Tuesday November 1st, 2011

Northern Illinois @ Toledo, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2: Exhausted with ecstasy already as we enter a second straight week of wall-to-wall football? Too damn bad, buttercup. Curl up with your corn-syrup hangover and a four-quarterback battle; it'll cure what ails you.

It's a lot easier to call Toledo one of the best three-loss teams in the country now that it's 5-3 and not 2-3, but I promise you the Rockets have looked this good all year, save maybe in that one weird three-point stumble against Syracuse. (To remind, Toledo's only other losses this season have come against two certain outfits out of Columbus, Ohio and Boise, Idaho. The Rockets also knocked off the mighty Temple Owls, one of the other fine 5-3 outfits, who'll be featured in this week's Wednesday primetime game.) The annual MAC scrum is a high-floating cluster this year, with a large handful of five-win teams, but only the Rockets are undefeated in conference play. Some of UT's trickiest competition lies ahead, with NIU and Western Michigan and Ball State looming. Plenty of places left to trip. But the Rockets are only going to get better with the return of top tailback Adonis Thomas, who broke his arm in the Syracuse game and returned last week against the Miami RedHawks, to admirable effect.

Neither squad is super-inclined toward playing lights-out defense, but NIU far less so, allowing over 430 yards and close to 33 points to Toledo's 360 and 25. This bodes well for Rockets quarterbacking duo Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens, and particularly for receiver Eric Page, who benefits from most of their downfield winging. Opposite Dantin-and-Owens is would-be Heisman darkhorse Chandler Harnish, and his hatchling quarterbacking sidekick, Jordan Lynch. The Huskies are big on running the ball behind Harnish, and while thus far in the season Toledo's been good on paper at stopping the run, it helps when teams like Eastern Michigan and Miami don't have time to run against them and keep pace on the scoreboard. The numbers favor Toledo, but NIU poses the most prolific rushing attack the Rockets have face all year, save Temple ... which UT still defeated, 36-13. But it's Tuesday night MACtion, and you never know.

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