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It’s an under year for Illinois football

The Illini have lulled opponents into low-scoring games, and that pattern will continue Saturday against Northwestern.

Illinois v Minnesota
Bret Bielema and the Illini are a national-best 9-2, along with Penn State and Washington, to the under this season, according to VegasInsider.com.
David Berding/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Nothing had marked coach Bret Bielema as an under maven at Wisconsin or Arkansas, but that’s the theme of his first season at Illinois.

The Illini have lulled foes into low-scoring games and are a national-best 9-2, along with Penn State and Washington, to the under this season, according to VegasInsider.com.

A clue might have been defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who, in that role, spearheaded Missouri going 15-7 to the under the last two seasons, including 10-2 in 2019.

Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the Illini are favored to snap a six-game skid to Northwestern. In Vegas, money has moved Illinois from a four-point favorite to a 6½-point favorite, while the total has nudged from 44.5 to 43.5.

A lack of scoring, and another under, is in the chilly, mostly cloudy forecast.

Five of the last six Northwestern games have finished under their totals, and the Wildcats have sputtered on the road. They’re 0-5 away from home and have scored only five touchdowns in their last four road games.

For Illinois, the Maryland and Minnesota games finished more than 20 points under their totals, Purdue more than 30 and Charlotte and Wisconsin by more than two touchdowns apiece.

Anyone with the prescience to bet under in every Illinois game is ahead 6.8 units this season. To those who typically wager $100 (or $110 to win $100) a game, that’s a return of $680 thanks to these quicksand games.

THE LOMBARDI LAW

Northern Illinois football reaffirmed an invaluable gambling lesson this week.

Caveat emptor.

A day or two before Western Michigan played at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb on Tuesday night, most Vegas shops had the Broncos favored by 3½ or four points.

That alone should have sounded alarms for anyone thinking the Huskies were the better team, especially at home, and should have been favored.

“Always assume,” Long Island handicapper Tom Barton says, “the books didn’t make a mistake.”

In the few hours before kickoff, that line climbed to five, six, 6½ and, finally, seven. Huskies quarterback Rocky Lombardi did not play, which was announced shortly before kickoff. NIU lost 42-21.

NIU had been 8-3 and had locked up the MAC West Division at 6-1. To the Huskies, the game was meaningless.

They had been a dependable investment for bettors, their 7-3-1 record against the spread among the best in Division I football. That dropped to 7-4-1.

The 6-3, 228-pound Lombardi is special. In strafing Kent State for 532 yards on Nov. 3, he became the first NIU quarterback to break the 500-yard barrier.

He has taken some big hits in his career, including a targeting-ruled blast at Kent State. Coach Thomas Hammock had every reason to keep him out of harm’s way Tuesday.

Next Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit, NIU will play the winner of Saturday’s Miami-Kent State game for the league championship. That victor will play the Conference USA champ in the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau on Dec. 17.

NIU, 0-6 in its last six bowl games, needs Lombardi for — hopefully — two more big ones. The Huskies are a wise wager, as long as it’s absolutely certain that Lombardi will play.

NEW-WRINKLE RAMBLERS

DePaul didn’t produce many double takes when its first four games sailed over their totals.

But Loyola?

The Blue Demons and Ramblers began the week 4-0 to the over. Those games crushed their total figures, too, DePaul’s by an average of 17.5 points, Loyola’s by 11.3 points.

So next Saturday’s late-afternoon clash between Loyola and DePaul at Wintrust Arena deserves some hype.

These are not the ultra-deliberate Ramblers of coach Porter Moser, who zipped to Oklahoma, and star center Cameron Krutwig, who’s playing pro ball in Belgium.

Last season, none of Loyola’s last 15 regular-season foes hit 60 points, and two of those games went to overtime. In the Missouri Valley and NCAA tournaments, none of the Ramblers’ six opponents scored more than 65.

Already this season, they’ve yielded 77 points to Florida Gulf Coast. No matter because Loyola, which entered the week averaging 91, scored 89.

An unusual ballroom-type setting and always-pesky Michigan State doomed a closing total of 143 from the sloppy start Wednesday in the Bahamas, where the Spartans beat the Ramblers 63-61.

That, however, will prove to be an anomaly.

Drew Valentine, 30, elevated to Loyola’s top post when Moser left, had his charges leading the country in effective field-goal percentage, at 63.4, at the start of the week.

This Loyola iteration plays quicker, takes utmost care of the ball and has several marksmen. Guards Lucas Williamson and Marquise Kennedy have keyed an attack that features forwards Aher Uguak and Ryan Schwieger.

Guard Javon Freeman-Liberty, a Valparaiso transfer, and small forward David Jones have been dynamic for DePaul.

The Ramblers, 9-30 lifetime against the Blue Demons, had lost 14 in a row to DePaul before winning 69-61 at Allstate Arena in December 2012, their last meeting.

Ken Pomeroy — purveyor of such sharp college basketball statistics that many sportsbook operators employ them, along with BetCris odds out of Costa Rica — projects Loyola to beat DePaul 76-70. A 146 total.

The way these two have been playing, though, even if bookies post a line that ekes to 150, it might be smart to bet over, relax and enjoy some high-octane hometown hoops.