Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, September 30, 2016 at 12:04 PM
The Mid-American Conference gets overlooked by most fans, but smart college football bettors know there’s still money to be made in the MAC. Through the first four weeks of the season that’s been absolutely true of Western Michigan and Ball State—both are a perfect 4-0 against the number.
Western Michigan has beaten two Big Ten teams, Northwestern and Illinois outright. The Broncos beat the Wildcats 22-21 as a (+3) underdog to start the season. By the time Western played the Illini two weeks later the market was already adjusting—the Broncos were a (-3) favorite, and still made it look easy in a 34-10 win. Western Michigan also has easy covers in wins over UNC-Central and Georgia Southern.
What makes this intriguing is that will take a radical market adjustment to catch up to where Western Michigan is currently playing out. The Broncos are not only covering, but they’ve done so by an average of nearly 12 points a game. Moreover, that’s coming consistently—the Northwestern upset was the only game where the spread margin was in single digits. When you bet Western Michigan, you don’t just win, you do it without a lot of anxiety.
This current performance by the Broncos is a natural growth process for a program that’s been coming on strong. Head coach P.J. Fleck is in his fourth year and has produced eight-win bowl teams each of the last two seasons. Western has a terrific quarterback in Zach Terrell, who completes nearly 70 percent of his passes, gets over nine yards per attempt and has a 9-0 TD/INT ratio. He gets plenty of support in the running game from Jamauri Bogan, averaging 131 yards per game and getting 5.9 yards a pop.
Ball State doesn’t have the same track record, coming off two bad seasons. But new head coach Mike Neu has put the Cardinals back on the right track. They opened the season by beating Georgia State 31-21 as a (+7) underdog. Their one outright loss, 30-20 at Indiana, was still a solid cover as Ball State got (+17). They went on to decisively cover against Eastern Kentucky, 41-14 as a nearly two-touchdown favorite. Then they escaped Florida Atlantic 31-27 in a game Ball State was giving three.
The market may be adjusting to Ball State. It’s worth noting that they don’t get nearly the same level of quarterback play that Western Michigan does. Riley Neal only gets 5.7 yards-per-attempt and his TD/INT ratio is a meager 5-4. The Cardinals are now getting respect, as they host Northern Illinois. The Huskies are a proud program that’s set the tone in this league throughout the decade, but is off to a poor start. Ball State is (-4) and savvy handicappers will watch closely to see how they handle their newfound respect.
What both teams do is play defense. Ball State is 50th in the country, which for the MAC is respectable enough to compete. Western Michigan is more than respectable—they rank 15th. It’s a big reason they’re a (-3.5) favorite on the road at Central Michigan...a team that won at Oklahoma State. The MAC is a league that often seems like basketball on turf, so anyone that plays defense seriously is going to have a big advantage. We’ll be watching closely to see if that continues to translate into pointspread victories for Western Michigan and Ball State.