Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#133 Ball State vs.
#134 Wyoming
Saturday, September 18, 2021 at 2:00pm EDT
Written by Eric P.

The Wyoming Cowboys host the Ball State Cardinals on Saturday afternoon from Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium in a crucial non-conference tilt for both sides. The Cowboys enter at 2-0, with wins over Montana State and Northern Illinois to start things off. For the Cardinals, a win over Western Illinois and a loss to Penn State, both have this team a little less understood heading into Saturday's away game. Ball State has been apathetic on offense in the early going this season and while Wyoming hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard, they could make things tough for the Cardinals to keep pace being on the road. With both the MAC and Mountain West seemingly up for grabs, a win on Saturday for either side can easily shift some momentum going as we approach the conference slate of games. Heading out west won't be easy for Ball State though, and while Wyoming has been a national bottom dweller for a few years now, this season has the inklings of something different. Regardless, Saturday afternoon's matchup represents a game that could have big implications for both teams trying to become bowl eligible when it's all said and done.

Cardinals Road Form Put To Test

Ball State heads on the road for the second straight week in what is sure to be another difficult non-conference matchup. An opening win against Western Illinois by only ten points didn't exuberate a ton of confidence, and then a dismantling at the hands of Penn State last week was similar. Saturday's game is a prime opportunity for the preseason MAC poll-toppers to make a statement and get some confidence growing within the program. The offense has been brutal, ranking near the bottom of FBS football, while the defense has actually been worse. Add in travel across the country and their second-straight weekend of travel, and Saturday's matchup looks more and more like one of the most intriguing ones on Ball State's schedule. The Cardinals know that they need to grab a win on the road but to see them make changes to give themselves a chance at their first FBS win of the season, will be a whole different story.

Ball State ranks 99th nationally in points per game and has had trouble moving the ball thus far. Against Penn State, the issues were understandable, but having an FCS team in the opener should have seen these numbers much higher. They are only average 5.01 yards per play and despite ranking in the top 30 in passing attempts, they rank only 81st in passing yards per game. Their offensive efficiency isn't there and unless that changes, it could be a long MAC season. Drew Plitt is the leader at quarterback and is eyeing to find the form that saw him named Offensive MVP of the MAC Championship game last season, as well as the Arizona Bowl. He's averaging 182 yards through the air and has two touchdowns compared to two interceptions. The rushing attack hasn't been much better, as neither Will Jones (54.5 yards/game) nor Carson Steele (48.5 yards/game) has been able to take over the starting role. The good news is that the Cardinals will not likely see a defense as tough as Penn State's the rest of the year but with how mundane the numbers were against Western Illinois, Saturday's game against Wyoming will surely be eye-opening. With ten starters back from last year's team on offense, the bar is high for Ball State to quickly turn things around.

Defensively, Ball State ranks 108th nationally in scoring defense and will have their hands full against a Wyoming offense that has already found some success this year. The linebackers for Ball State are stout as is the pass rush. Ball State already has 11 tackles for loss on the season and five sacks. Tavion Woodard has three of those sacks on his own and will be a force against an overmatched Wyoming line. Penn State is quickly looking like one of the better teams in the country yet again, so it's difficult to draw too many conclusions from last week's loss. The secondary is what fans should keep an eye on for Saturday as a key to success. The Cardinals brought back almost everyone from that group this season and if they can set the tone on the outside, then Ball State has a good chance at clogging up running lines and keeping Wyoming off the field.

Wyoming Off To Surprising Start

Wyoming went 2-4 overall last season and even with the COVID impacts presented, it's still surprising to see them already match that two wins after two weeks. Welcoming Montana State was a game they had to win but to go on the road against Northern Illinois and grab a win is a good sign of the stability of the program for this season. The Cowboys were picked to finish second in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West and after two weeks, it looks like they are right on track for that to be the case. Their offense is top 50 nationally and while their defense has struggled, they've also have won the battles against themselves. They rarely turn the ball over nor do they commit many penalties. Add in that they'll be welcoming Ball State in this one on a cross-country trip, Saturday could mean a continued undefeated non-conference slate and halfway to bowl eligibility. The Montana State game was a slight shock, to only beat the FCS team by three, so they'll be out to prove themselves on Saturday afternoon.

