Philadelphia, PA – Ohio is the 6-5 betting choice to grab the East Division of the Mid-American Conference for a second straight season, while Western Michigan is the 9-5 favorite to meet the Bobcats in the MAC Championship Game. (All odds courtesy of 5Dimes).
Time now to take a deeper look into the two divisions that make up the conference with predicted SU overall and conference records for those wagering on over/unders for total victories. (The odds that appear after the school is for the overall league title.)
6) BALL STATE (12-1) - The Cardinals are 21-7 as road underdogs the last six years.
Offense - The offense was not the problem for Ball State last season as the Cardinals averaged 27 ppg - the most since the Nate Davis era ended. They have just as much firepower in 2012 so look for a slight increase in production.
Defense - Ball State ranked 119th nationally in total defense a season ago allowing over 500 yards of total offense. Similar numbers could be in line this year with the loss of three of the top four tacklers and only five returning starters.
Prediction - The Cardinals were 8-2 to the over in their last 10 games. Expect more of the same in 2012 (3-9, 3-5).
5) EASTERN MICHIGAN (16-1) - The Eagles are 8-5 as road underdogs the last two years.
Offense - Last year's offense averaged fewer yards per game in league play than in 2010. This year will be a reversal due to the return of nine starters. Look for the Eagles to have their highest offensive totals since 2008.
Defense - This unit chopped off 20 points per game from its 44 ppg average two years back. Even though just five starters come back, eight of the top 13 tacklers return so the scoring average might not rise that much.
Prediction - The schedule is more demanding than last year's so the final record might not reflect the growth in the program (4-8, 3-5).
4) CENTRAL MICHIGAN (20-1) - The Chippewas are 1-5 as home favorites the last two years.
Offense - This should be the club's finest offensive output since Dan LeFevour left the university. Eight starters return, including quarterback Ryan Radcliff, the top two receiving leaders, and four offensive linemen.
Defense - The defense came into last year without its top three playmakers. It showed as the unit allowed 11 more points per game in league play. This year's group is more experienced so one can expect reduced numbers in 2012.
Prediction - The Chippewas averaged and allowed 6.4 yards per play inside the MAC, but were outscored 36-26. This year, with both sides of the ball on their way up, look for a .500 conference record (5-7, 4-4).
3) TOLEDO (6-1) - The Rockets are 11-5 ATS in league play the last two years.
Offense - Scoring improved by two touchdowns from 2010 but that was with nine returning starters. This year, the Rockets are without their top two rushers, their star wide receiver, and three long time offensive line starters.
Defense - Toledo allowed over 30 ppg in 2011 and that was with eight of the top 11 tacklers back. This year, eight of the top 11 are gone so an increase in points allowed is expected.
Prediction - After back-to-back bowl seasons, look for Toledo to finish below .500 both SU and ATS (5-7, 4-4).
2) WESTERN MICHIGAN (4-1) - The Broncos are 10-6 ATS in conference play the last two years.
Offense - Seven starters return for the fifth consecutive season. Unfortunately, three of the four not coming back are last year's starting wide receivers who combined for 269 catches for 3,452 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Defense - One of last season's biggest surprises was how poorly this unit played. This year the defense loses four of its top five tacklers so don't expect a sudden reversal of form.
Prediction - The Broncos were 7-4 ATS last season. They could be 4-7 in 2012 (8-4, 5-3).
1) NORTHERN ILLINOIS (6-1) - The Huskies are 8-3 as road underdogs the last four years.
Offense - New starting quarterback Jordan Lynch is talented enough to replace Chandler Harnish, the school's all-time leading passer. If the rebuilt offensive line can protect him and open up decent holes, the offense will remain potent.
Defense - Last year's defense was a shell of its former self allowing over 30 ppg. However, only two starters returned from the 2010 club. Look for the defense to revert to its old ways and a major reduction in points allowed.
Prediction - Without Harnish, the public might not expect too much so bet on Northern Illinois early and often. In addition, take the Huskies to win the MAC at the generous odds of 6-1 (10-2, 7-1).
7) MASSACHUSETTS - The Minutemen lost and failed to cover against Boston College in its lone lined game last season.
