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Toledo’s MACtion dominance, Ohio State vs. Michigan and will you bet on a Grey Cup legend?


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Thanks to climate change, I feel like we’re only in the second or third week of fall weather.  And yet, cruelly, college football is leaving us (well, until the bowl season). But let’s live in the present, enjoy the last days of colorful leaves and whatnot… and keep betting on Tuesday night games in America’s heartland. That’s the kind of world Chicago columnist Jon Greenberg and Zac Jackson believe in, anyway.

GREENBERG (3-5 last week, 28-34-1 overall): Can you believe it’s almost Thanksgiving? I don’t want to think about a long, cold winter of no #MACtion in front of us so let’s enjoy the games we have left.

Your borderline “play of the year” last week on Bowling Green was certainly prescient. A 9-point favorite over Kent State, the Falcons won 49-19.

On Tuesday night, they have a slightly tougher opponent in Toledo, the top team in the Mid-American Conference. The Rockets are 10.5-point favorites with a total of 51.5. But the game is on the windswept plains of Bowling Green.

I’ll never forget the one game I covered there. It was — ahem — a late night in Athens and I was driving a rental car very early the next morning with Bill Bender (now of the Sporting News) sitting shotgun. As Bender remembers, he fell asleep and then woke up and looked to his left and claims that I was also catching some Z’s as I drove. I’ve disputed this, but thankfully, we made it to the game.

I checked the weather and there doesn’t seem to be snow in the forecast. So, points? I think I’ll take over 51.5.

We also have Akron-Eastern Michigan, that classic MAC rivalry that brings back memories of beloved NFL quarterbacks like Charlie Frye and Charlie Batch and presumably other players not named Charlie. Your Zips are only 4-point ‘dogs. Thoughts?

JACKSON (3-3 last week, 32-29 overall): I never slept on the highway to Bowling Green, but I did sleep in a parking lot there once. At least once.

Anyway, those Falcons delivered last week. This week, they’re probably well over their heads. Toledo is the best MAC team by a mile, both of Bowling Green’s running backs are injured, both of Bowling Green’s quarterbacks are average and last week’s game ended up an easy win but got a little hairy in the third quarter.

This is a real rivalry. You probably have to have driven (or slept on) I-75 to know that, but the locals get excited about it and the players bring their best. Last year, Bowling Green beat Toledo as a 15-point underdog. In 2019, Bowling Green beat Toledo as a 26.5 point underdog. These things stick with me even as I envision Toledo running RPOs for big plays and generally running wild Tuesday night.

I’m worried about a backdoor cover, so it’s not “play of the year” status. But Toledo is at least two scores better. The Rockets traditionally haven’t been good covering big numbers, but they rolled the last two weeks in potential letdown spots. The Toledo defense is legit. Lay the points, Toledo -10.5.

One other MAC pick this week: Ball State -12 on Saturday. Only two more chances to bet against this Kent State team, so take advantage.

I’ve been good with the MAC, bad with the NFL. But before we get Deshaun Watson news, give me Browns-Steelers under 37. And probably under 27. If I lose by defensive scores again, I lose by defensive scores. But minus that, Kenny Pickett is going to be in over his head.

All the Steelers need to do is keep it close until the fourth quarter, right? Because that’s when Kenny Pickett starts to cook.

GREENBERG: I’m not taking another Browns under after tailing you last week, but Steelers +4 is an intriguing line. Even acknowledging it’s probably a trap for unsuspecting Yinzers, the extra point makes it something to think about.

Is it me or are there a lot of tempting underdog picks this week? That makes me think there are going to be a lot of favorites covering. Looking at the lines, I like the Bengals +3.5 against Baltimore in a Joe Burrow bounceback game. I wouldn’t necessarily advise betting on the Bears in Detroit, but 10 points seems like a lot against the Lions. Detroit has covered its only game as a 10-point (or more) favorite this season, beating the Panthers 42-24, but if Justin Fields returns, it’ll be a closer game. You know what, I will advise taking the Bears +10 if Fields returns.

Could you possibly stomach taking the Giants +10 against the Commanders? Washington shouldn’t be a 10-point favorite over anyone.

