GAMEDAY PREDICTIONS: Bowers to Lead NIU

First full Saturday of college football. There’s nothing else like it.

Saturday, August 31
Game Time (ET) TV/Stream
Akron @ Illinois noon Big Ten Network
Toledo @ Kentucky noon SEC Network
Ball State vs. Indiana noon CBSSN
Rhode Island @ Ohio 2 p.m. ESPN+
EMU @ Coastal Carolina 3:30 p.m. ESPN+
Illinois State @ NIU 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CT) ESPN+
Monmouth @ WMU 7 p.m. ESPN3
Miami @ Iowa 7:30 p.m. FS1

Every gameday from now until the end of gamedays, I’ll provide you with some very necessary predictions like this. Today’s games make this post a Predictions Lite post, but it’ll suffice. (If you’re looking to join the MAC Pick ‘Em Pool, click here!)

No MAC losses to FCS schools. (Again!)

In Thursday’s predictions, I said no MAC teams would lose to any FCS schools, and even noted that the two teams I trusted the most to lose ended up winning!

Today, there’s Ohio vs. Rhode Island, NIU vs. Illinois State, Akron at Illinois, and WMU vs. Monmouth. Not sure if my blood pressure is ready for any of these three to drop an FCS game.

Ross Bowers takes most of the snaps as NIU’s QB

This is the offense I’ve been looking forward to the most this year. This wasn’t the case during the year when NIU had one of the MAC’s nation’s worst offenses, but now things have changed. Probably for the better.

New head coach and alum Thomas Hammock hired Eric Eidsness (not based on connections nor former coworkers) as the new offensive coordinator, who impressed with the way his offense at South Dakota State operated.

The assumption of this blog’s editorial team is that Bowers is “the guy” or “the best option on this roster” to run Eidsness offense. Bowers had a 3,000-yard passing season at Cal two years ago, and NIU’s pretty weak in passing offense.

Marcus Childers was a MAC Freshman of the Year Award winner, then a MAC Championship Game MVP the next year with his 4-TD performance in comeback fashion. But if we’re comparing seasons, his yards/attempt dropped from 6.3 to 5.5, TD-INT slipped from 16-5 to 15-10, his QBR went from 126.6 to 112.4, but at least his passing percentage rose from 57.4% to 58.9%. Where Childers adds more value than Bowers is with his feet. Childers has 11 rushing scores and 1,004 yards for his career while Bowers does not have positive career rushing yards. There’s the possibility that Childers’ legs will continue to give him more playing time this year, even if it’s not (or maybe it is!) as a starter.

If all this works out — and it most certainly can! — then NIU’s going to be a force this year. But NIU’s also capable of discovering growing pains to learn the new offense. Against Illinois State, NIU’s mistakes can get masked by just having more talent, but let’s see who has more control of the offense on gameday: Bowers or Childers.

Kato Nelson looks fine

I’m not expecting Kato Nelson to light the world on fire at all because I’m not sure what the guy’s going to look like in Tom Arth’s pro-style offense.

Nelson was recruited to use both his arm and his legs in a spread offense, so the plays may or may not limit what Nelson’s allowed to do with the ball. Plus, natural mental curves of adopting a new playbook are expected to play out early on.

To play the blind respect card: Lovie Smith’s answers at this point in his career at Illinois is probably better than Tom Arth’s answers at this point in his career at Akron. Things may or may not get ugly for Nelson in this game, but all we’re looking for here in Week 1 is competency.

AJ Mayer is Miami’s starting QB

I mean, somebody has to. Right?

Personally, I don’t enjoy watching the MAC play FCS teams, but this is one of those situations where (ignoring the financial side of this entire situation) Miami’s quarterbacks would probably better benefit from a game like that.

Miami coach Chuck Martin has said he’s mostly looking to naming a starting QB by conference play, which makes the most sense at this point. But the sooner he finds that QB1, the better.

WMU’s defense plays really well

This side of the football is going to be a curious situation all year long with Lou Esposito as the new full-time defensive coordinator, but WMU’s playing Monmouth, not …some FBS team.

Dee Eskridge at cornerback is going to be the one guy I’m most excited to see. His speed is ridiculous, so the range of plays he could make at that position is incredible.

Both Rourke brothers score TDs

Rhode Island shouldn’t be that much of a struggle for Ohio. The expectation here is that Nathan Rourke will help set the tone with lots of yards and points, and he’ll get at least one apiece just because.

His younger brother, Kurtis Rourke, is a freshman on the team and is in contention for the backup QB position. If this game gets out of hand early enough, there’s a chance that the backup QB(s) to make it in could be in long enough to run away with a touchdown or two. It’d be pretty neat if the Rourke brothers could open up the 2019 season that way.

Final, quick predictions

  • Bryant Koback’s return to Kentucky is a pleasant one. Maybe. By pleasant, I’m talking he finishes somewhere in the realm of 15 carries for 80 or so yards and a score.
  • Toledo will beat Kentucky if the defense is there, especially up front at D-line.
  • Mike Glass doesn’t throw an interception against Coastal Carolina. He was efficient last year and the lack of roster turnover makes me think he can be clean in the Week 1 opener.
  • We’re going to see at least 16 people in the stands for Ball State/Indiana wearing Andrew Luck jerseys, then some Ball State students will be in attendance wearing Indiana shirts. It’s a tradition like none other.
  • Three freshman receivers will have at least four receptions each for WMU. Those three ought to be: Corey Crooms, DaShon Bussell, and one of Cameron Coleman/MarShawn Foster/Skyy Moore.

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