No 16 Northern Illinois Huskies (10-0, 6-0 MAC) at Toledo Rockets (7-3, 5-1 MAC)
Glass Bowl -- Toledo, Ohio
Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 -- 8 ET (7 CT)
Television: ESPN2, ESPN3 (streaming)
Radio: 1370 AM (Toledo), 670 AM (Chicago/DeKalb)
Year after year these two teams have decided who is going represent the MAC West in the Championship game, and this year is no different. The Huskies can make it to their fourth consecutive MAC Championship game with a win. For Toledo, if they can win this week and next (against Akron), they would get to their first MAC Championship game since 2004. The consistency both teams have shown has lead to a a perplexing question in the MAC community for years now...are the Huskies and Rockets truly rivals?
For NIU, the game against the Rockets is a rivalry game. Huskie fans do not like Toledo and most years the UT-NIU game is the most anticipated game in DeKalb. Sadly, the Rockets just don't feel the same about the Huskies. For them, it's just another game...but then again, they are used to winning this game. Even if it isn't an officially recognized rivalry, some of us here at Hustle Belt feel it needs to finally just be called a rivalry game. And no rivalry game would be complete without a cool name and a trophy: might we suggest The Battle for the Rocket Dog, which would obviously have a trophy featuring a huskie with a jetpack on it's back.
All that being said, the Toledo Rockets (7-3, 5-1 MAC) look to end a few impressive streaks the No. 16 Northern Illinois Huskies (10-0, 6-0 MAC) have come Wednesday night. NIU has won 23 straight MAC games and 15 consecutive road games (both are the longest streaks in the FBS), and has an NCAA-most six road wins this season. Toledo has history on it's side, as the Rockets have won 29 of the 40 games played so far, and had an 11-game win streak from 1990-2004 against the Huskies. However, NIU has Jordan Lynch in it's corner and has made this series competitive the last few years, winning four of the last five and three straight.
It is supposed to be a chilly night with a slight chance of rain when this game kicks off tomorrow night, normally those aren't ideal conditions to throw the ball. Luckily, there shouldn't be any drop in #MACtion as this will be a battle between the top two rushing attacks in the MAC. The Huskies lead the MAC, and are 6th in the country, with 303 rushing yards per game - mostly by Lynch and halfback Cameron Stingily, who have a combined 2085 yards and 23 TDs. Toledo counters, averaging 247 yards per contest, with halfbacks David Fluellen and Kareem Hunt carrying the load. The duo has gained 1739 yards and 16 scores so far this year.
The good news for NIU fans is that Fluellen is still questionable for the game, nursing a leg injury. The bad news is Hunt is just a solid a back, gaining 6.8 yards per carry and has averaged 148 yards in the last four games...against tough defenses at that. If Fluellen is able to play, that's just another threat the Huskie defense will have to deal with...which is very scary.
And speaking of NIU's defense, although it has been improving game to game, it has shown it will give up huge chunks of yards. Most of those yards have come via the pass, but last week Ball State's halfback, Jahwan Edwards, piled up 156 yards - so there are yards to be gained on the ground for Toledo, which they should get. The Huskies are allowing over 25 points per game and have struggled at times, again good news for the Rockets. In last year match up, NIU forced four turnovers, which helped them come away with the win...they will need to do the same this year or at least force Owens to beat them with his arm if the Huskies want to stay on top of the MAC.
This season, the Rockets defense has been just as porous, however, giving up just under 28 points per game. Along with the high point totals, Toledo is giving up nearly 4 yards per rush and have allowed 25 rushing TDs...not good news when playing the sixth best running team in the country. Toledo's defense will need to find a way to stop Lynch, which has been hard to do, if they want to keep up with NIU. Last year, despite the close score, statistically Jordan Lynch lit up Toledo, netting 570 total yards (407 passing, 162 rushing) and three touchdowns.
Wednesday night all eyes will once again be on the MAC, with Lynch and the Huskies garnering most of the attention. The Rockets won't like that and will be ready to play. These games usually have been close (with the exception of the 70-21 blowout win for the Rockets in 2007 and NIU's 65-30 rout in 2011) and this should be no different. Both teams want that Championship game. The Huskies get there with a win; Toledo needs to win out to make it. #MACtion at it's finest!