As the Mid-American Conference preseason favorite, the University of Toledo football team figured a two-week stretch in early November against West Division contenders Western Michigan and Northern Illinois would go a long way in determining who makes it to Ford Field for the conference championship game.
That may still end up being the case, but through three games in conference play, the Rockets (4-3, 3-0 MAC) already find themselves in sole possession of first place in the MAC West, a game ahead of NIU and WMU.
“Anybody can [still] win it right now in the West,” UT coach Tim Beckman said Monday. “We just happen to be undefeated, but if we don’t take care of our business and do what we need to do to be successful, then we’re going to be sitting in a situation that we wouldn’t want to be in.”
Beckman also pointed to parity in the MAC West, with all but Toledo and Central Michigan (1-2) possessing 2-1 conference records.
“From top to bottom, it’s balanced,” Beckman said. “No, we’re not in the [Southeastern Conference], but a lot of it looks like that.”
The Rockets take on the defending MAC champion Miami RedHawks on Saturday at the Glass Bowl, followed by home contests with Northern Illinois on Nov. 1 and Western Michigan on Nov. 8.
“We knew this little [stretch] was coming here, facing the defending champions and then Northern Illinois and Western Michigan — two of the contenders for this year,” Beckman said.
“We knew this part of our schedule would be beneficial, as long as we took care of business with our three previous [conference games].”
INJURY UPDATES: Beckman revealed Monday that UT junior defensive end T.J. Fatinikun will miss the remainder of the season with a dislocated right elbow.
Fatinikun was hurt Oct. 8 against Eastern Michigan and sat out against at Bowling Green. No timetable was ever established for his return until Monday.
The Perrysburg graduate had surgery to repair torn tendons in his elbow and take care of “a bone chip,” according to Beckman.
“It’s a big blow,” UT senior cornerback Taikwon Paige said, “but we know we’ve got guys that are going to be ready to step in.”
Sophomore Christian Smith is listed as Fatinikun’s replacement at the “leo” position on the Rockets’ depth chart released Monday, with sophomore Jayrone Elliott backing up Smith.
Junior strong safety Jermaine Robinson also was sidelined against the Falcons, and Beckman said he’s “questionable” to play against Miami. Robinson had surgery Oct. 10 to have six screws inserted in his injured right hand, which he hurt against Eastern Michigan.
Senior running back Adonis Thomas is “questionable” as he continues to recover from a broken left forearm, Beckman said, along with junior middle linebacker Danny Molls, who suffered a stress fracture in his lower left leg before the Ohio State game in early September.
All in all, Beckman said there 20 players listed on the team’s injury report before the BG game, which is a clear indication of just how beat up the team is right now.
“What a great job our team has done,” Beckman said. “The resiliency of this team, [backup] players stepping up ... all those guys are what this program is all about.”
MARROW HONORED: UT senior cornerback Desmond Marrow was named MAC West defensive player of the week.
Marrow had a team-high 10 tackles in the a win at Bowling Green and added a career-best three pass breakups.