Northern Illinois football is favored to defeat Ball State, but the spread might be the best bet

In a battle for the Bronze Stalk Trophy, Northern Illinois is expected to win its rivalry matchup against Ball State to begin play in the Mid-American Conference.

NIU is currently projected as a 4.5-point favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, which is the official odds partner of Bet Chicago Sports. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. CT at Scheumann Stadium and will be televised on ESPN+.

This is the 50th meeting between NIU and Ball State. The two schools first met back in October of 1941 with the inaugural game ending in a 6-6 tie. The Huskies lead the all-time series (25-22-2) and have won 17 of their last 22 meetings, including last year’s walk-off winner when John Richardson delivered the game-winning field goal.

But this is too many points for a rivalry matchup, at least in my opinion.

Both of these teams have their flaws coming into this week’s contest, including the fact that both the Huskies and Cardinals are 1-3 entering Saturday’s showdown. Neither team has shown the ability to close out a game.

According to this article from Robby General of Muncie Star Press, Ball State is being outscored by nearly three points per game (16.25-13.5) in the second half. The difference is a full touchdown (16.25-9.25), if you take out the convincing win over Murray State.

But NIU hasn’t fared much better down the stretch, which honestly started in Week 1 against Eastern Illinois. The Huskies are being outscored by an average of 5.75 points in the second half so far this season.

With neither team playing their best when the game matters most, I’m willing to take the points and expect the unexpected. It is also worth mentioning that we really don’t know who will be available for NIU, according to this article from Eddie Carifio of the Daily Chronicle.

During this week’s media availability, NIU head coach Thomas Hammock didn’t reveal too much information about his team from a health standpoint. Hammock did say that he liked the progress of quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who missed last week’s loss to Kentucky.

Along with Lombardi, the status of Marques Cox, Shemar Thornton, Jordan Gandy, Eric Rogers, J.J. Lippe and Miles Joiner remain unknown entering the weekend. That could thrust some inexperienced players into key roles, some of whom Carifio highlighted in his story.

None of this means NIU can’t win this game, because the moneyline price of -175 indicates that the Huskies have a good shot to do so. I’m just willing to take the points in a rivalry matchup, especially when there are questions surrounding both teams before this game even kicks off.

If I’m wrong, I will fall to 3-2 on my NIU bets on the year instead of improving to 4-1. And readers will certainly be happy because that means the Huskies were able to win comfortably this weekend.

Pick: Ball State +4.5 (-110)

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Shane Jackson

Shane Jackson

Shane Jackson is the Sports Betting Content Director for the Shaw Media Local News Network.