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MAC Championship Game: Common Opponents and Key Matchups

How did Toledo and Akron fare against alike competition this season?

Akron v Miami Ohio Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

On Saturday afternoon, the Toledo Rockets and Akron Zips will square off for the second time this season. Although the two conference opponents previously fought in October, the December matchup will hold much higher stakes. To further analyze the matchup, here are comparisons of how Toledo and Akron fared against common opponents.

Factoring in where the game was played and how each team looked in victory/defeat, points will be awarded to the team that looked more impressive against each of the five opponents.

Toledo Rockets/Akron Zips

Toledo 48, Akron 21

We start with the obvious matchup. Last year, Western Michigan and Ohio did not play in the regular season, so analyzing results against common opponents held more weight.

Toledo annihilated Akron by nearly four touchdowns on October 21, proving definite supremacy over the MAC East champion. The Zips' 7-5 record pales in comparison to Toledo's 10-2 mark, and their offense, which has been held below 20 points four times in 2017, wasn't a match for the Rockets' 15th ranked scoring unit.

Logan Woodside threw five touchdowns and a rare interception in the victory over Akron, shredding the Zips' corners and safeties with 304 passing yards. Equally adept was the running game, as Toledo achieved 303 rushing yards led by Terry Swanson's team-high 123. Toledo nearly doubled Akron's total offensive production, collected two turnovers, and utilized a 21-0 start to establish dominance from the beginning.

Entering the fourth quarter, Toledo's lead stood at 38-7, proving Akron couldn't compete with the Rockets' defense either. The game, which was played at the Rockets' home in the Glass Bowl, was a complete blowout. Luckily for Akron, the Zips have nothing to lose based on the previous result.

However, the first editions of UCF-Memphis, USC-Stanford, Oklahoma-TCU, Auburn-Georgia, and Florida Atlantic-North Texas were also blowouts. But one of these games seems destined to yield a different result on championship weekend, so there's a plus for Akron.

Toledo 1, Akron 0

Ball State Cardinals

Akron 31, Ball State 3

Toledo 58, Ball State 17

Ball State lost all eight conference games by a combined 293 points, so it's hard to find a MAC team that didn't have a field day against the Cardinals.

Akron allowed a first quarter field goal to the MAC's last place finisher, and the defense held firm the rest of the day at InfoCision Stadium in Akron. The Cardinals' Jack Milas threw a trio of interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and Akron's quarterback Thomas Woodson fired two touchdowns in the 28-point win.

Toledo trailed Ball State on the road 7-3 after the first quarter, but the deficit would quickly be forgotten as the Rockets ignited a scoring barrage for the final three quarters. The Rockets scored five touchdowns greater than 65 yards, including 67, 87, and 88-yard scores from wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Toledo finished with 602 yards of offense and here's a fun fact: the team finished just 1-of-8 on third down. But does third down really matter when all eight of your touchdowns are scored on drives of four plays or fewer?

Both teams did exactly what you're supposed to when you face Ball State. Points will be rewarded accordingly.

Toledo 2, Akron 1

Bowling Green Falcons

Akron 34, Bowling Green 23

Toledo 66, Bowling Green 37

Both MAC division winners played on the road in Bowling Green. Although Akron escaped with a double-digit victory, the Zips trailed the 2-10 Falcons near the tail end of the third quarter. Thomas Woodson's touchdown run vaulted Akron in front, and a Kyron Brown pick six sealed the deal at Doyt-Perry Stadium. If not for three turnovers, Akron probably wins this game by 20. But then again, Bowling Green committed four.

Battling Bowling Green holds greater meaning to Toledo as the Falcons and Rockets are bitter rivals, competing for the Battle I-75 Trophy. This game became an offensive shootout with plenty of garbage time touchdowns. On just 12 carries, running back Shakif Seymour scored five touchdowns — the same amount Bowling Green managed to record in the game. Like Akron's matchup, the game was close for a while. Toledo led just 24-21 at halftime but rattled off four third quarter touchdowns to earn a 29-point victory. Jason Candle's team finished with 637 yards of offense.

The number 29 almost triples the value of 11. With both games taking place on the road, Toledo earns the point despite allowing 37 to a 2-10 program.

Toledo 3, Akron 1

Ohio Bobcats

Akron 37, Ohio 34

Ohio 38, Toledo 10

This is where it gets interesting. Both Akron and Toledo squared off against the Bobcats late in the season, but both teams left their games with unexpected results.

Despite trailing 21-10, Akron checked right back into the contest with three second quarter touchdowns, including two bombs to Kwadarrius Smith from Kato Nelson. Ohio's normally adept offense performed to standard, but the defense had no answer for Nelson (who threw four touchdown passes) and the Zips. The most meaningful statistic in the box score: Ohio lost the turnover battle 3-0, thanks to a severe fumbling epidemic. Had Akron fallen in this game, the Zips would be 6-6 and bowl season would be no certainty for Terry Bowden and company. Instead, they have a shot at winning the conference.