A more palatable underdog pick is the Eagles +3 in the Kelce Bowl on Monday night. The Chiefs are actually 4-1 against the spread at home this season, but this will be the best team they’ve faced at Arrowhead.

As for big favorites, I’m feeling the Cowboys -10.5 at Carolina and a post-Ken Dorsey era rebound game for the Bills -7 against the Jets.

JACKSON: I’m with you on Buffalo. It feels like the Jets and Zach Wilson are going nowhere fast. Revenge game, too. Lay it! 

Normally I’d avoid (or auto fade) Ohio State and Michigan the week before The Game. But Michigan’s players seem convinced that Jim Harbaugh was tragically killed by a milk overdose and are playing for his memory. On the Buckeyes’ side, the pass game still needs work and there seems to be motivation to get Marvin Harrison Jr. the Heisman Trophy. Neither of those are an official play for me at this point, but I’m intrigued.

My NFL survivor pick was Cincinnati. I’m done. No excuses; I did not pick like a champion.

My preseason college futures are official. 1-1, minimal juice lost. You interested in jumping in on any more futures at this stage?

GREENBERG: I’m not a big futures guy. I live in the present like Jim Harbaugh, just drinking milk and watching Judge Judy reruns. Harbaugh is such a wack job and I love that he’s trying to spin Michigan as America’s Team. Frankly, I need his brand of delusional confidence in Chicago coaching the Bears. (Or Northwestern.)

We didn’t talk about our Bobcats, who are 10.5-point favorites against Central Michigan in their last home game of the year. Too high of a line for you?

For a random game: How about Pitt (2-8) -2.5 at home over Boston College (6-4) in a classic “Why the hell are we in the ACC again?” matchup.

Quick story: In 1996, me and two friends drove into Pittsburgh on Halloween night for BC-PItt (without telling our parents) because I read in the Post-Gazette that you could get in free with a costume. (We only wore masks.) This was at cavernous old Pitt Stadium. It was cold, no one was there and Pitt, an 11-point underdog, won 20-13. A week later, 13 BC players were kicked off the team for alleged gambling. BC coach Dan Henning accused players of gambling after the game. Years later, I was at a sorority formal and one of my date’s friends invited a BC football player so I asked him about it and he confirmed it was an issue.

Any other college games you like? How about the Ohio high school playoffs?

JACKSON: Given the disparity in talent distribution that the folks in charge of Ohio sports seem to encourage, we’re still a week away from the games getting good. I went to a high school playoff game last week but seemed to be the only one on the home side rooting for a road team cover, so this week I’ll stay home and watch Deion. I’m going to Columbus Saturday, so I’ll be on Harrison to score two or more TDs.

That’s too many for Ohio U. to be giving as long as Central has most of its players. Again, not a huge recommendation, but too high for me.

Let’s save some bullets for next week. Thanksgiving week means heavy eating and heavy action. Like T.J. Watt, I was built for this.

GREENBERG: Before we go, one important matter to discuss: Are you backing our guy Zach Collaros and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers -7.5 over Chad Kelly and the Montreal Alouettes in the Grey Cup? Collaros will make CFL history with his fourth consecutive Grey Cup start. This would be his fourth win overall, with three as the starter. Winnipeg swept the season series by radically different scores of 17-3 and 47-17.

Also, there’s a non-zero chance that Taylor Swift will be aware of this game as Collaros is friends with Travis and Jason Kelce from their days at Cincinnati. (The brothers have even been to Steubenville.)

JACKSON: I’ve always liked Zach, really everything but the way he spells his name. I’d have to charge subscribers an extra $20 for all the stories about the time I went to Steubenville to write about him.

Even I draw the line well before betting on the CFL, though, especially when we have options like Chiefs-Eagles and Bowling Green-Toledo here.

Go Bombers. Roll Red Roll. Thanks for following, everyone.

GREENBERG: Well, I am not above that line, though I’d only be betting out of civic pride. (I’m going to wait it out to see if it goes back to -7.)

Two years ago in Green Bay, I asked a team official to turn on the Grey Cup for me in the dining area and he said, “You either know someone in the game or you have money on it.”

“Both,” I cheerily replied.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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