Offense - Massachusetts enters the MAC without Jonathan Hernandez, its workhorse running back. The offense also has a whole new set of receivers. With the bump up in opposition, this unit will be lucky to average two touchdowns.
Defense - Nine of the top 12 tacklers return after allowing 28 ppg in 2011. This year's schedule is very demanding so look for high point totals on a weekly basis.
Prediction - There will be plenty of unders in 2012 (0-12, 0-8).
6) AKRON (25-1) - The Zips are 6-12 as road underdogs the last three years.
Offense - The scoring average has gone down each of the last three seasons. That will change this year with Dalton Williams taking over for Clayton Moore at the quarterback spot.
Defense - Akron allowed 243 rushing yards per game inside the MAC last year, almost 100 more than in 2010. The "D" also was 116th nationally in scoring, which might not change with the loss of five of the top seven tacklers, including Brian Wagner, who more than doubled the second-place finisher.
Prediction - It will be another long campaign for the Zips (2-10, 1-7).
5) BUFFALO (20-1) - The Bulls are 3-9 as road underdogs the last two years.
Offense - Running back Branden Oliver benefited from strong quarterback play last year to rush for 1,395 yards on 4.6 ypc. It's important to note that he averaged just 2.9 ypc with an inexperienced signal caller in 2010, How he fares with uncertainty at the quarterback position is the key to the offense.
Defense - This unit wasn't all that bad in 2011 considering it brought back only three starters. It will only be stronger with 10 of the top 13 tacklers back in 2012.
Prediction - Buffalo was 6-5 to the under last season. Expect even more unders this fall (3-9, 2-6).
4) KENT STATE (8-1) - The Golden Flashes are 2-7 as road underdogs the last two years.
Offense - This group was last in the league in total offense, even behind Akron, and 118th nationally in third-down effectiveness. However, the offense averaged 26 ppg over the final five games after averaging only 7 ppg in the first six contests versus Football Bowl Subdivision competition. Expect that late run to continue into the new campaign.
Defense - The defense allowed 20 ppg in league play last season, which was lower than in 2010 when the defense ranked 4th nationally against the run. Thirteen of the top 16 tacklers return this season so a return to prior form is a distinct possibility.
Prediction - Look for plenty of unders, especially early in the year (5-7, 4-4).
3) BOWLING GREEN (8-1) - The Falcons are 12-5 as road underdogs the last five years.
Offense - The Falcons rushed for 3.6 ypc in league play, up from 2.0 the year before. That ground attack could be more important this year with the loss of the top two receivers who combined for 145 catches and 21 touchdowns.
Defense - If Bowling Green is going to compete for the East Division title, it must improve a defense that has allowed at least 30 ppg in conference play the last two years. However, the Falcons should break into the 20s with 10 returning starters.
Prediction - Its back to the postseason after missing bowl action the last two years (8-4, 6-2).
2) MIAMI-OHIO (8-1) - The RedHawks are 14-4 ATS in the last six games of the season over the last three years.
Offense - If the offensive line can keep Zac Dysert in the pocket (47 sacks last year, including 19 the last three games), the RedHawks could upset Ohio for the division crown.
Defense - The top three tacklers depart while Pat Hinkel (#4) moves from safety to linebacker. This has been a solid defense the last two seasons but look for a rise in points and yards allowed in 2012.
Prediction - Two years ago, the RedHawks won all their close games and finished 10-4. Last year, they went 4-8 averaging almost the same numbers as the season before. This year, they will finish somewhere in between (7-5, 6-2).
1) OHIO (3-1) - The Bobcats are 9-4 in their last 13 games as road underdogs.
Offense - The Bobcats averaged only one point per game higher in conference play last year compared to 2010 despite averaging 129 more yards per game due to a 49 percent red zone touchdown percentage. If that number increases in 2012, Ohio could lead the league in scoring.
Defense - The defense came into last season with an entirely new front four and it showed as the squad allowed 3.9 ypc in league play as opposed to 3.2 in 2010. Eight of the top nine tacklers come back this season so look for the Bobcats to have the No. 1 defense in the East.
Prediction - Ohio has not finished with a below .500 ATS record since 2005. The Bobcats will keep that streak alive with another solid campaign (10-2, 7-1).