UT on the road to MAC ChampionshipWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Just days after making their way into the Top 25 while sitting at home, the University of Toledo played their way out of the rankings Tuesday in a nationally televised contest at the Glass Bowl.
Losses by No. 22 Arizona and No. 24 Oklahoma State last Saturday cleared a path for the Rockets to make the latest BCS standings, but mental errors in their 34-27 weekday loss to Ball State made it a brief stay.
The Rockets committed 10 penalties for 111 yards, including seven for 81 yards in the first half. Two of those first half penalties negated David Fluellen touchdown runs.
The biggest blunder of the night, however, was perpetrated not by a player, but rather UT head coach Matt Campbell. Tied at 27, Campbell opted to go for it on fourth-and-one from the Cardinals 14, a decision which ultimately led to Ball State’s game-winning touchdown.
“I’ll put it on my shoulders and we’ll all continue to grow,” Campbell said after the game.
Indeed, the jubilance that began Sunday morning when Toledo entered the Top 25 for the first time in 11 years was replaced Tuesday night by a devestation reserved solely for those who’ve suffered a letdown on the big stage.
The locker room in the basement of Larimer Athletic Complex which rumbled with the sound of Toledo’s fight song when the Rockets upset No. 21 Cincinnati Oct. 22 was decidedly quieter this week, and the faces that emerged were far grimmer.
A national ranking is likely off the table, at least for the regular season, but as Campbell rightly observed after the game, UT’s goal at the outset of the year — win the Mid-American Conference — is still within reach.
“No question, [we still control our own destiny],” Campbell said. “But more than anything we have to correct the mistakes we made tonight before we play a big football game in a week and a half.”
Big, as in the biggest of the season. The Rockets will need to snap Northern’s nation-leading 20-game home winning streak next Wednesday in Dekalb, Ill. and top lowly Akron at home the following week to earn a spot in the conference title game.
While Toledo has found itself in close contests seemingly every week this season, the Huskies (9-1, 6-0 MAC) have outscored their opponents by an average of 40-to-18.
Northern has not dropped a game since its season opener, an 18-17 loss at Iowa. In the process the Huskies have extended their MAC win-streak to a conference-best 14.
Toledo was co-champion of the MAC West last year alongside Northern Illinois, but the Huskies earned the right to represent the division in the conference championship with a 63-60 shootout win at the Glass Bowl Nov. 1. NIU went on to win the MAC Championship, besting Ohio in a 23-20 thriller in Detroit.
Dekalb always provides for a hostile environment but the Huskies and their faithful admittedly turn it up an extra notch for the developing UT-NIU rivalry. The Rockets, however, will be ready to bounce back in pursuit of their goals, according to UT senior linebacker Dan Molls.
“We see NIU as our rival too,” Molls, the nation’s leading tackler said adamantly. “Especially for the guys that have been around, we’ve had our struggles with that team. We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure we can be successful in that game.”
The road to the Motor City is now a little more pressure-packed, but Toledo is still in the driver’s seat to capture the coveted MAC Championship.