College football conference odds: In tightly contested MAC, Buffalo must contend with favorites Toledo, NIU


Between now and the start of college football season on Sept. 1, we’ll preview every conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision with an emphasis on futures odds. Each preview will include a look at favorites, long shots and a pick as well as the full list of odds for the conference.

We’ll start with the smaller conferences and work our way toward the top, finishing with the Southeastern Conference just before games kick off. By the time the season starts, you’ll have a comprehensive look at the top division in college football.

Today we begin with the Mid-American Conference, that lovable league that brings us plenty of betting action on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in November.

Last season

Northern Illinois won the West Division and topped Kent State in the conference title game, 41-23. Both lost shootouts in their bowl games, NIU 47-41 to Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl and Kent State 52-38 to Wyoming in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Central Michigan, Toledo and Miami of Ohio were the other MAC teams to finish with a winning record.

The conference did have some success against power conference teams — Northern Illinois beat Georgia Tech early in the season, and Central Michigan (with former Florida coach Jim McElwain at the helm) beat Washington State in the Sun Bowl. Toledo also took Notre Dame to the wire before losing 32-29.


It’s no surprise the same names are expected to compete for the MAC title. At Caesars Sportsbook, Toledo (+300) is listed as the favorite to win the league atop a crowded odds board.

Last year, the Rockets were led by freshman quarterback Dequan Finn and a lockdown defense. They ranked as a borderline top 60 team nationally in Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings at ESPN as well as several other national power rankings.

Toledo was plus-151 in point differential but finished just 7-6. You can guess the reason for that: Every single loss was by seven points or less, including that aforementioned close call at Notre Dame and losses of two points and three points in overtime, respectively, to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan that left the Rockets out of the MAC West title picture.

Northern Illinois (+400) won the league last year after a winless (shortened) 2020 season. The Huskies lost running back Jay Ducker, who transferred to Memphis after winning MAC Freshman of the Year averaging 241.4 yards rushing per game. The Huskies return other talent, including quarterback Rocky Lombardi, and they get Toledo at home. But to win the league, they needed eight victories by eight points or less.

In the East Division, the best odds belong to Miami (+375), which also lost last season’s race because of close losses. The Redhawks’ three conference setbacks came by a total of four points, including 48-47 in overtime to NIU.

Don’t overlook Central Michigan (+450), which McElwain is building into a mid-major power. The Chippewas bring back quarterback Daniel Richardson (24 TDs, six interceptions) and Kobe Lewis, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2019 who missed last season with a knee injury. The defense was elite last year but has eight starters to replace.

Kent State (+900) is the reigning division champion but like NIU needed good kind of close-game luck to do it. The Golden Flashes also face a brutal non-conference slate that includes Oklahoma, Georgia and Washington — whether that toughens them up or wears them down could decide their conference fate.

Longer shots

The other MAC teams who finished last season with winning records were Western Michigan (+1200) and Eastern Michigan (+1600), but it’s easy to find fault with both of their cases this year. WMU returns just 11 starters, EMU lost productive quarterback Ben Bryant to transfer and both play in the tougher West Division.

In the East, an intriguing option could be Buffalo (+1400), which won the division in 2018 and the entire MAC in 2020, then fell off to a 4-8 season last year after coach Lance Leipold left for Kansas. Could the Bulls bounce back in their second season under Maurice Linguist? Helping their cause is a return from injury for several starters and a bevy of incoming transfers.

For a real long shot, check out Bowling Green (+5000). The Falcons stunned Minnesota last year, then stumbled to a 4-8 record. They return nine starters on each side of the ball, including third-year quarterback Matt McDonald, and supplemented that core through the transfer portal.

Value picks

Toledo is the rightful favorite in the MAC, but the 3/1 price isn’t enough juice to make me drink. The Rockets’ struggles in close games predate last season, so until I see them start to come through in the clutch a bit more, I’ll hold off.

At the top of the board, I like Central Michigan at +450. The defense needs to be rebuilt, but McElwain has brought in strong recruiting classes the past two years and should have the depth to be competitive. Unfortunately, the Chippewas must travel to both Toledo and NIU, but they went 3-1 in conference on the road last season.

Further down, take a 50/1 shot on Bowling Green. Any time a team has more than 18 returning starters, they’re bound to improve, and in a conference that traditionally features a ton of close games, a turnaround from 2-6 to 6-2 isn’t out of the question.

Full MAC odds and win totals

(From Caesars Sportsbook)

 Team  Division  Title odds  Win total
 Toledo  West  +300  8
 Miami (OH)  East  +375  6.5 (o-140)
 Northern Illinois  West  +400  7 (u-125)
 Central Michigan  West  +450  7.5 (u-120)
 Kent State  East  +900  5.5
 Western Michigan  West  +1200  6
 Buffalo  East  +1400  5
 Eastern Michigan  West  +1600  5.5
 Ohio  East  +2000  5.5
 Bowling Green  East  +5000  3.5 (o-160)
 Ball State  West  +6000  4.5 (o-140)
 Akron  East  +12500  2.5 (u-150)


Categories: Upstate Action

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