Back to the MAC

The MAC has been good to us this year, and it's time to go back. No, I'm not picking against Northern Illinois again this week; they face a reeling Wisconsin team favored by 23, and while that should be an easy cover for P.J. Hill and the Badgers, I'm through trying to figure out that team for the '07 season. Instead, I'm taking on a couple teams I haven't investigated yet this season: Ball St. at Western Michigan.

The Western Michigan Broncos are the MAC's premier clock-possession team; they lead the conference in time of possession, with 32:17 per game, and have a pair of solid-not-spectacular backs in senior Mark Bonds and sophomore Brandon West, who combined average 139 yards a game. They also feature sophomore quarterback Tim Hiller, the 2005 MAC freshman of the year (he redshirted '06 because of a knee injury). Hiller is second in the conference in passer rating, and leads a passing attack that's racked up the 31st most passing yards in the nation. Now, that's a bit misleading, because the team padded its stats against Central Connecticut St. and got down so huge to West Virginia, they had to throw every down. Still, Hiller's more than capable.

Ball St. lost its starting rusher, MiQuale Lewis, for the season because of a knee injury he suffered against Nebraska, so the offensive mantel has shifted dramatically to quarterback Nate Davis, the only MAC signal-caller with a better rating than Hiller. He's got 18 touchdowns and just three picks this year, and Western Michigan's aggregate numbers against the pass have them allowing a mediocre 224 yards via the air per game. Last week, Davis led his Cardinals to a homecoming win over I-AA Western Kentucky, despite the fact that the score was 14-12 at halftime. This will be Ball St.'s first road game in a month, and it also happens to be Western Michigan's own homecoming game.

My whipping boys, Northern Illinois, gave the Broncos everything they could handle last week, but Western Michigan still came out with a MAC road win, 17-13, with their particular blend of field-position, time-of-possession offense, solid punting and good special teams. When you analyze these two defenses, you see two teams who struggle to stop the run: BSU allows 218 a game on the ground, while WMU allows 210 (though that number includes 316 given up to West Virginia). The difference, of course, is that one of these offenses is equipped to take advantage of that deficiency, with Bonds and West, and the other is missing its lead tailback.

I also like the fact that the Broncos control their own destiny in the MAC West; they're 2-0 in their division, while BSU is 1-1, after losing by 20 points to the powerhouse offense of Central Michigan. WMU versus CMU, I think, will prove to be the game that decides this division (it'll be a Tuesday-night ESPN game); this game sets up well for WMU to inch closer to that match-up. The Broncos topped BSU in Muncie last year, 41-27, and in the process forced Nate Davis to the bench because he threw three interceptions in his first eight passes. I like that WMU is 7-3 against the spread in its last 10 as an underdog (and I'm not so crazy about the fact that BSU is 10-1 ATS in its last 11 road games, or the fact that they played an overrated Nebraska team so tough in Lincoln, losing just 41-40). And I like the emotion of homecoming for a difficult conference game. I'd have probably made WMU a three-point favorite here, so I'll hope for some crummy weather, and take the points. Take Western Michigan (+1.5) hosting Ball St.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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