Mid-major Report: Toledo looking to play spoiler against unbeaten Northern Illinois
At 33, Toledo coach Matt Campbell should conceivably be worried about his mortgage. Instead, his Rockets are set to host undefeated No. 16 Northern Illinois on Wednesday with a chance to shake up the MAC East. A year removed from a nine-win debut campaign after taking over for Tim Beckman (Campbell also won the 2011 Military Bowl as Toledo's interim head coach), Campbell's offensive philosophy is making some noise.
The Rockets average 35 points per game and have scored 45 or more on four different occasions this season. Their three losses came at to a healthy Florida on Aug. 31, now-No. 8 Missouri on Sept. 7 and 9-2 Ball State on Sept. 28. After toppling Buffalo 51-41 last Tuesday, Toledo moved to 7-3 and extended its winning streak to five games.
"The one thing we have on offense is we have a lot of seniors," Campbell said during the MAC teleconference on Monday. "One of the things I'm proud of is that senior class and the guys on that side of the football have continued to get better each and every week."
Among that senior class are quarterback Terrance Owens, wideout Bernard Reedy and running back David Fluellen. Owens has thrown just one interception since the 31-24 loss to Ball State, and he's been effective at getting the ball in his playmakers' hands. Reedy has 736 receiving yards and six scores.
Fluellen (1,067 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns) had a streak of six straight 100-plus yard games earlier this season before getting banged up with back and ankle injuries. He has missed the past two games, and his status is up in the air against the Huskies. In his stead, freshman Kareem Hunt has impressed. Hunt has rushed for 595 yards over his last four games, including an 186-yard effort last week against Buffalo.
While Campbell might talk up his senior class, it's becoming clear the system is also responsible for the Rockets' success. Toledo can roll as long as it has the right type of players in place.
The same can be said about Northern Illinois, which continues to win regardless of personnel or coach. The Huskies established a winning culture long ago, and the players have passed down that torch from class to class. NIU's battles with Toledo have historically been good, and this year should be no exception. While Northern Illinois has won the past three meetings -- including a 63-60 win in 2011 and a 31-24 victory in 2012 -- Toledo won 11 straight games in the series in the 1990s and early 2000s.
"Way before myself or [Northern Illinois] coach [Rod] Carey there's been some tremendous coaches who have laid the foundation of both programs," Campbell said. "The administration and universities of both programs have taken great pride in their football programs. What that's created and I think they're both created in the same image of tough, blue-collar football cities they're located in. At the end of the day, it's created two very good football programs and those games have resembled just the identity that both programs would like to have."
• Marshall: First, Marshall delayed its game against Tulsa by one minute to honor the 75 who were killed in the Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash. Then, quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for 456 yards with five touchdowns to help the Thundering Herd beat the Golden Hurricane 45-34 and improve to 7-3 (5-1 C-USA).
• Akron: Now 4-7 following a 14-13 victory over Massachusetts last Saturday, the Zips have matched their highest win total since 2007. They've won more games this season than they did during the past three seasons combined. Coach Terry Bowden was looking for progress in his second year at Akron, and it's safe to say that he made some.
• Rice running back Charles Ross: With a 215-yard, five-touchdown performance in a 52-14 win over Louisiana Tech, Ross moved over the 1,000-yard mark on the season and helped Rice move to 7-3 (5-1 C-USA). The Owls have now won six of their last seven, but an Oct. 31 loss to North Texas might prove costly. The Mean Green also sit at 5-1 in league play and own the tiebreaker over Rice.
• Hawaii: It seemed like it was going to happen -- Hawaii was going to win its first game of the season -- but the Rainbow Warriors ultimately fell 28-21 in overtime to San Diego State. This leads me to believe there is no such thing as poetic justice, because if there was, Hawaii would have been rewarded for bringing back some of the greatest uniforms ever.
• FIU: We haven't checked on FIU for a while, but things haven't gotten any better. The Panthers lost 33-10 to previously 1-8 UTEP and have now scored 14 or fewer points in eight of their 10 games. With matchups against Marshall and suddenly surging FAU remaining on the schedule, a one-win season seems likely.• Western Michigan: The Broncos missed golden opportunities in back-to-back weeks, falling to Eastern Michigan 35-32 in double overtime on Nov. 9 and to Central Michigan 27-22 on Saturday. For its troubles, Western Michigan will get to close out the year against quarterback Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois.