Not the Game of the Week: NIU 32 Toledo 27

“I was going to tell you it was low-scoring, but they did just combine for 27 first quarter points.”

I didn’t like the Huskies coming into this one, and the first 15 minutes of play did nothing to alleviate my concerns. Now, I’m not going to make the mistake of comparing the 2015 NIU team with the BCS party-crashers of years’ past. Three losses coming into their Tuesday evening clash with the 7-0 Toledo Rockets is all the explanation I need to offer there, but the Mid-American Conference team that took down Arkansas and Iowa State in consecutive weeks deserves that discussion and comparison.

Despite Boise State and BYU doing the MAC some favors by putting numbers in the “L” column, the battle promised to be of an uphill nature for the Midwest’s1With apologies to Buffalo and UMass other FBS conference. You took down teams from the SEC and Big 12? Well, which ones? Oh…here, have a token spot in our rankings.

Speaking of token spots, the conferences that we haven’t branded “Power 5” get to be the “Group of 5”, and they get a token spot, not in the playoff to determine our National Champion, but to one of the access bowls, or sites that get to be part of the semi-final and National Championship rotation. As if dealing with the Mountain West’s powerhouses weren’t enough, the bastards of the 2012 Big East have been demoted out of Automatic Qualifier status, so the MAC’s best must be better than the top team from what’s now called the American Athletic Conference.

In the inaugural 2015 College Football Playoff Rankings, Matt Campbell’s Toledo program was rewarded with a #24 ranking, 11 spots behind undefeated Memphis, 2 spots behind 1-loss Temple, and a slot above unbeaten Houston2All from the AAC. Toledo was the only other team from the Group of 5 in the rankings, blessed enough to share space with cartel juggernauts, such as UCLA and Northwestern.

On the field, NIU kept catching breaks, like the time when Tommylee Lewis got behind the Toledo secondary for the Huskies first touchdown of the night, or yielding just five yards to Phillip Ely and the Rockets offense after Kenny Golladay fumbled in his own territory after a first down catch-and-run from Drew Hare.   After our first quarter of Tuesday Night #MACtion in 2015, the underdog trailed 17-10, not quite the 21-14 count we got in NIU’s 2011 63-60 victory on the same field. Of course, for all of the breaks Rod Carey’s squad caught, they got broken quite a bit.

Lewis, NIU’s big playmaker early, and starting quarterback Drew Hare both went down in the first half, but backup Ryan Graham proved to be quite capable, despite ESPN’s announcing crew selling it like he’d never played football before. However, it wasn’t just the injury bug hurting the visiting team on Tuesday night.

Toledo won the game in the trenches early, with both Terry Swanson and Kareem Hunt easily eclipsing the century mark with rushing yardage. Every time it appeared the undefeated Rockets would pull away, NIU would come up with a big stop or a turnover. Despite the fact NIU had problems finding the endzone without the services of 5th-year player Lewis, kicker Christian Hagan kept the wounded Huskies alive with four field goals, which allowed them to chip away at a lead the Rockets held until Graham hit Golladay for the game-winner with two minutes left.

Now, Toledo can kiss their access bowl dreams goodbye, and the MAC’s western division is now a four-team race between them, the Huskies, and two directional Michigan schools3Eastern Michigan need not make travel arrangements for Detroit.

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1. With apologies to Buffalo and UMass
2. All from the AAC
3. Eastern Michigan need not make travel arrangements for Detroit