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TOLEDO ROCKETS (8-2) at NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES (9-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line: Northern Illinois -10.5
Northern Illinois looks to stay unbeaten in MAC play when it hosts high-powered division rival Toledo on Wednesday night. The winner of this game will most likely be the MAC West champion. These MAC West rivals have met for each of the past 15 seasons, with Toledo going 11-4 SU (9-5-1 ATS). But NIU has taken three of four (SU and ATS), including two straight, winning 65-30 in 2010 and 63-60 last year with a game-winning TD with 19 seconds left in regulation. This season, the Huskies have rolled through conference play, going 6-0 (SU and ATS) and winning by an average score of 47.2 to 15.2 PPG. However, the Rockets have also been great in-conference, going 5-1 SU (3-3 ATS), with 36.3 PPG, but allowing 28.0 PPG. NIU is the better team, but this spread is way too large. Favorites of 10.5 to 21 points after 8+ straight SU wins, carrying a win pct. of at least 80% facing a good team (60% to 80% win pct.) are just 13-40 ATS (24%) since 1992. Also, Toledo is 4-0 ATS as an underdog this season, and Northern Illinois is just 6-16 ATS (27%) after gaining 7.25+ yards per play in its previous game since 1992.
Toledo is coming off a 34-27 home loss to Ball State, where it outgained the Cardinals 526 to 446 in total yards and 311 to 166 in rushing yards. David Fluellen rushed for 200 of those on 34 carries (5.9 YPC), giving him a ridiculous 1,094 rushing yards (182 per game) and 9 TD in six games versus MAC opponents this year. He is now tied for second in the nation with 138.1 rushing YPG, averaging a hefty 6.0 YPC this year. Fluellen had just eight carries for 31 yards in last year's loss to NIU. Rockets QB Terrance Owens played sparingly in the 2011 meeting with the Huskies (1-for-2, 3 yds), but totaled 211 yards with 2 TD and 1 INT in the 2010 loss in Dekalb. Owens has been solid this season (2,412 pass yds, 14 TD, 5 INT), but has thrown just 5 TD and 5 INT over his past six games.
The Rockets defense continues to struggle in 2012, especially against the pass, where they allow 288 passing YPG (9th-most in FBS). They have surrendered at least 200 passing yards in all 10 of their games this year, giving up 280 in last week's loss to Ball State. Toledo's run defense has also been shoddy in the past four weeks, allowing 228 rushing YPG on 6.1 YPC. The one positive for the defense is that the Rockets continue to force turnovers, tallying 14 takeaways in the past six games. They could be without senior S Mark Singer (41 tackles, 2 INT), who missed last week's loss with a knee injury.
Northern Illinois ranks ninth in the nation in scoring (40.6 PPG), thanks mostly to dual-threat QB Jordan Lynch, whose 352 total YPG is fourth-most in the nation and his 134 rushing YPG ranks fifth among all FBS players. The junior has not thrown an interception in MAC play this year (155 pass attempts), piling up 12 TD through the air and 11 TD on the ground during this six-game stretch. Senior WR Martel Moore has 8 touchdown grabs in his past nine games, but in three career meetings versus Toledo, he's totaled just five catches for 37 yards.
The NIU defense has given up just 17.9 PPG (15th in FBS), holding three of the past four opponents to seven points or less, including last week's 63-0 shutout of Massachusetts. The Huskies have gotten great penetration at the line with 2.8 sacks per game (T-17th in FBS), including a MAC-best 7.4 Tackles For Loss per game. They have also done a stellar job of forcing mistakes, causing 16 turnovers in six games versus MAC opponents.