Bet on it: Follow Rocky road to a payout

With quarterback Lombardi leading the way, Northern Illinois is the best bet in the area for bettors. Take the over on the Huskies’ 6 1⁄2-win total.

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2021 MAC Championship - Kent State v Northern Illinois

Rocky Lombardi and Northern Illinois led the FBS last season with six outright victories in games in which it was either an underdog or a pick ’em.

Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi didn’t produce a scintillating QB rating or average yards per attempt last season, and the Huskies are a run-heavy program.

This season, he isn’t on any Heisman Trophy odds lists.

But he’s the epitome of college football — a team player.

When NIU received its Mid-American Conference championship rings, resembling small chandeliers, in early June, Lombardi wrote on Twitter, “THIS IS MY WHY.”

Why the Iowa native transferred to DeKalb from Michigan State, why the Huskies battle so hard for each other and why they represent our favorite preseason wagering option among them, Notre Dame, Illinois and Northwestern.

At DraftKings, NIU’s projected victory total is 6.5. We’re on Over at -150, or risk $150 to win $100. (Odds and prices subject to change.)

In his power ratings, used to line every game of the season, WagerTalk numbers guru Ralph Michaels has the Huskies favored nine times. They’re slim dogs in two others, getting 1.5 and three points.

A year ago, NIU led the FBS with six outright victories in games in which it was either an underdog or a pick ’em.

That plucky gene might have entered the program’s DNA in 2003 when, as a 14-point dog, it upended Alabama in Tuscaloosa to nab its first national ranking.

As favorites, we don’t expect the Huskies to wilt. They have four midweek games; none, oddly, requiring a short work week. And they play their two toughest league foes, Toledo and Miami (Ohio), at Huskie Stadium.

They have a stout offensive line, a unit ranked among the nation’s top 25 by Phil Steele, and three solid tailbacks, led by Antario Brown’s top-15 6.6-yard average.

CJ Brown is a top-25 strong safety, James Ester is a top-60 defensive tackle and kicker John Richardson is the best in the conference. However, star receiver and kick returner Trayvon Rudolph will miss the season because of a knee injury. 

Lombardi threw for 532 yards in one game last season, 348 in another and twice ran it in for three touchdowns. He’s funny, too, or did you miss his retweet of a 7-Eleven sign showing petrol at $7.11?

As a four-point dog, NIU belted Kent State for the MAC crown. It also covered as a 10-point dog in a thrilling 47-41 Cure Bowl loss to Coastal Carolina.

“He has a tremendous grasp on what we are trying to accomplish on offense,” coach Thomas Hammock says of Lombardi, adding that he expects “great improvement” from him this season.

That should trouble the rest of the MAC. Plus, Lombardi seems eager to earn a mini-chandelier for his other paw, and his teammates. We expect to easily cash that Over ticket.


DraftKings has an Irish victory total of 8.5, and we grabbed Over -150. Michaels has Notre Dame favored in 10 games, and it’s a dog of one and three points in the other two.

The Irish have won 53 games over the last five regular seasons.

“I have them at nine or 10 wins,” Golden Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller says. “I definitely like the Over 8.5, as long as they don’t slip up and lose to one of the underdogs they play, like UNLV.”

Showing he hasn’t lost his marbles, Miller capped that text message with an LOL. The UNLV graduate is a legendary Rebels honk, and they play Notre Dame for the first time Oct. 22 in South Bend.

UNLV is 1-8 against its last nine Power Five foes, losing by an average of 27 points. Michaels has a projected line of Notre Dame -29.5.

Says San Diego bettor and Naval aerospace engineer Jim Schrope: “Playing Ohio State and Clemson, along with USC, are obvious key games. I have the Irish going 10-2 and just missing out on the [national] playoffs.” 


The Wildcats and Nebraska kick off college football at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 27 in Dublin on Fox.

The total opened at around 56 at various properties and has been shaved to 50 at DraftKings. Schrope hammered Under 56, with potential poor weather figuring in a low-scoring affair. Many others followed suit.

An Irish weather outlet calls for partly cloudy skies that day in Dublin, a high of 59, high humidity and a slight chance of rain.

Northwestern had the fourth-worst offense, at 0.224 points per play, in Division I last season. As a starter, quarterback Ryan Hilinski is 1-3 against Power Five foes.

Nebraska (73rd, 0.371) struggled, and quarterback Adrian Martinez bolted for Kansas State. Casey Thompson is the Huskers’ new quarterback.

I’m on Under 50. I’ve also teased that up six points (to Under 56) in a pair of two-teamers, one with Georgia (sliced from -17 to -11) over Oregon, the other Arizona-San Diego State Under (boosted from 49 to 55), both on Sept. 3.

(I’ve also teased Ohio State from -15.5 to -9.5 against the Irish, tied with Georgia -11 against the Ducks.)


The Illini have a victory total of 4.5, and Michaels has them favored only twice. So the recommendation is Under, especially at a favorable +105 (bet $100 to win $105) price.

I’m passing, however, because second-year coach Bret Bielema fashioned three outright victories as an underdog last -season.

Illinois did cover in six of nine as an underdog in 2021, so use that tendency when picking spots for the Illini this season — especially on the road, where it was 4-1 ATS.

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