Seven points separate Toledo from being in the same position as Western Michigan this season.
A 55-53 loss at BYU on a last-second field goal and a 31-26 victory against MAC East Division champion Ohio comprise the margin separating Toledo from an 11-0 record.
But the Rockets (9-2, 6-1 MAC) can do Western Michigan (11-0, 7-0) one better when they meet on Friday. A victory will give Toledo the West Division title and berth in the conference championship game on Dec. 2 in Detroit.
The teams squared off last year in the regular-season finale with the division crown and a trip to the title game on the line. The Rockets lost 35-30, creating a four-way tie in the division that sent Northern Illinois to the championship
This year it’s winner-take-all.
“We’ve been waiting to play for a championship in this city for a long time,” said first-year head coach Jason Candle. “When we took over in December we said we want to play meaningful games in November and we’ve done that.
“Now it’s time to see if we can go finish it off.”
Candle took over as head coach when Matt Campbell departed for Iowa State after compiling a 35-15 record in four seasons. Candle guided the Rockets to a 32-17 victory against Temple in the Boca Raton Bowl to finish 10-2.
This season, Candle has Toledo on the brink of a second consecutive 10-win season and the Rockets’ first MAC championship since 2004.
An offense led by quarterback Logan Woodside, the MAC’s leading passer with 3,653 yards 40 touchdowns, has fueled the MAC’s No. 1 offense (536.5 total yards per game). The Rockets are also second in MAC scoring (39.2 points per game).
“He’s been remarkable,” said Candle, who like Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck played receiver in college.
“What I admire most is the preparation and the willingness to be better and get better each and every day, and never to be satisfied. His team and his teammates have fed off of that. He’s developed into being our leader because of the work ethic and just how (his) attention to detail is at an all-time high.”
But Woodside is the first to say he hasn’t done it alone. Kareem Hunt is the MAC’s third-leading rusher with 105 yards per game. Receivers Corey Jones and Cody Thompson have combined for 113 catches, 1,820 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Toledo’s defense is allowing 22.5 points per game, second best in the MAC.
Which brings us to Western Michigan. The Broncos lead the MAC in scoring offense (43.8 ppg) and defense (17.7 ppg). They’re also second in total offense (509.8 ypg) and defense (352.9 ypg).
“We’ll certainly have our work cut out for us Friday,” Candle said, acknowledging his team’s underdog role.
Which is only fitting.
“I think there are a lot of guys in our locker room who’ve been the underdog their entire life,” Candle said. “I think they relish that role. I think there some guys on this coaching staff that feel the same way. I’m happy in the position we’re at.”