From 2010 to 2015, Northern Illinois dominated the MAC West division. The Huskies won six straight division titles and three MAC championships in that timeframe.
However, in the last two seasons, the Huskies have been surpassed by two other divisional foes. Western Michigan went undefeated in the regular season in 2016 en route to its first MAC championship. Last year, Toledo won its first conference title since 2004.
The top of the MAC West will likely once again come down to Toledo and Northern Illinois. A surprise team like Eastern Michigan could make its way to the top, but it should be a two-team race for the division crown this fall.
Throughout July, we are giving out our over/under picks for every team in college football. We are also giving out best bets for each division and conference. Check out our best bets from the MAC East.
Note: all win totals are for regular season only. Conference championship games and bowl games do not count towards a team’s over/under projection.
MAC West Over/Under
It only took two seasons for Jason Candle to lead Toledo to a MAC Championship. Now, the Rockets enter 2018 with a target on their backs.
While Toledo still has a talented roster, quarterback Logan Woodside will be very difficult to replace. Woodside finished his career as Toledo’s all-time leader in passing yards. Illinois transfer Eli Rogers will take over for Woodside this season, and receiver Diontae Johnson will make his job easier.
The non-conference slate features two tough opponents. Miami (FL) will visit the Glass Bowl on Sept. 15. The Hurricanes defeated Toledo 52-30 a season ago. The Rockets travel to Fresno State two weeks later for a very intriguing Group of 5 matchup. They should win comfortably against VMI and Nevada, but the conference schedule will be challenging.
The Rockets travel to Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and an improved Eastern Michigan team. There’s a good chance the MAC West will come down to the showdown between Toledo and Northern Illinois in DeKalb on Wednesday, Nov. 7. That’s right. Midweek #MACtion for the MAC West crown.
The Pick: Toledo UNDER 8.5.
Northern Illinois (7)
The Huskies were 6-2 in conference play last year, but they finished one game behind Toledo in the MAC West. This year, NIU has a favorable conference schedule, and they have a good chance of returning to the conference title game.
Defensive lineman Sutton Smith is one of the best pass rushers in the country, and he leads a defensive line that should be the best in the MAC. NIU will also have a very talented offensive line, and they should win the battle of the trenches in most games in conference play.
Sutton Smith's dominant 2017 makes him the highest-graded returning edge defender this fall pic.twitter.com/syxKiZeCKM
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 4, 2018
Both Ohio, Toledo and Miami all visit Huskie Stadium this fall. That’s a major advantage for NIU because they are 21-6 at home under Rod Carey. While the conference schedule is favorable, the non-conference schedule is brutal. The Huskies travel to Iowa, Florida State and BYU. They also host Utah.
There aren’t many guaranteed wins on the schedule. However, the Huskies are good enough to win six or seven conference games, and they can steal one or two of those non-conference games. The over certainly isn’t a lock given the difficulty of the schedule, but they should get to eight wins.
The Pick: Northern Illinois OVER 7.
Eastern Michigan (6)
On paper, the Eagles should be much improved this fall after a 5-7 campaign in 2017. They return 13 starters, and six of their seven losses were all one-possession games.
Usually, those one-possession games balance out. With so many players returning, the odds are those veteran starters figure out how to win close games. That would bode well for Eastern Michigan if they want to reach a bowl game this fall.
However, the schedule is absolutely brutal — especially starting in the second week through Week. After a buy game against Monmouth, the Eagles play at Purdue, at Buffalo and at San Diego State back-to-back-to-back. Another road game at Western Michigan is sandwiched in between home games against Northern Illinois and Toledo. Yikes. Eastern Michigan probably won’t be favored in any of those games.
The back half of the schedule is more manageable, but they also host Army in October. The Eagles will also likely be underdogs in that game. If they can figure out how to win some close games, they could reach six or seven wins. But the schedule will be hard to overcome.
The Pick: Eastern Michigan UNDER 6.
Western Michigan (5.5)
After a spectacular 13-1 season in 2016, the Mustangs only won six games last fall. They weren’t selected for a bowl game at 6-6, and second year head coach Tim Lester has his work cut out for him to get his team back into contention.
Western Michigan has 13 starters returning this year, including eight on offense. Running back Levante Bellamy will be asked to carry the offense, though quarterback Joe Wassink started eight games a season ago before breaking his collarbone.
The Mustangs open the season at home against Syracuse in a game that will be pivotal for both teams in regards to their win totals. The week two road game at Michigan will be a loss, but they return home for a buy game against Delaware State the following week. The final non-conference game at Georgia State is another tossup.
WMU hosts Toledo, Ohio and Northern Illinois — presumably the best three teams in the MAC. They might need to steal one of those games to hit the over. They also travel to Miami (OH) in September, which will be a pivotal month that could result in a 1-4 start. Nevertheless, the opportunities will be there for the Mustangs to bounce back and get to a bowl game.
The Pick: Western Michigan OVER 5.5.
Ball State (4)
Through two seasons in Muncie, head coach Mike Neu is 6-18 overall and 1-15 in the MAC. Needless to say, if the Cardinals don’t show improvement this year, Neu might be out of a job.
However, there is reason for some optimism for Ball State. They have a solid trio of skill players on offense, including quarterback Riley Neal, running back James Gilbert and receiver Justin Hall. It’s a more experienced roster from top-to-bottom, and they return 16 starters.
The schedule isn’t easy after an opening week game against Central Connecticut State. They travel to Notre Dame in the second week, and while the Ball State basketball team upset the Irish in 2017, don’t expect a similar result on the gridiron. The Cardinals will likely be underdogs at Indiana and home for Western Kentucky, but they can play with both teams.
Unfortunately, the back half of the conference schedule is brutal. They travel to Ohio, Toledo and Miami. A winnable game against Central Michigan is on the road. This team should be improved, but it might not be reflected in the win-loss column.
The Pick: Ball State UNDER 4.
Central Michigan (4)
The Chippewas ended the 2017 regular season on a five-game winning streak, and they won eight games total last year. Five of those games came on the road, which was an impressive accomplishment for John Bonamego’s team.
Central Michigan will rely heavily on junior running back Jonathan Ward, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. They only return 10 starters, so this might be a team that struggles early on in the season.
September road games at Kentucky, Michigan State and Northern Illinois are likely losses, and a home game versus Kansas will be a coin flip. The Chippewas should take care of business at home against Maine, and they also host winnable games against Ball State and Bowling Green.
CMU exceeded expectations last year, and a favorable home schedule could put them in position to do so again in 2018.
The Pick: Central Michigan OVER 4.
Northern Illinois OVER 7
Western Michigan OVER 5.5
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