It’s not often that you see a 14-point spread in a conference championship game, let alone a 21-point spread, but the Akron Zips and Toledo Rockets will meet for the MAC title under that type of number. Ford Field will be the venue for this one, so it is a slightly closer jaunt for the Rockets faithful, but Akron should be well-represented in the Motor City as well thanks to the AK-Rowdies. Toledo opened an 18.5-point favorite and this number has met very little resistance rising to 21.5 at most sportsbooks, including Heritage.
One long conference title drought will end this year. The Rockets haven’t won the MAC title since 2004 under head coach Tom Amstutz. The Zips last won the MAC in 2005 under JD Brookhart. Akron has been a big surprise this season with a 7-5 straight up mark and an 8-4 record against the spread. The Zips struggled out of the gate, but went 6-2 in conference play and beat Ohio and Kent State to secure a trip to Detroit. Akron was 10-2 to the under. Toledo went 10-2 straight up and 7-5 against the spread. The Rockets struggled outside of conference, but went 7-1 straight up and 6-2 against MAC foes.
Kato Nelson has completed less than 50 percent of his passes, but the Akron offense runs a bit differently with him at the helm. The freshman from Hollywood, Florida was okay against Miami of Ohio and then spectacular against Ohio with a 4/0 TD/INT ratio and 322 yards passing. He was awful against Kent State with a 6-for-20 line for 69 yards, one touchdown, and one pick. Who knows which version of Nelson we will get, but the market doesn’t seem bullish. The Zips have only rushed for 3.3 yards per carry this season, so the ground game isn’t much of a safety net. Even Woodson completed just 58.3 percent of his throws with a 14/8 TD/INT ratio. It really feels like the Zips just ran on the right side of variance in their games when you look at the stats.
Akron played 10 unders in 12 games and the defense wasn’t even that great. In fact, it was rather poor. The Zips allowed 4.9 yards per carry, a 61.1 percent completion rate, and 5.8 yards per play. They were a little bit better in MAC play with 5.5 yards per play allowed. They also ran good on the defensive front in terms of turnovers. Against MAC foes, Akron forced 18 turnovers and only turned it over eight times. On the year, Akron was outgained by 0.8 yards per play and outscored by 1.5 points per game. This defense just had turnovers at the right times. Unfortunately, Toledo doesn’t turn the football over. The more you break this game down, the more the enormous spread makes sense.
Toledo pretty much doesn’t turn the ball over. Quarterback Logan Woodside enters this game with a 24/3 TD/INT ratio and a 65.2 percent completion rate. The Rockets are full of big plays with over 15 yards per reception and over five yards per carry. Terry Swanson and Shakif Seymour both scored 12 touchdowns with 5.4 and 6.3 yards per carry, respectively. The Rockets own the time of possession in just about every game and have racked up 7.1 yards per play. They have over 500 yards of offense per game. In MAC play, the Rockets had 7.4 yards per play, which was far and away the best mark in the conference. Even without star wideout Cody Thompson, the passing game was productive with Diontae Johnson, who had over 18 yards per catch on 63 receptions.
On the defensive side, Toledo’s numbers aren’t impressive, but you have to consider the non-conference schedule. The Rockets played an Air Raid offense in Nevada, a Tulsa offense that has talent, and a Miami team that could very well be in the College Football Playoff. Against MAC foes, the Rockets held the opposition to just 20.6 points per game and 5.2 yards per play. Toledo only allowed eight points in the first half in MAC play and only 9.9 points per game in the first half overall. With an offense that doesn’t make mistakes and a defense that does enough, playing catch-up against the Rockets is very hard. Toledo only allowed a 55 percent completion percentage, though the Rockets were gashed on the ground to the tune of 4.8 yards per carry. If Akron had a running game, that could be a thing. However, they don’t, with just 108.2 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry.
Free College Football Pick: Toledo Rockets -21
The Zips may keep this close for a while, but the defense is going to be under immense pressure all game long. The total has risen on this game, which seems to be correlated with a rising side in that the market expects Toledo to do a lot of damage on offense. That makes a whole lot of sense when you consider Akron’s body of work. It looks like Toledo or nothing here though I don’t love laying this many points. Toledo minus the points small.