ohio. Year after year, the Bobcats are one of the best running teams in the conference. For what it’s worth, the Ohio rushing attack isn’t quite as dynamic this season as in past years, which is a big reason why they’re only 4-5. But the Bobcats are still gaining five yards per carry on the ground, which means they’re a potential nightmare for Western Michigan.
Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke is in his third year as a starter and knows how to run Solich’s offense. Despite some disappointing numbers as a passer, Rourke is still a serious threat with his legs. He’s scored two rushing touchdowns in each of his last three games while averaging 98 rushing yards per game during that span. More importantly, he helped to gash Western Michigan’s defense when these teams met last season and he’s a threat to do it again.
To be fair, Western Michigan has a dynamic rushing attack as well behind LeVante Bellamy, the MAC’s best running back. The Broncos also have an experienced and trustworthy quarterback in Joe Wassink, so I expect WMU to put some points on the board in this game. However, Wassink has had a few rough outings this year and has just two touchdown passes in his last three games. Also, the Ohio defense has held three of their five MAC opponents to 24 points or less. At home in a must-win game, the Bobcats should bring their best defensively and keep the WMU offense somewhat contained.
To be honest, I could make a strong argument for both teams in this game. After all, Western Michigan could end up being the MAC champions this season. However, the Bobcats are desperate for a win and the Broncos are winless on the road this year. Between that and WMU’s problems stopping the run, I feel good about taking Ohio in a virtual tossup.