With a Michigan MAC Trophy and bowl eligibility in their pockets, the Central Michigan Chippewas will play their final true road game of the season on Tuesday night against the Kent State Golden Flashes. The Chips still have an outside shot at making it to the MAC title game with two Toledo losses and a November 24 win over Northern Illinois, but John Bonamego is simply trying to keep the standards elevated for this program. Kent State is simply trying to look competitive. This game is not expected to be competitive, with CMU laying 17.5 points on the road per DSI Sportsbook.
The Chippewas are now 6-4 straight up and 5-5 against the spread. After a some ups and downs during the non-conference schedule, the Chips are 4-2 straight up and 4-2 ATS in conference play. Central Michigan has won and covered three straight, including wins over Directional Michigan rivals Western Michigan and Central Michigan to grab the Michigan MAC Trophy for the first time since 2013. Kent State is just 2-8 straight up and 3-7 ATS. The Golden Flashes have lost their last three games and have given up at least 44 points in each of them. All three have gone over, but all three have gone in the books as ATS defeats.
The high-risk, medium-reward style of Shane Morris has gotten a little bit better over the last three weeks. The Michigan transfer has not thrown a pick in his last three games, but has nine touchdown tosses. He also hasn’t had more than 20 completions in a game since the upset win over Ohio back on October 7. Morris has 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the year. After throwing a lot early in the year, with over 40 attempts in three of the first five games, Central Michigan has achieved more balance. The Chips have only averaged 3.9 yards per carry overall, but have 4.4 yards per carry over the last two games. Jonathan Ward has 5.6 yards per carry on his 133 tries and he has been the standout at running back. Mark Chapman and Corey Willis have been reliable receivers with 81 catches for 1,158 yards and 10 touchdowns between the two of them. The Chippewas have 6.2 yards per play over their last three games against Ball State, Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan and should continue that success here.
The real concern for Central Michigan here is the letdown spot. After consecutive wins over division rivals with some hardware on the line, and that magic sixth win, the Chippewas now go outside the division to take on an atrocious Kent State team. Fortunately, even if the offense struggles, the defense should not. The Chips have allowed just 5.1 yards per play overall this season and 4.9 yards per play in conference play. Central Michigan’s halftime adjustments have been spot on. CMU has allowed 17.2 of its 25.2 points per game in the first half. After the intermission, the Chips have really tightened up the game. From a yards per play standpoint, Central Michigan ranks 29th in the country, even though they rank 103rd in total rushing yards allowed. After a down year last year, Greg Colby’s defense is putting up similar numbers to the 2015 season, in which CMU was 9-4 ATS on the strength of that defense.
Are the Kent State Golden Flashes outmanned or are they looking ahead to the end of the season? We’ll find out pretty quickly in this one. Star quarterback Nick Holley went down early in the year and we knew that it would be a struggle from that point on, but Kent State has been beaten by 101 points over the last three weeks. At least the games were mostly competitive up until that point. It felt like the win over Miami of Ohio put the team in a relaxed state because the Flashes wouldn’t go winless in conference play. We’ll likely see a better effort against rival Akron next week, especially if Kent State can keep Akron from bowl eligibility. How equipped they are to do that, however, is a big question. George Bollas has a 2/9 TD/INT ratio. He hasn’t been an effective runner either with just 2.3 yards per carry. Holley had 5.9 yards per carry before getting hurt and remains the only quarterback with a plus ratio. Running back Justin Rankin has 34 of the team’s 89 pass completions and is also the leading rusher with 4.3 yards per carry on 81 attempts. The sophomore is one of the few bright spots for a team that has averaged 4.2 yards per play and just 11.6 points per game. Only UTEP has a worse offense.
When a team has a really inept offense, it isn’t just the offense that suffers. The Kent State defense has suffered as well. The Flashes have now allowed 6.3 yards per play on the season and over 35 points per game. In conference play, Kent State has allowed 5.7 yards per play and over 34 points per game. Over the last three weeks, Ohio, Bowling Green, and Western Michigan have racked up 140 points. Six of the top seven tacklers and the defensive coordinator left after last season, so it was going to be a transitional year for this defense anyway, but they have been thrown right into the fire by an offense that can’t do anything. Kent State has defended the ball well with former Kent State defensive back Paul Haynes as the head coach, but the run defense has allowed 5.5 yards per carry and 230 yards per game.
College Football Free Pick: Central Michigan Chippewas -17.5
This is a pretty tough handicap right out of the chute. My number on this game is more like two touchdowns, but Kent State has given up 44 or more points three straight times and Central Michigan seems to have figured this offense thing out with 56, 35, and 42 points over the last three games. The spot is a very real concern for CMU, though, with bowl eligibility locked up and wins over rivals recently. The under could be a better look when we get a total here, but CMU is the side.