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2022 MAC Football Championship Game Historic Deep Dive: Toledo vs. Ohio

The Rockets and Bobcats have been fierce rivals in the MAC since the 1960s, with dozens of contests between the two Ohio-based programs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Toledo at Ohio Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 Mid-American Conference Football Championship Game pairs an interesting set of teams together for a contest in Detroit, Michigan, this weekend.

The Ohio Bobcats (9-3, 7-1 MAC East) will represent the East division, winning against Bowling Green in the final week of the regular season to assure themselves a trip to play for the conference crown. The Bobbies are winners of seven-straight games after initially suffering a bad loss against Kent State at the start of the conference season, but they righted the ship with one of the most balanced looks in the country— even without Kurtis Rourke, who will be out for the rest of the season.

The Toledo Rockets (7-5, 5-3 MAC West) are set to represent the MAC West division, securing a result against Ball State in early November to secure the necessary tiebreakers to seal the deal. After an early-season take-off where they punched Ohio State in the mouth and beat their first three conference opponents by an average of 21 points per game, they’ve been a bit cool of late, losers of their last two games whilst struggling with injuries.

It makes for a wonderfully intense set of circumstances on Saturday afternoon, when two programs with nervy fanbases conjoin together for a three-hour window to determine who will be the top of the MAC tables.

We take a look at the all-time numbers and accolades for both programs separately, then against one another ahead of their vital game this Saturday.

[All numbers are courtesy of Winsipedia and school record books, where appropriate.]

The Toledo Rockets

NCAA Football: Toledo at San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Toledo had its launch year in football in 1917, with local reporting suggesting it was a student-lead effort, with said students playing quite the interesting role in convincing then-power University of Detroit to play them as a way to pay off their uniform debts.

The newly-formed UT football team lost its first game 145-0 in merciless fashion to UD, but a dream had become reality.

After a brief pause due to World War I, the team returned on a full-time basis in 1919, with the Rockets earning their name (initially the “Skyrockets”) from an opposing newspaper after a game against Carnegie Tech in 1923.

The Rockets would play in two different Ohio-based athletic leagues early on, winning three conference titles in the Northwest Ohio League in the 1920’s before eventually becoming an independent program in 1948.

The Toledo Rockets have been a member of the MAC since 1950, joining the league initially as a member in every sport except football, joining the fledgling league six years after its initial founding. Rockets football would eventually join the list of offerings in 1952— the same year rival Bowling Green was added— marking the complete transition.

The Rockets made an impact right away in their new home, emerging as one of the conference’s most dominant programs in the 1960’s and 1970’s, winning four conference titles in five seasons and putting up three straight years of undefeated football.

Toledo’s reputation from the 1990’s and 2000’s was as a coach-maker, due to a combination of resources, fanbase passion and wealth of talent in the surrounding area making it an attractive stop for first-time coaches. Nick Saban famously got his collegiate start at the Glass Bowl before heading to Cleveland to work under Bill Belichick in 1990, while Gary Pinkell and Tim Beckman also moved on to bigger jobs after their tenures. Matt Campbell proved to do the same in the 2010’s, building a consistent program which ultimately attracted many suitors.

Partially as a result of this trend, the Rockets are typically good for two title wins per decade, and have been one of the more consistent sides in the MAC. In recent years, however, it’s been a tough journey; since 2010, the Rockets have just one appearance in the MAC title game despite qualifying four times, losing on tiebreakers to Northern Illinois three times (2011, 2014, 2015.)

They’ll be hungry then to establish dominance in a new decade after years of wandering the desert.

The numbers:

  • All-time record: 564-488-24 (wins-losses-draws)
  • Best season: 12-0 (both 1970 and 1971)
  • Worst season: 2-9 (both 1977 and 1978)
  • Conference titles: 14 (1923, 1927, 1929, 1967, 1969, 1971-72, 1981, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2017)
  • Division titles: 12 (1997, 1998, 2000-02, 2004-05, 2011, 2014-15, 2017, 2022)
  • Championship Game appearances: 6 (1997-98, 2001-02, 2004, 2017)
  • Last Championship Game appearance: 2017 vs. Akron. The Rockets won with a runaway effort to clinch their first MAC title since 2004.
  • All-time bowl appearances: 19 (1969-71, 1981, 1995, 2001-02, 2004-05, 2010-12, 2014-2018, 2021), with a 10-9 record.
  • Last bowl appearance: 2021 vs. Middle Tennessee State in the Bahamas Bowl. The Rockets lost by a final score of 31-24.

