The 2018 MAC Championship game kicks off college football conference championship weekend, which will include all 10 FBS conferences holding a title game to determine their conference champion for the first time. Northern Illinois is playing in their 7th MAC Championship game in the last nine years, sustaining the strength and excellence of the program in DeKalb, IL. But the Buffalo Bulls were the top team in the Mid-American Conference this season going 10-2 including a conference-best 7-1 in MAC play.
The Bulls are also a money-making 9-3 ATS this season; tied for second best in the country. Buffalo is playing in their 2nd MAC Championship game thanks to coach Lance Leipold, who won six Division III championships and has re-built Buffalo into a solid MAC program. Prior to his arrival, the Bulls had just 8 victories in the two seasons prior.
Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5) vs Buffalo Bulls (10-2)
Friday, Nov. 30th – Ford Field in Detroit, MI – 7:00pm ET on ESPN2
2018 MAC Championship Betting Line: Buffalo -3.5 (49.5)
These two teams did not play during the regular season, but Buffalo was the best team in the MAC this season going 7-1 SU/ATS while scoring 35.5 points per game.
Northern Illinois started the season 1-3 playing the league’s toughest non-conference schedule. The Huskies lost to Iowa and Florida State on the road and also gave up a close defensive duel at home to Utah 17-6. Overall, the Huskies won their first seven MAC games before dropping their final two contests by a touchdown to Miami and Western Michigan.
Head-to-Head Comparison in 2018 MAC Championship
The Huskies defense is the best in the MAC allowing just 19.8 points per game in conference play and 331.0 yards per game.
Both Buffalo and NIU run the ball for 226 yards per game, but the Huskies’ run defense held conference opponents to a league-low 99.1 rushing yards per game. But Buffalo is the only team in the MAC that both runs (226.6) and passes (217.4) for at least 200 yards per game in conference play. The Bulls also led the league with 20 rushing touchdowns in the red zone, but Northern Illinois allowed the fewest red zone rushing touchdowns (8).
The Huskies pass attack is poor averaging just 143.1 yards per game to rank No. 11 in the MAC, and both teams rank top-3 in the conference in terms of pass efficiency defenses with Northern Illinois leading the league in sacks with 31.
In Buffalo’s two losses to Army and Ohio, their opponents controlled the ground game and the clock, rushing for a combined 718 yards and limiting Buffalo to 23 and 16 minutes respectively.
Against their six common MAC opponents, Buffalo went 5-1 SU/ATS, covering all five as a favorite. The Bulls out-gained those opponents 434-410. Northern Illinois went 5-1 SU and 3-3 ATS and out-gained those opponents 387-313.
A few under-the-radar stats in Buffalo’s favor are the better kick and punt return units and the Bulls are the league’s least penalized team with 42 for 42.4 yards per game in league play. Buffalo also has a plus-1 turnover margin while No. Illinois is minus-3 in MAC play.
Betting the 2018 MAC Championship
Against FBS opponents, only 13 teams scored less than Northern Illinois’ (19.9) points per game. The four top scoring offenses in the MAC were Ohio, Toledo, Buffalo and Miami, and Northern Illinois held three of them to 21, 15 and 13 points. The Huskies will try to run the ball early in hopes of mimicking the approach both Army and Ohio attacked Buffalo with. However, the Bulls offense has more balance and can likely score a little more, making them the team to back in my opinion. A lower-scoring result is also the preferred play, so hold the UNDER.
2018 MAC Championship Pick – Buffalo and UNDER
Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.