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Rockets face mountainous test out West

09/26/2016, 12:02am EDT
By By DAVID BRIGGS BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Dangerous trip Friday night at Brigham Young awaits

Rockets face mountainous test out West

Toledo coach Jason Candle can now look ahead to Friday night's game at Brigham Young. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

Idle thoughts as we wonder which hardhearted MAC coach will try to hang a hundred on Bowling Green ... 

The University of Toledo football team hopes to go where the air is rare this season. 

First, though, the Rockets must go where the air is even rarer. 

Out west into the mountains. 

Friday night at Brigham Young — where LaVell Edwards Stadium sits roughly four Empire State Buildings above sea level (4,649 feet) — this promising Toledo team will get its first crack of the year at national legitimacy. 

It is not necessarily important the Rockets win, nor are we suggesting they should. 

Though the computers rank Toledo above BYU, this is a proud Cougars program that’s averaged 10 wins over the past decade and is better than their 1-3 start suggests — the losses coming by a combined seven points to No. 18 Utah, UCLA, and West Virginia. And, remember, many BYU players have completed a Mormon mission, meaning their upperclassmen are often 25 or 26 years old. 

The Cougars opened Sunday as a 4½-point favorite. 

Yet Toledo (3-0) has the kind of program going where it has a very real chance to win these kind of games. 

A real chance to emphatically reintroduce itself to the nation for the second straight season. A year after Toledo’s win at No. 18 at Arkansas set in motion a 7-0 start and a top-20 ranking, this could be the start of something similar — perhaps better. 

Beat BYU, and it would not be too early to imagine the Rockets taking a perfect record into their year-end showdown at MAC favorite Western Michigan. (If Toledo can’t beat this distressed edition of Northern Illinois, which just fell to 0-4 with a loss to FCS Western Illinois, there is not a witch doctor on earth that can end that hex.) 

Toledo recognizes the opportunity. To paraphrase the great sage of our time — former pro wrestler Ric Flair — first-year coach Jason Candle on Sunday said, ”To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”

“And [BYU] is one of the better programs historically in college football, one we have a lot of respect for,” he continued. “Storied tradition, great atmosphere there, a Friday night game. The entire country will be able to see our team play, and I know our kids take a lot of pride in playing well and playing competitively in those type of environments.”

Said running back Kareem Hunt: ”This shows where we’re at, if we can play with the top dogs.”

The guess here is they can. At least with BYU. Though we’re not going there yet, there are some who believe these Rockets — despite replacing 11 starters — are more talented than last year, and nothing so far suggests otherwise. Toledo ranks among the top 10 nationally in every major statistical category. 

Just keep in mind the context. Toledo’s first three opponents — Arkansas State, Maine, and Fresno State — are a combined 1-10. 

In other words, we just think the Rockets could be headed toward where the air is rare. 

Friday night in the mountains, they can show us. 

● Good on the Mud Hens — owners of the worst-overall record in Triple-A since 2011 — for perhaps applying a little heat on the Tigers with the just-announced extension of their 30-year affiliation. 

The last time Toledo and Detroit renewed their vows, it was a four-year extension agreed upon with with a year left on the current deal. This time, they waited until after the contract expired to prolong the partnership by two seasons.  

You can read into that however you’d like. 

● Congratulations to Wayne State tight end and St. John’s Jesuit graduate Trent Brodbeck on his well-earned appointment to the All-State AFCA Good Works team. 

We hear Brodbeck is a volunteering force in the Detroit community, from his regular work with the homeless to the week he spent rebuilding a struggling family’s house. 

The senior captain does not keep track of his volunteer hours — “I just kind of do it,” he said — but called the award “special.”

One of 24 college football players recognized across all levels, Brodbeck, a global supply-chain management major set to graduate in December, will be formally honored at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. 

● And, as always, our weekly vote in the AP Top 25 poll. Have at it: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Louisville, 4. Michigan, 5. Clemson, 6. Houston, 7. Wisconsin, 8. Texas A&M, 9. Stanford, 10. Washington, 11. Florida State, 12. Tennessee, 13. Miami, 14. Nebraska, 15. Mississippi, 16. Utah, 17. Arkansas 18. Michigan State, 19. TCU, 20. Baylor, 21. San Diego State, 22. Florida, 23. Boise State, 24. North Dakota State, 25. Oklahoma. 

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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Tag(s): College  Pro  Toledo  Mud Hens  Tigers  David Briggs