The Ohio Bobcats

NCAA Football: Ohio at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio Bobcats are a founding member of the Mid-American Conference, having been affiliated with the Best Little Conference in the Midwest since 1946, and are the conference’s lone charter member remaining today. (Butler, Wayne State, Cincinnatti and what is now Case Western Reserve were the other four charter members.)

Before that time, the ‘Cats had a storied history as a progenitor of college football in the state of Ohio.

Initially formed in 1892 for the short-lived Athletic League of Ohio Colleges, the Ohio football team would not officially take the field until 1894, when they hosted nearby Marietta College, with the visitors taking away an 8-0 victory. Ohio would take the state football scene by storm in 1897, posting a 7-2 record with seven-straight wins to end the year (including one over West Virginia), before becoming a more permanent operation in 1906.

The 1910’s were a great decade to be a part of the Green and White (the Bobcats name would not attach itself to the team until 1925,) with 1915’s 8-1 record and 175-33 point differential serving as a highlight year, with wins against Cincinnati and Marshall. 1918 saw Ohio go undefeated at 4-0-1, with a win over Ohio State’s freshman squad as well.

The legendary Don Peden would eventually take over the program in 1924, taking it to ascendent heights after a few off years in the early 20’s. Peden spent 21 seasons at the helm, guiding the ‘Cats to a 121-46-11 record and four Buckeye Athletic Association titles in that span before his retirement.

Bill Hess came aboard in 1956, offering a steady presence after another off-kilter span of performance. Hess would rival Peden’s success, retiring with a 108-91-4 record, four MAC titles and a recognition by the Associated Press and United Press International as a national champion in 1960, leading the ‘Cats to a 10-0 record.

Hess’ sudden passing from cancer in 1978 put the Ohio program in a dark place, and they wandered the football desert for decades after that. That all changed in 2005, when Frank Solich arrived from his alma mater Nebraska, where he had guided the Cornhuskers to myriad success. Solich turned the reputation of the program around in his 15 years, going 115-82 in that time and turning the ‘Cats from a laughing stock into one of the most consistent performers in the MAC... but he ultimately could never get the biggest prize of all.

Now, his hand-picked successor, second-year head man Tim Albin, is in charge of the team he and Solich built, 60 minutes away from potentially breaking a 54-year streak.

The numbers:

  • All-time record: 593-578-48 (wins-losses-draws)
  • Best season: 10-0 (1960)
  • Worst season: 0-11 (1994)
  • Conference titles: 11 (1929-31, 1935-36, 1938, 1953, 1960, 1963, 1967-68)
  • Division titles/Championship Game appearances: 5 (2006, 2009, 2011, 2016, 2022)
  • Last Championship Game appearance: 2016 vs. Western Michigan. Ohio’s furious comeback rally against a nationally-ranked, undefeated Western Michigan fell short, losing by a final score of 29-23.
  • All-time bowl appearances: 13 (1962, 1968, 2006, 2009-2013, 2015-2019), with a 5-8 bowl record.
  • Last bowl appearance: 2019 vs. Nevada in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Bobcats won what would be Frank Solich’s final bowl appearance by a final score of 30-21.

All-time series numbers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Toledo at Ohio Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Prior to the introduction of divisions in 1997, the Rockets and Bobcats played every season between 1951 and 1996 (excepting 1992.) After that, the two teams average a matchup with one another every three-to-four years due to interdivison scheduling.

The two teams have one other contest pre-dating their time in the MAC, with Ohio winning their first encounter 7-0 in 1925.

The Rockets and Bobcats shared their longest gap between games from 2010 to 2015 before playing two straight contests in 2016 and 2017.

Toledo and Ohio were not scheduled to play each other in 2022, but find themselves playing each other in the game which matters most

  • All-time record: Toledo leads the all-time series by a margin of 32-21-1.
  • Biggest Toledo margin of victory: 42-7 (1970)
  • Biggest Ohio margin of victory: 48-7 (1960)
  • Longest Toledo winning streak: 12 (1989-2010)
  • Longest Ohio winning streak: 5 (1958-1962)
  • Last five matchups: Toledo has won three of the last five contests between the two sides, dating back to 2007. Ohio had been on a two-game winning streak (2016-17) prior to the last meeting.
  • Last meeting: Nov. 16, 2021 in Athens, Ohio. Toledo won on the road by a final score of 35-23 to attain bowl eligibility.

The 2022 edition of the MAC Football Championship Game is set to take place Saturday, December 3, in Detroit, Michigan at Ford Field. Kickoff is scheduled for noon Eastern time, with ESPN set to provide national broadcast coverage.