After pulling off a 29-23 upset over then-unbeaten No. 21 Cincinnati on Oct. 20 in the Glass Bowl, Toledo’s national attention started to heat up.
After knocking off the Bearcats, the Rockets (7-1, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) received 49 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll to rank No. 26 in the country. The University of Toledo also received 30 votes in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, coming in at No. 31 in the nation.
UT is off to its best start since 2001. Still, Toledo head coach Matt Campbell and his players shrugged off that national attention at the team’s media day on Oct. 22.
“If that’s what we’ve got to do to motivate ourselves, I’d be upset,” Campbell said in response to a question about whether cracking the Top 25 would play into his team’s motivation to beat Buffalo on Oct. 27. “I think one of the things that I’m really proud of what this football team’s done is — again, I’ll say this — we’ve taken it one week at a time.
“And again, all those things are things that you’d like to be there at the end of the season. It doesn’t mean anything right now, and all it means is our kids have done a great job up until this point.”
Senior linebacker Dan Molls agreed.
“That’s not a concern for me, or I don’t think anyone else on the team,” said Molls, who leads the nation with 12.75 tackles per game. “That’s strictly just a number for us. It really doesn’t mean anything.
“Would it be cool? Yeah, but that’s not something that we really place an emphasis on. Week-by-week, we’re just trying to win the next game, and that next game now is Buffalo.”
Though the Bulls (1-6, 0-3 MAC) have won only one game this year — a 56-34 home win over Morgan State in week two — their first seven games have included road contests against No. 12 Georgia (6-1), Big East member Connecticut (3-5), No. 23 Ohio (7-0) and Northern Illinois (7-1). At home, meanwhile, Buffalo has also hosted Pittsburgh (3-4) and Kent State (6-1), the latter of which became bowl eligible last week for the first time in six years.
“They do have some players that are outstanding,” Campbell said of Buffalo. “Again, I think I said this maybe about an opponent or two before is sometimes when maybe the season — at least from a win-loss standpoint — hasn’t gone as good as maybe you want it to go, but what’s the film look like?
“And [on] their film, their kids are playing their hearts out and they play extremely well.”
The Bulls rank fourth in the MAC in total defense (380.3 ypg) and second in pass defense (195.4 ypg), led on that side of the ball by junior linebacker Khalil Mack. Mack ranks 13th in the MAC and leads Buffalo with 52 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one blocked kick.
In addition, the Bulls could add junior running back Branden Oliver, who missed the last four games with a grade-two left MCL tear, according to Buffalo’s independent student newspaper The Spectrum. Oliver, who got injured in the first half of the Bulls’ week three loss to Kent State, racked up 426 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first three weeks, averaging 142 yards per game on the ground.
“They’ve had some injuries that have not helped their cause, and now they’ve got some of those guys back,” Campbell said. “I think we’re going to expect a football team that’s going to be a great challenge to our Toledo Rocket football team this Saturday.”
That type of respect and preparation for opponents is a big reason why the Rockets, including senior leaders like Molls and strong safety Jermaine Robinson, have echoed and bought into Campbell’s weekly philosophy.
“Hopefully, if we keep winning, we can get ranked,” said Robinson, who leads the MAC with four interceptions. “If we don’t get ranked, our goals are still out there. So our focus is on winning our next game and keep getting closer to that MAC Championship.”
Toledo will face Buffalo 3:30 p.m. Oct. 27 in Buffalo. The game will be aired live on BCSN.