The offense remains strong from a points perspective, but still only ranks 82nd nationally in total yards per game and 84th in total yards per play. Sean Chambers is the continued leader at quarterback. Coming off an injury-riddled 2020 season, he looks the part of being one of the better starting quarterbacks in the conference. Through two games, he has 400 passing yards and three touchdowns, while adding another 67 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Xazavian Valladay has been a force out of the backfield, averaging 89 yards per game on the ground and another 27.50 through the air. Wyoming has one of the deepest group of receivers and given Ball State's issues defensively through the air, despite all their experience, could be exposed.

Defensively, the Cowboys haven't fared a ton better than the Cardinals. They rank 97th in scoring defense and after allowing 43 points to Northern Illinois the last time out, should be ready for another shootout. Chad Muma is the defensive leader, with 21 tackles already on the season, adding in a sack, a fumble recovery, and an interception. There's no doubt that fans will hear his name quite a bit on Saturday but he's far from alone. Wyoming has nearly every starter back from last year and experience is key. The Cowboys have a good chance to wreak havoc at times on Saturday but have already proven themselves to be susceptible to the big play at times as well defensively. If they aren't able to limit the back-breaking plays and can't knock Ball State off of some of their offensive balance, it might be a tough day on at least the defensive side of the ball.

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Ball State hasn't looked the sharpest this year but at some point, the reigning MAC champs and preseason favorite will have to turn it on. Wyoming struggled against Northern Illinois last week and while they did come out with a win, Northern Illinois was predicted to finish last in the MAC West. Ball State should have their offense looking much stronger than it did against Penn State and they have the best player on the field for either side in Plitt at quarterback. Given that Wyoming allowed 43 points last week to Northern Illinois, it's hard to imagine Ball State having too much trouble moving the ball in their own right. The Cardinals have one of the most experienced secondaries in the country and they have the ability to slow down the Cowboys through the air, which will severely diminish their offensive ability to move the ball. In the end, pressure will play a huge factor on Saturday's game. While Wyoming is feeling good at 2-0 and playing at home, Ball State will have a fire lit under them knowing that a return to the MAC title game is the only finish that's acceptable for this season. That means that the pace at which they play, and the tenacity at which they play, all need to change, starting on Saturday. Expect the Cardinals to come out and not only cover but to win outright in one of the more impressive games of the 2021 non-conference slate for the MAC as a whole.

Prediction: Ball State ML (+220)

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So far this season, neither of these teams have shown much of an ability to play defense, with them both ranking near the bottom of college football in scoring defense. While the offenses haven't exactly come alive either, they at least have the experience in the backfield to put up points in a hurry. Just last week, Wyoming saw a total of 93 points scored in their game against Northern Illinois. For Ball State, they allowed 44 points in their own right to Penn State and then another 21 to an FCS team the week prior. Last year, in six games for Wyoming, at least 53 points were scored three times. For Ball State, in eight games last season at least 53 points were scored in six of them. Additionally, according to covers.com, for Ball State, the over is 5-0 in their last five games following a straight-up loss. For Wyoming, the over is 7-1 in their last eight games against MAC competition.

Prediction: Under 53
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Written By Eric Ploch , "Eric P."

Eric grew up surrounded by sports, whether it was spending the weekend catching games in person or on tv, or heading out to the fields to play whatever sport was in season. What started as a hobby, soon became a passion, as he became the sports editor of his high school newspaper, then wrote for his university newspaper during his undergrad years. After obtaining a degree in Sports Operations and Promotions, and spending 8 years deeply immersed in the sports world, Eric decided to take his love for analytics and predictions, and his experience, to online sports fans everywhere. James is now an integral part of our team here at StatSalt and has also been a very successful sports bettor over the years. Be sure and follow him daily.