Northern Illinois Huskies at San Diego State Aztecs Expert Picks with Odds and Predictions
Northern Illinois Huskies at San Diego State Aztecs, Saturday Sept. 30, 10:30 p.m. ET
I am always drawn to underdog stories in sports, so one of my favorite storylines to follow all season in college football is the race for the at-large bid in the big bowls. As the playoff format has evolved and conferences have been shuffled and reshuffled, teams outside of the Power 5 get less attention, but they continue to play great football outside of the national focus. And as things sit a third of the way through the season, the Aztecs are making a serious statement that they intend to claim that at-large bid. It's not just that they have won four games, but it's who they have beaten. Winning at Arizona State opened some eyes, but after they beat Stanford the next week you could no longer ignore this squad. Two wins in the Pac-12 is nothing to scoff at - especially when one of them is over one of the top contenders in the league.
Now San Diego State finishes off their nonconference schedule with a MAC opponent that is always dangerous. Northern Illinois opened with a loss to Boston College, so they are far from a perfect team, but they roll into this one off a nice win at Nebraska, so the Aztecs can take nothing for granted. Add it all up and you have a surprisingly compelling mid-major showdown.
Northern Illinois at San Diego State Betting Storylines
If by now you haven't noticed that San Diego State has been a running back factory for years then you just aren't paying attention. Senior Rashaad Penny is the latest back to take the helm for the Aztecs, and at this point it looks like he is running himself right to New York for the Heisman ceremony. In four games he has 716 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Don't accuse him of being entirely one-dimensional, either - he has also caught 12 passes and scored a touchdown through the air. Penny is a rushing freak in a long line of freaks at San Diego State. And Northern Illinois is better set up than some teams to deal with him. They have a Top 20 defensive team nationally against the run, allowing just 97.7 yards per game so far. And last time out against Nebraska they just throttled the running game, holding them to a mere 2.4 yards per carry over 36 attempts. The Huskies haven't faced a challenge like Penny yet - outside of Saquon Barkley there aren't too many challenges as big as this one out there - but they aren't completely as helpless as they could be or as other teams would be.
Outside of Penny, you shouldn't be expecting a real offensive explosion in this one. San Diego State ranks 110th nationally in passing yards and 80th in total yards. The offense is basically Penny and not much else. Northern Illinois, meanwhile, managed to beat Nebraska despite rushing for only 108 yards and passing for 128. It's not very often a team wins on the road against a higher-profile opponent with just 236 total yards. If you were kind you would say that this is going to be a defensive battle. More accurately, it's going to be a display of underwhelming offenses.
A potentially interesting factor here is that Northern Illinois is coming off a bye week - they beat Nebraska on Sept. 16. Having an extra week to prepare for any team is a good thing, but when a team is so dependent on one guy, like the Aztecs are with Penny, the extra time can be particularly valuable when it comes to planning ways to derail the star. The Aztecs, meanwhile, are coming off what is always a mentally draining experience - playing Air Force and their quirky approach to offense.
Northern Illinois at San Diego State Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with San Diego State favored by 12 points, and that has since crept up to 12.5 . More than 70 percent of bets have come in on the Huskies in early action, so the movement suggests that sharp money has hit the Aztecs hard early on. The total has opened at 44.5.
The Huskies have covered their last five spreads and are 7-1 ATS in their last eight road games against teams with winning home records. They are a very strong 24-7-2 ATS in their last 33 road games but have failed to cover in their last four against Mountain West opponents. The Aztecs are 5-2 ATS in their last seven at home but a dismal 7-15 ATS in their last 22 home games against teams with winning road records.
Northern Illinois at San Diego State Predictions and Picks
In a perfect world this spread would inch up another point and a half. Even where it sits, though, I think the Huskies are the play. They are well rested, should be well prepared, and are comfortable on the road. The crowd will be sizeable and pro-Aztecs, but at least the weather is very unlikely to be a factor. The Aztecs are the better team, but if the Huskies can at least slow down Penny to some extent then they have a chance to keep it close. The Huskies are the pick.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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