THUMBNAIL SKETCHES OF (130) 2021 CFB TEAMS
By Joe Gavazzi JoeGavazziSports.com
Toledo is among the most experienced teams in the nation with all 11 starters returning on both offense and defense, including an OL that returns 101 career starts. Last year, Toledo’s 2 losses were to their closest competitors in the MAC WEST, Western Michigan and Ball State, each by 3 points. If you believe there is value in the betting line come game day, each of these plays would be viable revenge spots for the Rockets who are looking to return to the glory days of 2014-2017 when they went 39-13 SU. One caveat, before you pull the betting lever in their game at Ball State, note that 6th year HC Candle is 1-8 ATS in the role of road dog the previous 4 years.
Western Michigan Broncos
With 83% of their production returning on each side of the ball, and a total of 19 returning starters, Western will challenge Toledo for the MAC WEST Title. Offense will clearly not be a question as they averaged 42/489 LY and return starting QB Eleby (65% C, 18/2 LY), and 4 OL. After a 4-0 SU start last season, the Broncos lost consecutive games to Eastern Michigan and Ball State precluding them from the MAC Title. Consider those to be viable revenge opportunities, with the rejoinder that their travel date to Eastern will find them in a season-opening role that finds them 5-12 ATS on the road under 5th year HC Lester.
Ball State Cardinals
From the Outhouse to the Penthouse! The year began with Ball State 6th year HC Neu on the hot seat following 4 losing seasons in which he was 15-33 SU. The seat got warmer after an opening day 38-31 loss at Miami (OH). But fortunes quickly changed when the Cardinals finished the year 7-0 SU, 5-0 ATS, good enough to win the MAC Title and a Bowl victory over San Jose. This year, 10 starters return to each side of the ball with 93% of their defensive production returning and 84% of their offensive production returning, including Senior QB Plitt who, in his most recent starts, has a 62% C and 33/18 ratio. That season-ending winning streak included victories over Western Michigan and Toledo, their two biggest challengers for the Western Division Crown. Caution advised in the home contest against Toledo as HC Neu has a record of just 8-17 ATS at home.
Central Michigan Chippewas
If you know the history of HC McElwain (turned around Colorado State in 3 Y, HC at Florida where he went 16-8 SU), it will not come as a surprise that he was able to lure Top 10 recruit QB J. Sirmon from Washington. McElwain is an offensive guy who has led the Chips to over 30 PPG in his 1st two seasons including a “200 Club” offense last year. With 20 starters returning, aided by many players who sat out last season, and the addition of a Power 5 transfer signal caller, Sirmon (Washington), there is little doubt in the mind of this bureau that the Chips will be a potent offensive force and challenge for superiority in the very deep West Division of the MAC. STEPPING INTO THE SMALLER POND OF THE MAC SHOULD PROVE TO BE MOST ENJOYABLE FOR PAC 12 TRANSFER SIRMON. The Chips may only be the 4th most talented team in the deep MAC WEST, but it would be unwise to count them out under HC McElwain who, in 2 years at the helm, has an ATS mark of 10-5 ATS in MAC play.
The Eagles are yet another veteran team among the greatly experienced units of the MAC WEST where all 5 teams are among the Top 20 most experienced in the nation. The Eagles return 92% of their offensive production and 94% of their defensive production. But the real story of handicapping the Eagles comes with 8 year HC Creighton’s pointspread record which finds him entering this season on a run of 22-2 ATS as away or neutral underdog. Don’t say you were not warned if you plan on fading them against Wisconsin on September 11th (when the Badgers have this home game sandwiched between Penn State and Notre Dame).
Northern Illinois Huskies
Staying with the theme of many teams who have added BIG FISH TO THEIR SMALL POND, we include grad transfer Rocky Lombardi who started 6 games at Michigan State last season with mixed results at best. It’s a “put up, or shut up season” for 3rd year HC Hammock who is looking to return the Huskies to the glory years of his alma mater. His team took their lumps last year when they opted for a youth movement. Huskies have nowhere to go but up making the addition of Lombardi a bit more relevant than it may seem. The main issue for this perennial Division Title holder is that, despite 19 returning starters, there is only 54% returning production on the offense. That’s why the addition of QB Lombardi is so significant to their fortunes. And it sure wouldn’t hurt if this winless team from last season improved their 39 PPG defense.
