The Mid-American Conference football season begins in earnest for Toledo tonight - seven games in the next 7 1/2 weeks to determine if the Rockets are going to be part of the championship picture in the West Division.
Toledo starts that stretch with Ball State, and both teams come into the game with 1-0 records in the MAC. The loser will fall a game off the pace and will need help to catch up.
Despite the fact that Ball State thumped the Rockets 38-14 last year, Toledo is staying on the party line that this game is not about revenge.
"People can talk about wanting to get even after last year, but we really just approach every MAC game as if the championship is on the line," UT senior wide receiver Lance Moore said. "We want to be at our best for every conference game, no matter what happened last year or two years ago, or whatever. Our motivation is always the same - to win our MAC games and win the West."
The Rockets have crept back to the top of the conference in passing with 290 yards per game. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski completed 22 of 27 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 45-17 win over Temple.
Against Ball State the Rockets face the MAC's top receiver in terms of yards per game in Dante Ridgeway, who has 26 catches, three touchdowns, 14.3 yards per catch, and averages just under 100 receiving yards per game. Ball State defensive back Justin Beriault is second in the conference with 11.2 tackles per game.
●Time: 2 p.m.
●Radio: 1230 AM.
●Records: BG is 1-2; Temple is 1-3.
●Last game: BG lost at Northern Illinois 34-17; Temple lost at Toledo 54-17.
●Favorite: BG by 7.
●Notable: While Temple has won only two of its last 16 games, Bowling Green would be wise not to take the Owls lightly. After all, the Falcons didn't exactly set the world on fire in losing its last game to Northern Illinois. "Our guys can't wait for somebody to make a play. We've got to go out and make plays on them early," BG coach Gregg Brandon said. "They've got just enough fire to burn you." Putting the Owls in an early hole would be a good psychological boost for the Falcons. Stopping the Temple running attack also would boost BG's chances of winning. Look for the Falcon offense to try to establish tailback P.J. Pope, who ran for 98 yards against the Huskies.
●Time: 3:30 p.m.
●TV/radio: Channels 13, 7; 760 AM.
●Records: Michigan is 3-1, 1-0 in Big Ten; Indiana is 2-2, 0-1.
●Last game: Michigan d. Iowa 30-17; Indiana lost to Michigan State 30-20.
●Favorite: Michigan by 18 1/2.
●Notable: Size, speed and talent - to say nothing of history - are on the Wolverines' side today. Michigan has won 27 of its last 28 games against Indiana, is 13-1 all-time at Memorial Stadium and hasn't lost to the Hoosiers since 1987. On top of that, Indiana is last in the Big Ten against the run, allowing 222 yards per game, and the Hoosiers' pass defense has allowed 969 yards, second most in the Big Ten. Offensively, Indiana has totaled just 264 yards and one offensive touchdown in the second half the last three weeks.
●Time: 7 p.m.
●TV/radio: BCSN, WTO5, 11 p.m. tape delay; 1370 AM.
●Records: Ball State is 1-3, 1-0 in MAC; Toledo is 2-2, 1-0.
●Last game: Toledo d. Temple 45-17; Ball State d. Western Michigan 41-14.
●Favorite: Toledo by 15 1/2.
●Notable: Toledo seems to have found its stride after a shaky start, and the Rockets have scored 87 points in the last two games. The UT defense also appears to be improving as coach Tom Amstutz juggles personnel. Ball State got drilled by Purdue (59-7) and Missouri (48-0) after playing Boston College tough in its opener, a 19-11 loss. The Cardinals turned a few heads by jumping all over Western Michigan. Ball State had 476 yards of total offense and limited Western Michigan to 89 yards rushing. True freshman quarterback Cole Stinson completed 17 of 31 passes for 294 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
●Time: 9 p.m.
●TV/radio: ESPN2; 1470 AM.
●Records: Ohio State is 3-0, 0-0 in Big Ten; Northwestern is 1-3, 0-1.
●Last game: OSU d. N.C. State 22-14; Northwestern lost at Minnesota 43-17.
●Favorite: OSU by 11 1/2.
●Notable: The Buckeyes open conference play a week later than everyone else, and have spent their off-week looking for a running game. With starter Lydell Ross not only averaging just a little over four yards per carry, but also losing a fumble in each of the last two games, look for freshman Tony Pittman and senior Branden Joe to at least get a chance to show that they can do better. If they can't, the defense and sophomore QB Justin Zwick will need to carry the team past the Wildcats.
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