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New season, same story.
A different conclusion would be appreciated by the University of Toledo football team.
The Mid-American Conference West division title will once again be the prize dangling in front of Toledo and Northern Illinois when they meet next week in a matchup that is being viewed as a semifinal to the league’s title game.
"I feel like the road to the MAC championship always travels through one of us," running back David Fluellen said.
To Fluellen, a junior, that is all he has known of the rivalry. His freshman year NIU walloped the Rockets, 65-30, in a game in which Toledo coach Matt Campbell admitted Wednesday his team "didn’t show up." The defense was scorched again last year, although the margin of defeat was more respectable in a 63-60 loss at the Glass Bowl.
Both times the Huskies took control of the West and ultimately advanced to the MAC title game in Detroit, leaving the Rockets clinging to thoughts of repaying the favor.
"It’s for all the marbles," senior safety Jermaine Robinson said. "This is for the big dance."
Well, sort of. By slipping Tuesday to Ball State, Toledo lost out on making next Wednesday’s meeting in DeKalb a winner-takes-all affair. The Rockets must follow with a win over Akron, which is 1-9, the next week to ensure a victory over NIU is not for naught. Conversely, the Huskies, who have ripped off nine straight victories after stumbling against Iowa 18-17 in the opener, can collect a trophy Wednesday and begin making logistical accommodations for the Nov. 30 championship game at Ford Field.
NIU ranks No. 1 in the MAC in scoring offense and No. 2 in scoring defense and has exhibited a penchant for destroying inferior opponents, something Toledo can’t claim. Quarterback Jordan Lynch has been superb in his replacement of 2011 MAC offensive player of the year Chandler Harnish, averaging 351.7 yards of total offense. His 1,342 rushing yards are second in the nation to Fluellen’s 1,381.
"I’m just glad myself and the rest of the senior class has a chance to change things around a little bit and get things going in a different direction," linebacker Dan Molls said.
NIU, which could be ranked in the top 25 next week, presents a daunting challenge having won 14 straight MAC games and 20 in a row at home.
The 24,000-capacity Huskie Stadium should be buzzing for a 9 p.m. kick off that will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
"I’m sure their students are going to be out and ready to rock and roll," Campbell said. "Winning creates that. Winning football games has created a great buzz at their university and a great buzz for their program on home games. That’s one of the things they have going for them."
SINGER BACK: Senior free safety Mark Singer is expected to participate in practice Thursday and should be available for the game, Campbell said. Singer missed his first start of the season against Ball State with a hyperextended knee.
"It’s a good thing to have, more than anything, his leadership back on the football field," Campbell said.