Better than some, Jason Candle knows about championship droughts.
His day job: Toledo football coach. His favorite sports team: the Boston Red Sox.
Quarterback Logan Woodside and his Toledo teammates are seeking the program's first conference title since 2004.
He appreciates the machinations of a fan’s mind.
“I can sit here and talk about the Red Sox all day,” he said Sunday, “my opinion of what should be done and what shouldn’t be done.
“Just like I’m sure a lot of fans could tell you about our program.”
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He is right, of course. The opinions go both ways, and a lot of folks in this city are talking Toledo football this week in advance of its season finale Friday against Western Michigan. I’d classify the mood as a fatalistic ... optimism. As in: If the Rockets can’t win the Mid-American Conference this year, they never will. But they totally will.
That’s not meant to be taken literally and dismisses some good Rockets football in recent seasons.
But these next two weeks almost have that now-or-next-century feel, don’t they?
In the Rockets’ theater-style team meeting room, the quotes scrawled high on the walls never have resonated more.
Tell me nothing, show me everything.
Excuses will always be there for you, opportunity won’t.
Well, the big opportunity is here. Another Toledo season of immense expectations is at the intersection of either its first MAC title since 2004 or more heartache, and the path from good to great is more open than a midnight country road.
Befitting the Black Friday showdown, a league championship is 25 percent off this season. Toledo (9-2, 6-1) needs only to beat Western Michigan (6-5, 4-3) in the Glass Bowl to clinch the MAC West and a trip to Detroit, where it is in line to play Akron (6-5, 5-2) for the conference title. Yes, the same Zips team they beat by four touchdowns. As long as 11 players tag along, Akron will capture the MAC East with a win Tuesday against Kent State.
The Rockets are 14-point favorites over WMU and would be similarly favored against Akron.
Never mind opinions on what should be done. This needs to be the Rockets’ year. Time to earn it.
“If we [think] this is time for some speech or some ‘Win one for the Gipper’ talk or to go get the leadership book off your desk and look up the best quotes and start hanging them all over the wall, we’re already beaten, we’ve got a problem,” said Candle, who on the subject of championships, won six national ones as a player and coach at Mount Union. “This has been a 12-month process. It’s been a long time coming. This is about understanding what’s at stake. This is what you said you wanted to do. Go do it. Don’t talk about it. Just go do it.”
To that end, neither the second-year coach nor his players are interested in the big picture ahead, nor the one behind. They know the facts. Since 2004, a Toledo program with unsurpassed resources, fan support, and recruiting success — and one regularly picked to win the MAC West — and Eastern Michigan are the only two league schools that have not played for a MAC title. There is no rationalizing that.
“I can't change the past,” Candle said, “and, honestly, I don't care about that.”
Which is fair. In any extended sports famine, there are few true connecting threads. Coaches and players change, not to mention situations. In similar all-or-nothing games the past two seasons, the Rockets lost to a Western Michigan team that was rounding into and then became a full-scale juggernaut. (OK, the 2015 loss remains hard to explain.)
Now, Toledo appears the standard, with record-setting senior quarterback Logan Woodside leading an undermanned but often unstoppable offense, a sharp and stoic young coach keeping his team burrowed into the moment, and the road more open than ever.
There are no excuses, only opportunity. For Toledo football, just wait ‘til ... this year.
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