Toledo watched its undefeated MAC record crumble before its eyes on a Wednesday night in Athens. The Rockets watched Dorian Brown and the Bobcats run all over the defense, finishing with 393 yards and four rushing touchdowns collectively. The momentum was lost immediately for Toledo, as Art Thompkins fumbled on the 11-yard line on a promising opening drive. The Rockets ceded the halftime lead to Ohio thanks to a late first half turnover, and the team looked gassed and defeated by the second half. Just about everything went wrong for a normally strong Toledo team in this 28-point loss.

Other than the head-to-head between Akron and Toledo, deciding who to reward this point to is the biggest no-brainer on this list.

Toledo 3, Akron 2

Western Michigan Broncos

Akron 14, Western Michigan 13

Toledo 37, Western Michigan 10

In a surprising turn of events from the 2016 season, Western Michigan fell from a 13-1 record and MAC championship to a .500 team yearning for a bowl appearance. The Broncos were defeated by both of this season's MAC Championship participants.

The road victory on a Sunday afternoon (the reschedule was a result of flooding at Waldo Stadium) was the first moment where Akron proved itself in 2017. Prior to the victory, which caused the Zips to improve to 4-3, the team beat up on 2-10 squads, but upsetting Tim Lester's Broncos in Kalamazoo was quite the statement. Akron led 14-0 and played immaculate defense for the rest of the contest, holding Western Michigan to three points on four red zone appearances.

Toledo finished out the regular season with a wire-to-wire win over the Broncos, looking undoubtedly like the better team at the Glass Bowl. Woodside threw for 300 and Swanson rushed for 94 in an offensive performance far superior to the Broncos' production. The Rockets built the lead at a steady rate and never looked back en route to earning their 10th victory.

Although Akron completed its challenge on the road, the Zips barely skated by with the victory. Had Western Michigan limited its mistakes and converted on field goals, the Broncos would have handily won, as the offense drove deep into Akron territory nearly every drive. Meanwhile, Toledo didn't leave a doubt in its demolition of the reigning MAC champion. The final point will be rewarded to the Rockets.

Toledo 4, Akron 2

In terms of how the teams fared against common opponents, Toledo looked more impressive than its MAC East counterpart. Aside from Ohio, the Rockets earned more style points by dispatching their opponents (including Akron) by large margins of victory.

Key Matchups

Diontae Johnson vs. Kyron Brown

If Toledo's passing game plays to its normal standard, Akron's defense will be in for a rough day. So, junior cornerback Kyron Brown must play a phenomenal game to set his team up for optimal success. The Zips' cornerback has intercepted two passes this season, achieving 108 yards and a touchdown on returns. He's dangerous with the ball in his hands, but picking off Logan Woodside (24 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) will be no ease as the senior quarterback is one of the best decision makers in the country.

Brown will have to blanket Toledo's sophomore wide receiver Diontae Johnson down the field. Johnson broke through to become one of the conference's top players midseason, and he ranks in the top 10 in the FBS in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Johnson possesses incredible speed and is one of the best deep threats in the nation. The 5'11" wideout torched the secondaries of Ball State and Ohio, but most impressively, he earned 166 yards on former All-American cornerback Shawun Lurry against Northern Illinois. If Johnson earns another 140-yard day, it will provide an enormous boost to the Toledo offense, so it's important for the Rockets that he beats Brown in coverage to open up the passing game.

Terry Swanson vs. Ulysees Gilbert III

Two 2017 First Team All-MAC members will fight near the line of scrimmage on Saturday. Akron's junior outside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III leads his team with 117 tackles and will need plenty of them near the trenches to stop Toledo's effective run game. The junior finished the season with 8.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and two defensive touchdowns. From the outside linebacker position, Gilbert's versatility makes him Akron's most important player on the roster, and he'll need to play an excellent game in order to stop the best offense in the MAC.

Terry Swanson is the leader of Toledo's multi-back system. The senior averages 5.4 yards per carry and has collected 1,139 yards on the ground in 2017, finding the end zone 12 times. Swanson rushed for over 100 yards in seven of 11 games, but Gilbert and the Zips should spend plenty of time in the film room watching Swanson's performance against Ohio. In the 38-10 loss, the running back was limited to nine yards on six carries, as the Bobcats effectively made the star running back a non-factor in a high-stakes conference game.

Toledo's offense vs. Akron's defense will be where this game is decided. Ohio's defense was one of the few units that showed prowess against a dominant offense that features five First Team All-MAC members (six including kicker Jameson Vest).

Akron and Toledo kick off in Detroit for the MAC Championship Game on Saturday at noon EST.