UT head football coach Matt Campbell with the players during media day in August.
The Blade/Jetta Fraser
Labeling the University of Toledo and Cincinnati as rivals is a bit misleading considering today’s game will be the first meeting between the instate football programs in more than a decade. ... On second thought, maybe it is appropriate.
The schools that dot the northern and southern points of Ohio have crossed paths often of late on the recruiting trail, with the underdog Rockets scoring several upsets over the BCS Bearcats.
To attain its goal of capturing a Mid-American Conference title, Toledo must consistently beat the other 11 league schools in head-to-head recruiting. The Rockets have done that, and they’ve also begun to swing up at Big East programs, administering blows to the likes of Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. Toledo has outmaneuvered the Bearcats in the recruitment of two high school seniors in this year’s class, an achievement perhaps signaling the Rockets have emerged as a threat to seize the state’s top prospects.
“I certainly find us recruiting against some of those schools,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said this week. “That’s a situation that occurred in past years and maybe at times this year. A lot of credit goes to our kids and where our program is right now that we have the ability to recruit at a very high level.”
According to Rivals.com, defensive linemen Daniel Davis and John Stepec — both ticketed for Toledo — fielded offers from Cincinnati, which has won or shared the Big East title in three of the last four years. Defensive back commit DeJuan Rogers received an offer from Syracuse. In the four classes since 2010, the Rockets landed 16 recruits that had a Big East option, including nine from Cincinnati. The dynamic shifted with the hiring of Tim Beckman and has continued under Campbell.
“I think when you’re recruiting as a MAC program against BCS schools you have to have some swagger to you,” said Rivals Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt. “Beckman definitely had that and you see that continue at Illinois. He doesn’t care who he’s recruiting against. He set the tone at Toledo.”
Encapsulating the staff’s dogged efforts was their pursuit of receiver Zach Challingsworth, reportedly stuffing his mailbox with 58 letters in one day. Challingsworth verbaled to the Rockets but later de-committed and latched on at Pittsburgh. Toledo quarterback commit Logan Woodside recently expressed his gratitude on Twitter for the coaches sending his mother a letter.
Rivals rated each of Toledo’s classes from 2010-12 the best in the MAC and ranks them first again this year. Maintaining that lead will be difficult, if for no other reason than the class — expected to be 18 or 19 deep — will be light on numbers.
Among the headliners of the 15 commitments is Mentor Lake Catholic’s Stepec. Helmholdt said Stepec’s college decision came down to Toledo and Cincinnati, with the connection he developed with coaches at Toledo tipping the scale.
Davis, of Grand Blanc, Mich., told MLive.com that his choosing Toledo was a reflection of the staff’s three-year courtship that began even before he played on the varsity team.
Triumphs over Cincinnati and other BCS programs are still an exception and likely always will be. Though the Rockets surely have grasped the attention of Cincinnati, the Bearcats have a higher success rate. Six of their recruits had Toledo offers, including Huber Heights Wayne’s Javon Harrison who de-committed from the Rockets in July.
“It’s still tough to beat a school like the University of Cincinnati or the University of Pittsburgh because they’ve got great tradition, great storied programs, and they’re great BCS schools,” Campbell said. “It’s not easy to recruit against those people.”