Bet on it: Follow Rocky Road to a payout

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 packed schedule.

This season, he is not on any Heisman Trophy odds list.

But he is the epitome of college football – a team player.

When NIU received their championship rings from the Mid-American Conference, looking like little chandeliers, in early June, Lombardi wrote on Twitter, “THIS IS MY WHY.”

Why the Iowa native was traded to DeKalb from Michigan State, why the Huskies fight so hard for each other and why they’re our favorite preseason betting option among them Notre Dame. Illinois and Northwestern.

At DraftKings, NIU’s projected win total is 6.5. We are over at -150, or risk $150 to win $100. (Quotes and prices subject to change.)

In his power ratings, used to line up every game this season, WagerTalk numbers guru Ralph Michaels favored the Huskies nine times. They are thin dogs in two more, scoring 1.5 and three points.

A year ago, NIU led the FBS with six outright wins in matches in which he was either an underdog or a pick ’em.

This courageous gene could have entered the DNA of the program in 2003 when, as a 14-point dog, he knocked down Alabama in Tuscaloosa to clinch his first national ranking.

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

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

CJ Brown is a top-25 safe, 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 with a knee injury.

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

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

“He has a huge understanding of what we’re trying to achieve in attack,” coach Thomas Hammock said of Lombardi, adding he expects a “big improvement” from him this season.

This should confuse the rest of the MAC. Additionally, Lombardi seems eager to earn a mini-gloss for his other leg and his teammates. We expect to easily cash this Over note.


DraftKings has an Irish win total of 8.5, and we caught over -150. Michaels has favored Notre Dame in 10 games, and is a one-and-three-point dog in the other two.

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

“I’ve got them at nine or 10 wins,” says Golden Nugget sports betting director Tony Miller. “I really like the Over 8.5s, as long as they don’t slip and lose to one of the underdogs they play, like UNLV.”

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

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

Said San Diego punter and naval aerospace engineer Jim Schrope: “Playing Ohio State and Clemson, with USC, are obvious key plays. I have the Irish going 10-2 and just missing the [national] playoffs.


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

The total opened at around 56 at various properties and was whittled down to 50 at DraftKings. Schrope hammered Under 56, with potential bad weather figuring in a low-scoring affair. Many others have followed suit.

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

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

Nebraska (73rd, .371) struggled and quarterback Adrian Martinez flew to Kansas State. Casey Thompson is the Huskers’ new quarterback.

I’m under 50. I also teased this up to six points (until under 56) in a pair of two teams, one with Georgia (trench -17 to -11) over Oregon, the other Arizona-San Diego State Under (boosted 49-55), both Sept. 3.

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


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

I pass, however, because second-year coach Bret Bielema had three outright wins as an underdog last season.

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