The gap between a 4-4 and 3-5 record is magnificent. At 3-4 and underdogs in Kalamazoo, the Toledo Rockets nearly saw their season turn upside-down on them. Instead, the Rockets pulled out a collaborative effort to sink Western Michigan, 51-24, up north in Kalamazoo to push bowl hopes in a favorable direction.
Not only are bowl hopes alive for Jason Candle and the Rockets, but conference title hopes are too. At 4-4 overall and 2-2 in MAC play, win against Ball State strengthens the team’s prospects at a trip to Detroit. However, they’ll have to rely on assistance from the opponents of Western Michigan and Northern Illinois going forward.
Toledo’s ensuing opponent is the Ball State Cardinals. Ball State’s back is against the wall at 3-6, virtually eliminated from the MAC race. The Cardinals have not qualified for the postseason since 2013 and the streak appears to be filing for an extension, given this year’s results. Ball State’s greatest “victory” of the season was an 8-point road loss to currently #3 Notre Dame, one of college football’s four remaining undefeateds.
Similar to Toledo, Ball State has also registered two conference wins. The Cardinals demolished Kent State on the road behind a career day from quarterback Riley Neal and fended off Central Michigan on the road several weeks later. Despite dropping their last two contests by a combined 60 points, Mike Neu’s program has already taken a step in the right direction compared to last year’s 2-10 Ball State team.
Last year’s conference slate was a struggle for the Cardinals, to say the least. They lost all eight MAC games by an aggregate score of 387-94 (average score of 48.375-11.75 per game). They allowed 55 or more points in five of those games including a 58-17 collapse in Muncie against Toledo.
The pieces are there on Ball State’s offense. Running back James Gilbert proved in 2016 that he can be among the nation’s elite at his position. Wide receiver Riley Miller looked to be a breakout player at the beginning of the year before after 320 receiving yards in consecutive games. But the Cardinals’ offense took a huge hit last Thursday in a 52-14 loss to Ohio.
Longtime starting quarterback Riley Neal exited with a knee injury and he remains out for Tuesday’s matchup at the Glass Bowl. Backup Drew Plitt, who received playing time during the Cardinals’ injury-riddled season last year, will start his first game of 2018.
Ball State won’t be the only team resorting to a backup quarterback. Toledo will likely trot out Eli Peters as starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni suffered an injury just plays before halftime last week. Peters put on strong finishing duties, throwing for three touchdowns and 107 yards in the second half, sealing a 27-point upset win over Western Michigan.
In terms of arm strength, Peters is Toledo’s go-to quarterback, but he is much less mobile than Guadagni. Therefore, Toledo will have to rely on its trio of running backs: Bryant Koback, Art Thompkins, and Shakif Seymour — who combined for a steady rushing attack against the Broncos last Thursday.
Toledo is stacked at wide receiver talent, and Ball State knows that better than any other team. The Cardinals are well aware of junior wideout Diontae Johnson, who posted 170 receiving yards, 87 punt return yards, and three total touchdowns on Ball State a season ago.
Last week was also a groundbreaking week for the Rockets because they finally established a capable pass rush. Toledo managed to accumulate five sacks last week, and the powerful defensive line — featuring defensive ends Tuzar Skipper (team-leading 6.5 sacks), Jamal Hines and defensive tackles Nate Childress and Reggie Howard — played their best all-around game all season.
Toledo enters the game as heavy favorites. The Rockets’ four losses are to Miami (FL), Fresno State, Eastern Michigan, and Buffalo. Two of these programs are 7-1, Miami is 5-3, and Eastern Michigan is 4-5. The Rockets’ key victories this season have come at home against 5-4 Nevada (by 19) and on the road at 6-3 Western Michigan (by 27).
Ball State’s résumé isn’t quite at the same level. The Notre Dame loss is certainly a highlight of this dreary season, but the Cardinals’ most complete performance remains the 28-point victory over Kent State. The team has taken a few steps back against teams of similar caliber to Toledo (Ohio and Eastern Michigan) in the last few weeks.
This Wednesday night game is on Halloween, so we may see a vast array of costumes in the crowd at the Glass Bowl.
- Time and Date: Wednesday, October 31 (spooky) — 7:30 p.m. ET
- Venue: Glass Bowl — Toledo, OH
- Network: ESPN2
- Spread: Toledo (-18.5)
- ESPN FPI Predictor: Toledo has 87.5% chance to win
- All-time series: Toledo leads 23-19-1
No member of Toledo’s roster has lost to Ball State before. The Rockets have won each of the last four, dating back to 2014. The MAC West rivals have met every season since 1975, where Ball State claimed each of the first four battles. Last year’s 41-point win for Toledo was the largest deficit this series has ever seen.
The upcoming Week 10 matchup will be a stand-alone, nationally televised game on Wednesday.
Toledo wins, and with the points.
The Rockets finally gained their coveted statement victory last week, and it’s time for the team to build on that foundation. The running game improved, the receivers got involved, and the pass rush looked as good as ever in the Jason Candle era.
Ball State’s trending in the exact opposite direction, dropping games by large margins in recent weeks. The Cardinals won’t receive any favors with Riley Neal’s knee injury. With both teams using backup quarterbacks, Toledo has the advantage with Eli Peters behind center.
The Rockets’ offense can’t be matched by Ball State. Toledo has dropped over 50 points in all four wins this year — an achievement the Cardinals have completed once this year.
This one’s going to look similar to last year’s matchup.
Prediction: Toledo 52, Ball State 20