Friday September 16th, 2011

Your weeknight appetizers before the Saturday binge. When is a Mountain West-MAC weeknight game the preferred dish of choice? When the teams involved are Boise State and Toledo, and the alternative is ... this:

Iowa State at UConn, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2): It's hard to get worked up about this one, even on a Friday night nearly bereft of choices; but here we go, settling in to discuss the storied history of the Cyclones and Huskies. It's a short one: The teams met once before, in November 2002, and a UConn team en route to D-I designation and still very much in the pupal stage won 37-20.

This year's Connecticut squad beat an FCS opponent in Week 1 (Fordham, in a game delayed by the recovery from Hurricane Irene), and then went out and lost to Vanderbilt, in a game that produced one of those delectable AP quotes that's just dripping with polite contempt: "The Huskies gave up a fourth quarter lead when quarterback Johnny McEntee threw an interception that was returned 50-yards for a touchdown, then lost the game on a late field goal." The bright spot, if one exists, is the Huskies' defense, although they'll find last week's seven sacks more difficult to repeat against the Cyclones. Oh, and they have yet to select a permanent starter from the above-mentioned junior walk-on McEntee, a true freshman and a redshirt freshman. Problem?

On the opposite sideline, the 'Clones will battle physical and emotional exhaustion, playing on short rest after knocking off their most bitter rivals in triple overtime and hopping a cross-country flight midweek. We're at that crucial point in the season where the third data point necessary for triangulation of a team's real promise is fixing to drop into everybody's laps, and it's an arrival that will be most welcome in the case of Iowa State: Week 1 saw them barely escape FCS foe Northern Iowa by a score of 20-19; Week 2 featured that overtime victory over regular Iowa, 44-41. Which team will we see more of in the weeks ahead? Look for impeccably named rookie 'Clones quarterback Steele Jantz (STEELE JANTZ!) and his hulking offensive line to test the newly sped-up UConn front seven, early and often. It is my fervent hope that Jantz puts on some sort of repeat of last week's 25/37/279 performance tonight, because the more he does that, the more I get to type "Steele Jantz."

To the main event:

No. 4 Boise State at Toledo, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN): Like we said in the run-up to Week 2 (and did you listen, Ohio State? You did not), don't sleep on Toledo. It's doubtful the Broncos will do anything of the sort, coming off a second-week bye with ample prep time, but having seen the Rockets come perilously close to upsetting OSU in Columbus last Saturday, warnings are warranted. Huzzah to the Rockets, too, for putting this kind of back-to-back gauntlet so early in their schedule.

That said, Stewart Mandel likes the Broncos to take this one, and so do I:

In its continued quest to overcome criticism about its schedule, Boise sure could have used a Toledo upset of Ohio State last week. As it is, anyone who watched the Rockets take the Buckeyes to the wire knows this isn't a gimme for the Broncos, who need to contain explosive Toledo WR Eric Page. But Kellen Moore, who went 28-of-34 against Georgia, will prove too much for the Rockets' defense.
I feel like we're harping on this every week, but it still needs to be said as often and as shrilly as possible: Toledo is a good football team. Don't count a tough game here too much in Boise's disfavor. But the Rockets must, must, must tighten up on penalties this week: 102 yards lost to flags didn't help their upset bid last week in Columbus, and Boise drew only 20 yards of penalties in Week 1. Toledo can't make this game any harder on itself than it's going to be already, not while also scrambling to contain a Kellen Moore offense that seems to operate almost without thought, or without anybody across the line being able to see how the gears are moving.

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