Ohio University Bobcats
Considering that 17th year HC Solich, the dean of MAC coaches, is 65-25 SU in Peden Stadium, it must be noted that the schedule breaks “just right”. The Bobcats get to face their biggest Division challengers, Kent and Miami (OH) on this field, as well as their toughest Divisional crossover games against C. Michigan and Toledo. Ohio has become an offensive power house in recent seasons with a trio of “200 Club” consecutive offenses from an attack unit that has averaged between 34 and 40 PPG L4Y. With 9 returning starters to that side of the ball bringing back 91% of their returning production, much of that continuing fortune will depend upon the winner of the QB battle between incumbent starter Rourke and UNLV transfer Rogers. Playing in the weaker Easter Divison of the MAC, the Bobcats are a virtual lock to make it to the Title Game where an upset victory over that Division winner would give them their 1st MAC Title since 1968. Note that coming off probable consecutive losses at LA Lafayette and Northwestern should provide ample value when they open the MAC Season in early October.
Kent State Golden Flashes
10 returning starters to a defense that allowed 38 PPG does not provide much hope when facing Ohio U. or the powerful offenses of the West. Offense is a totally different story. Under 4th year HC Lewis, who honed his offensive talents as OC at Syracuse, the Flashes have improved their offensive production from 13/275 in 2017 (the year before Lewis) to 50/607 in 2020. With 10 starters returning to the offensive side of the ball, led by Senior QB Crumb guiding their “Flash Fast offense:, Kent should once again put up those fancy offensive numbers, just not against the defenses of Texas A&M and Iowa, two of their first 3 opponents.
Miami (OH) Redhawks
Yet another greatly experience team in the MAC is the Miami (OH) Redhawks with 93% returning production on both offense and defense. Rejoinder on those numbers is the fact that only 5 OL with starting experience, with just 32 career starts, return on the attack. Yet that experience, it must be noted, is as a result of only 3 games by the Redhawks last season, victories against Ball and Akron sandwiched around a loss at Buffalo. Testing that returning talent will be an opening slate of games at Cincinnati (regional rivalry) and at Minnesota. When wagering on Redhawk games, it is always imperative to note the recent coaching profile of 8th year mentor Chuck Martin. The Redhawks have won 9 consecutive home games (possibly favored in all 5 this seasons) and are 8-1 ATS following their last 9 conference losses.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The last 3 seasons under former Buffalo HC Leipold, produced the record of 24-10 SU and 22-10 ATS. Apparently not liking the prospects for this year’s team, and being lured by the BIG 12 money at Kansas, former HC Leipold bailed AFTER spring practice, a move virtually unheard of. It left the Bulls in limbo as they chose to hire Linquist, who was a former Assistant at Buffalo 8 years ago. Unfortunately, following the news of Leipold’s departure, along with his Top 5 Assistants, no fewer than 7 Bulls signed up for the transfer portal. This year, with just 10 returning starters (remember no fewer than 94 teams have 17 or more returning starters), Linquist will clearly have his hands full. With an all new staff and in a season where many teams return a plethora of players, Linquist clearly starts behind the 8 ball. Rugged non-con games at Nebraska and Coastal Carolina could destroy this team’s confidence even before the beginning of Conference play.
Though improvement would seem inevitable for a team that was 1-17 SU, 6-14 ATS as they begin their 3rd season under HC Arth, it is a long way back. This team comes off consecutive “200 Club” defensive seasons and has been outscored, on average, 14-39 the last two years. Along the way, HC Arth has gone 2-14 ATS as underdog, including 0-8 ATS as home dog (with losses of 31 and 45 LY), and 29, 49, 21 and 39 in 2019. This extends the Zips record in the role of home dog to 2-17 ATS. We will have more than one chance to play against them in that role this coming season. Only the fact that Bowling Green is also in the MAC EAST prevents this team from being the bottom of the barrel.
Bowling Green Falcons
It is year 3 of the rebuild under HC Scott Loeffler. Yet the program remains eons away from the glory years earlier in this decade in which they had a 4 year run of 36-19 SU. Since that time, the Falcons have plummeted to earth with a combined mark of 12-41 SU and 15-38 ATS. Though just 11 returning starters may be a blessing in disguise, there is little hope on the horizon for 2021 despite the fact that the recruiting rankings have improved marginally under Loeffler. Particularly disturbing is the fact the defensive front allowed 310/6.3 overland. Before you pull, what is certain to be, the value-laden trigger in their first 3 road games at Tenn, Minn, and Kent. Note that they are 0-9 ATS as road dog under Loeffler with losses, in reverse order, by 28, 42, 35, 42, 41, 39, 52, 42 and 52. You want a piece of that?