Since coming into Lexington a decade ago, Mark Stoops has changed the culture around the University of Kentucky’s football program with a focus on running the ball and tough defense. Long a doormat in the SEC, Stoops has made them one of the better teams in the SEC East over the past few seasons, and is now the winningest coach in program history.
This season he’s seen his Wildcats get out to a 3-0 start on the back of a strong passing attack, with Will Levis moving up NFL Draft boards more each week. With a showdown against Ole Miss looming next weekend, Levis and the Wildcats welcome the Northern Illinois Huskies to town and must avoid the dreaded look-ahead game.
We’ve got your best option to win some money on the game in our college football betting picks and predictions for Northern Illinois vs. Kentucky picks and predictions for Saturday, September 24.
Northern Illinois vs Kentucky best odds
Northern Illinois vs Kentucky picks and predictions
After a season that saw him become a cult hero, Levis is showing that his 2021 performance was no fluke.
There were many concerns among the fan base as to how Levis would deal with the loss of Wan’Dale Robinson, who went in the second round of the NFL Draft after setting the school single-season records for catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in his lone season in Lexington.
Those concerns have been alleviated by not one, but two new receivers. Transfer Tayvion Robinson joined the program from Virginia Tech, and has caught 13 passes for 202 yards. On the other side of the formation, freshman Dane Key has bested him with 13 grabs for 226 yards and three scores.
Levis and Key have developed quite the relationship, with 13 of Key’s 15 targets ending up in his hands. Saturday will see them going against a Northern Illinois secondary that has been atrocious this season — allowing 284 yards through the air per contest. It has allowed eight pass plays of at least 25 yards through three games, and allowed Vanderbilt receiver Will Sheppard to catch 10 passes for 171 yards last weekend.
Tulsa’s offense is a similar style to what the Huskies will face with Kentucky, and that bodes well for Levis and company. In their 38-35 defeat to the Hurricane, Northern Illinois allowed three different receivers to gain at least 60 yards. Furthermore, all four Tulsa players who made a reception in the game caught at least one pass of 20 yards from quarterback Davis Brin — who threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns on just 19 completions.
Key’s yardage has increased with every game, going from 53 in the opener against Miami of Ohio, to 83 against Florida, and 90 yards on six grabs last week against Youngstown State. He’s got the full confidence of his QB, and his outstanding route-running ability and 6’2” frame make him a prime target against an overmatched secondary.
Look for Key to easily eclipse the 60-yard mark yet again on Saturday for your best bet in this game, as he has a big day against the Huskies. I also recommend taking him to catch a touchdown pass at any time for a bonus play, which can be found at -120 on DraftKings.
My best bet: Dane Key Over 59.5 receiving yards (-114 at FanDuel)
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Northern Illinois vs Kentucky betting preview
Northern Illinois QB Rocky Lombardi is questionable for the game on Saturday, after leaving the game against Vanderbilt in the second quarter. The senior was missed in the come-from-ahead defeat, as he has thrown five touchdowns and just one interception on the season. Prior to getting hurt, he was a perfect 7-for-7 for 79 yards and a score.
Even if he’s able to play against Kentucky, it’s unlikely to be enough to make a difference. The Wildcats have yet to allow a passing touchdown this season and are coming off their first shutout in 13 years. Their front seven is one of the best in the SEC, and cornerback Carrington Valentine is becoming a playmaker in the secondary — single-handedly denying two touchdowns last weekend.
There is some value in the spread, with Kentucky laying 26.5 points at the moment, as the Wildcats are struggling to run the football and will likely try to see the game out on the ground if they get a big lead.
They’re also dealing with some offensive line concerns, as Levis was sacked three times in his first eight drop-backs last weekend. If Northern Illinois can get penetration on the line, it could disrupt the Wildcats' offense enough to cover a line that has gone up two points since opening.
The total of 53 has barely moved since opening, and it’s a number that has yet to be reached in any of Kentucky’s first three games. In fact, the total has gone down in each of its three contests so far this season, in part due to its inability to run the ball and in part due to its defensive play.
Northern Illinois, on the other hand, has gone past that total in each of its last two games. Its poor pass defense has gotten it into shootouts, and even its game against Eastern Illinois saw 51 points put up on the board.
The Over has hit in each of the Wildcats’ last four games, and in their last five games away from home. On the flip side, the Wildcats' last four games have all seen the total go Under, as well as in their last four games during the month of September.
Northern Illinois vs Kentucky betting trend to know
Kentucky has covered the spread five times and pushed once in its last six games. Find more NCAA betting trends for Northern Illinois vs. Kentucky.
Northern Illinois vs Kentucky game info
• Location: Kroger Field, Lexington, KY
• Date: Saturday, September 24, 2022
• Kick-off: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN2
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