The final two weeks of the regular season were a little crazy in the MAC. It seemed nearly every game provided us with an upset.
Those outcomes helped shape what was once an unanticipated championship game between Toledo and Ohio.
Among the Group of Five championship games, this matchup might be the most surprising, especially with Ohio making an appearance. The Bobcats were selected to finish fourth in the MAC East by the media ahead of Bowling Green and Akron. That same Bowling Green team finished second in the division. That same Bowling Green team also defeated Toledo two weeks ago.
It was a season of surprises in this league, but the surprises don’t have to stop yet.
Let’s dive into this matchup.
Out of nowhere Ohio
Looking for preseason odds for the Bobcats to win the MAC, I stumbled on a preview telling gamblers to save their money. How things can change. Preseason college football odds listed Ohio at +2000 to win the MAC this season.
A longshot to win the conference, they overcame a 2-3 start and a difficult schedule to finish the season on a seven-game winning streak. The streak helped the Bobcats secure their first trip to the MAC championship since 2016, and only their fifth appearance since the conference was split into divisions in 1997. They’re 0-4 in those games.
Now the Bobcats will have to overcome the loss of their quarterback who helped carry them this far. Kurtis Rourke tore his ACL and meniscus two weeks ago against Ball State. The redshirt junior led the conference with 296 passing YPG and 25 touchdowns before his season came to an end. Ohio still finished the year at the top of the MAC in scoring (34 PPG) and YPG (437.8).
The offense didn’t skip a beat last week, though, and the Bobcats got things done on the ground behind backup quarterback CJ Harris’ three rushing touchdowns and Sieh Bangura’s 96 rushing yards and rushing score. Ohio forced four turnovers against BG and scored a touchdown on three of them.
One of the hottest teams in the country, Ohio is the underdog as of Tuesday night with Toledo favored by 1.5 points. The line would probably be different if Rourke was behind center. Regardless, the Bobcats are playing with house money. There wasn’t a ton of pressure on them going into the season. It still feels like there isn’t much pressure on them now, not as much as there is on Toledo.
Rockets coming down to earth
The second half of the season has been quite the opposite for Toledo than it has been for the Bobcats.
The Rockets are on a two-game losing streak, dropping games to Bowling Green and Western Michigan to cap the regular season at 7-5 overall and 5-3 league play. Those losses tied Toledo with Eastern Michigan at the top of the MAC West. Luckily for Toledo, they scored 10 fourth-quarter points in a come-from-behind victory to defeat EMU on Oct. 29. It was a win that probably didn’t seem so important at the time.
Toledo was tabbed to finish second in the MAC West in the preseason media poll and earned nine first-place votes. It was +300 to win the league prior to the season. The Rockets are 3-3 in MAC championship games since the conference established divisions, with its most recent appearance a 45-28 win over Akron in 2017.
While they finished the season behind Ohio with 33.3 PPG, the Rockets’ offense hasn’t been the best of late and mustered just 14 points against WMU last week. The defense, on the other hand, has been respectable, allowing a league-low 337 YPG on the season. Its league-leading passing defense could have been an issue for the Bobcats and Rourke in this contest, but now the Bobcats are going to be forced to lean on its run game a little more.
Who wins that matchup could determine the winner of this game. Maybe not, what do I know? Not much, but I do know that Ohio is going into this game with not as much to lose. Those teams are dangerous.