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Published: Saturday, 10/27/2012

Toledo's opponent Buffalo competitive despite 1-6 record

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

AMHERST, N.Y. — Contrasted to one another, the University of Toledo and Buffalo are stark opposites this season.

One of them has won seven straight. The other is mired in a five-game tailspin.

The Rockets are on the cusp of landing in the top 25. Buffalo is searching for its first win over a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision.

To assume however that Toledo will stampede the Bulls today is a risky bet. Here’s why:

■ Buffalo’s feeble offense will welcome the return of three of its top playmakers, two that have been missing in action for over a month.

■ Although the Bulls, at 1-6, are saddled with one of the worst overall records in the Mid-American Conference, their schedule has been more demanding than anyone. After beating Morgan State on Sept. 8, the Bulls entered a murderers’ row of Kent State, at Connecticut, at Ohio, at Northern Illinois, and Pittsburgh. Throw in today’s matchup, and they will have traversed a minefield of the MAC’s top four teams, broken up only by matchups against Big East opponents. The Bulls have been competitive many times and were tied with unbeaten Ohio heading into the fourth quarter.

■ Fresh off of a momentous win over previously unbeaten and ranked Cincinnati, the Rockets might be feeling a little fuzzy. Aside from the possibility of an emotional letdown, Toledo has been unable to dominate inferior competition. Think Coastal Carolina and Eastern Michigan. The only blowout during its win streak came at Western Michigan, when Toledo led 34-17 entering the fourth quarter.

None of those factors are lost on Rockets coach Matt Campbell, who suspects his team will have its hands full when the game kicks at 3:30 p.m.

"They’ve had some injuries that have not helped their cause, and now they’ve got some of those guys back," Campbell said. "We’re going to expect a football team that’s a great challenge."

Expected to provide a jolt to an offense that didn’t score a touchdown the last two weeks are running back Branden Oliver and receivers Alex Neutz and Fred Lee. Oliver, who rushed for 1,395 yards in 2011, was off to a torrid start before suffering a knee injury in the first half Sept. 19 against Kent State. In that same half, Lee, arguably the team’s second best receiver, sustained a wrist injury. Neutz, who leads the team with 32 receptions for 512 yards, was out last week with a chest injury.

“They’re all better, and we fully anticipate all three of those guys being involved in the game plan this week and hopefully give us some play out on that field against Toledo,” coach Jeff Quinn told The Buffalo News.

The rigors of a taxing schedule seemed to drain the Bulls the last two weeks when they fell softly to NIU, 45-3, and Pitt, 20-6. If they’ve lost hope on what appears to be a third-straight losing season, Campbell has not noticed.

"Sometimes when the season, at least from a win-loss, hasn’t gone as good as maybe you want it to go [you ask] what does the film look like?" Campbell said. "Their kids are playing their hearts out."

There’s one more factor worth nothing. The local forecast calls for 70 percent chance of rain. Not welcoming news for Toledo’s uptempo offense.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:rautullo@theblade.com,419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.



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