The Mid-American Conference title comes down to two teams that have never won one in football. The Ohio Bobcats will be there for the fourth time, but they have never been able to claim the title. The Western Michigan Broncos are there for the first time since 2000 and they are 0-2 in their title game appearances. Ohio is in this game for the first time since 2011. Northern Illinois has played Bowling Green in each of the last three MAC Championship Games and Northern Illinois has been in it every year since 2015. That ends on Friday night with the kickoff at Ford Field between the Bobcats and the Broncos.
Ohio vs. Western Michigan College Football Preview
Date/Time: Friday December 2, 7:00 p.m. ET
College Football Betting Odds from 5Dimes
College Football Betting Favorite: Western Michigan -19
The Ohio Bobcats come from the much weaker side of the MAC. The MAC East Division was pretty much awful this season, but Ohio did take down the second-best team in the MAC at the Glass Bowl in Toledo earlier this season and played right with Tennessee way back in Week 3. Ohio wrapped up the regular season 8-4 straight up and 6-6 against the number. The stat that really stands out is that the Bobcats were 10-1 to the under. What Western Michigan has done en route to being 12-0 is thoroughly impressive. The Broncos are also 9-3 against the spread with some big numbers to cover throughout the year. They finished with an average score of 44.7 to 19.2 this regular season.
Wily old head coach Frank Solich is in his 13th season at Ohio, but the Bobcats have never been able to give him a conference title. The last two meetings against WMU have not gone well. Ohio lost 49-14 in Athens last season and 42-21 in Kalamazoo the previous season. It’s pretty clear what Ohio wants to do in this game. They want to run the football and play defense. Not many teams in the MAC have played defense the way Ohio has. The Bobcats allowed just 5-2 yards per play overall this season and 4.9 yards per play in conference action. Opposing MAC offenses scored just 16.7 points per game on the Bobcats.
Unfortunately, as good as the defense is, the offense really struggles. The Bobcats rush for 4.5 yards per carry, based more on volume than anything else. They scored 26.8 points per game, but a triple-overtime game against Texas State is a massive outlier and Ohio only scored 21.9 points per game in conference play on 5.5 yards per play. The Bobcats might get Greg Windham back. He suited up for the finale against Akron on November 22, but did not play. He’s far more experienced than freshman QB Quinton Maxwell and he’s the more talented runner. That would be a huge help to an Ohio team that needs all the help it can get in this spot. Dorian Brown and Maleek Irons have each rushed for over five yards per carry. Ohio wants to make this game about the trenches. The concern here is how they will play catch up if they have to because this is a team that needs a lead to sit on.
Western Michigan Broncos:
The Broncos have an incredible set of stats this season. They’re going to run for over 3,000 yards as a team. They’re going to wind up with close to 7,000 total yards this season if you include the impending bowl game. They have turned the ball over five times all season. Quarterback Zach Terrell has a 30/1 TD/INT ratio. He has a future Sunday receiver in Corey Davis with 83 catches for 1,283 yards with 17 touchdowns. Both Jarvion Franklin (232-1266-12) and Jamauri Bogan (137-787-8) are extremely reliable runners. Ohio is one of the best in the country at generating sacks, but Terrell has been sacked just 12 times all season and just five times in conference play. If this game does become about the trenches, Western Michigan is in pretty good shape there.
Defensively, the Broncos have a few outstanding issues, but the thing about their performance is that it is very hard to grade. The Broncos have played one game this season with a margin of victory lower than 14 points. That was the Week 1 win over Northwestern 22-21. Nobody else has been within two touchdowns. The Broncos have one of the best turnover margins in the country and have held opponents to 19.2 points per game and just 18.4 points per game in conference. The Broncos have allowed 4.9 yards per carry, though, so that may be the opening that Ohio needs to keep this thing close. The circumstances surrounding PJ Fleck and his future Power 5 Conference head coaching gig may also serve as a distraction for the Broncos.
College Football Free Pick: Ohio Bobcats +19.5
The Bobcats are outclassed and out-talented in this game, but this is a lot of points for a Western Michigan team with all of the pressure. Ohio has had extra time to prepare for this game, so Frank Solich and his staff should have a strong game plan. The Broncos are looking at a perfect season, a New Year’s Six bowl game, and a MAC title. Ohio obviously wants to win, but when it boils down to it, they have nothing to lose and that is when a college football team is most dangerous. They can run the ball and keep it away from Western. If that happens, this game may end up being pretty close.
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