The Toledo Rockets inched closer to playing in the MAC championship game – and possibly an NY6 bowl bid – by defeating perennial nemesis Northern Illinois 27-17.
This was a huge win for Jason Candle’s Rockets. After all, Toledo hasn’t played in the league title game since 2004. The Rockets have come close a few times during that span, but always ended up just one game short. Northern Illinois was largely responsible for this drought, defeating the Rockets in 2005, 2010, 2011, and 2014 to win the head-to-head tiebreaker and advance to the MAC Championship game.
Toledo made absolutely certain that the Huskies weren’t going to knock it out of the West division race this season. After briefly falling behind on the opening drive, the Rocket defense took over this contest, holding NIU to -1 yards on its next four possessions. That total includes an impressive stand where the Toledo D forced the Huskies to settle for a field goal after a blocked punt gave them first and 10 from the Rocket 11-yard line. This crucial stop turned the tide in this contest and ended any hope of a Northern Illinois comeback.
While the UT defense deserves the credit for this win, it’s hard not to be impressed with the offense. Logan Woodside had another monster outing for the Rockets, completing 23 of 31 passes for 361 yards. Terry Swanson (122 yards) and the running game was equally solid, racking up 160 yards against a Husky defense that came into the contest ranked ninth nationally in run defense.
So, what does this win mean for Toledo going forward?
Quite frankly, it puts the team in the driver’s seat in the MAC championship race. By virtue of Central Michigan’s 35-28 over Western Michigan, the Rockets now have the equivalent of a two-game lead over the rest of the division. All Toledo has to do is win two of its next three contests and it will have the opportunity to win its first conference championship since 2004.
Of course, if the Rockets were to run the table, it is still possible that they could earn a berth to a NY6 Bowl. Remember, Toledo’s only loss came to Miami (FL), and it actually led the Hurricanes at halftime. Even though they weren’t in the initial College Football Playoff standings, it’s hard to envision the Rockets not finishing in the top-25 if they were to win out. Provided that the AAC were to beat itself up over the final few weeks of the season – which is certainly plausible given the depth of the league (see also: Temple over Navy) – Toledo could potentially finish as the top-ranked Group of Five team.
Does this seem like a bit of a stretch? Sure.
But, people said the same thing when Toledo hosted Larry Fitzgerald and No. 9 ranked Pittsburgh in 2003. Despite everyone saying that the team had no chance, the Rockets won the game in the final minute.
It’ll be interesting to see if Toledo gets the opportunity to pull a similar upset this season.