Five times this season University of Toledo coach Matt Campbell opened a news conference with praise for an opponent who had just beaten his football team.
It’s unclear who dealt the Rockets their latest defeat — a bowl game snub — but neither Campbell nor his boss was in a complimentary mood Sunday when discussing it.
The Rockets are done playing games until next fall, having been rendered the odd team out in a cluster of six Mid-American Conference bowl-eligible squads jostling for five berths. Snapped is Toledo’s streak of three straight postseason appearances.
Campbell, upon learning the bad news, ended practice about 4:15 p.m. and addressed his team. Within 10 minutes the team’s indoor facility was empty save for Campbell and athletic director Mike O’Brien.
“That’s not easy to do, but it’s my job,” Campbell said of informing his team their season is over. “The toughest part is for our senior class. We have a senior class that’s been so successful here, that has done a lot of great things.”
There is little debate MAC champion Bowling Green State University or West division winner Northern Illinois deserved a bid over Toledo (The MAC automatically sends division champions to bowls).
Same goes for Ball State, which beat the Rockets head-to-head and trumps Toledo’s 7-5 record with a 10-2 mark.
Buffalo, despite losing to Toledo at the Glass Bowl last month, also packs a strong argument. Bulls linebacker Khalil Mack, who is expected to go high in the NFL draft, carries vast marketing appeal.
But Ohio? Different story. The Bobcats, who outmaneuvered Toledo for the MAC’s bid in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, limped to the season’s finish line in embarrassing fashion. The Bobcats, whose 4-4 MAC record is worse than UT’s 5-3, were outscored 123-16 in November defeats to Buffalo, Bowling Green, and Kent State. Toledo, on the other hand, beat Bowling Green and Buffalo, the two top finishers in the East division.
Toledo beat three teams that beat OU. OU beat one team, Akron, that beat Toledo. That loss for the Rockets, coming in the regular-season finale, appears to have been the final nail in a season that failed to satisfy preseason expectations.
“When you have the ability to control your own destiny, you can’t put your fate in other people’s hands,” Campbell said.
Campbell added injured star running back David Fluellen would have played in any bowl game. Fluellen missed the Akron game with an ankle injury.
Central Michigan (6-6, 5-3), which also was denied one of the MAC’s bids, was not considered a serious contender.
Potential for ticket sales and TV viewership often outweighs on-field merit in the judgment of bowl committees. Ohio, whose coach Frank Solich is a nationally recognized figure from his days leading Nebraska, will face Conference USA’s East Carolina. The game will be played Dec. 23 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
O’Brien said he heard rumblings Toledo also could have gone to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. That bowl picked Northern Illinois to play Utah State.
“Unfortunately in our business and our league we’re competing against each other as far as bowl games go,” O’Brien said. “It’s frustrating when you look at our body of work. I can’t speak to the reason we were left out. I don’t know. I haven’t been told. I asked the question to [MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher]. As of right now, Jon didn’t know.”
In a phone conversation with The Blade, Steinbrecher said, I don't have any specifics on why Ohio was picked ahead of Toledo or Central Michigan, quite frankly."
Brett Dulaney, the executive director of the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl did not return a phone message.
Campbell’s team will begin winter workouts Jan. 4.
“Not the way you want it to end, but I think a lesson learned by all,” he said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.
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