Former Western Michigan player Gregg Jennings, left, hangs out with ESPN ‘College Gameday’ analyst Lee Corso during the show’s appearance in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Saturday. ASSOCIATED PRESS
With a Mid-American Conference West Division showdown looming between the University of Toledo and Western Michigan, the Rockets have prepared each and every week of this season to be set up in this position.
“When we took this thing over in December, we said we wanted to play meaningful games in November,” UT coach Jason Candle said. “And we have done that leading up to this point. But this is the next one. This is the one to finish off what we set out to accomplish.”
With a MAC West title and a trip to the MAC championship game on the line, both teams have a lot to play for Friday in Kalamazoo, Mich. Toledo (9-2, 6-1 MAC) could make its first conference championship game since 2004, while Western Michigan (11-0, 7-0) could continue its undefeated, dream season.
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But with all that is on the line, the UT coaching staff and players feel they need to treat this game as they have any all season.
“I think if you don’t take each week one at a time, then you don’t get to this point,” junior quarterback Logan Woodside said. “Last week was the same basically as this week. We had to beat Ball State to have a shot. We have a big one on Friday, and we have to get prepared for it and be ready to play.”
Western Michigan beat Toledo 35-30 in the final regular-season game of 2015. The Broncos win ruined Toledo’s hopes of making the MAC title game and has helped propel Western Michigan to 13 consecutive wins.
“Nothing that happened in that football game last year is going to decide the outcome this year,” Woodside said. “We just have to lock in and come ready to play.”
“We can’t look back in the past and we can’t let that affect us and how we are going to play our game,” senior offensive tackle Storm Norton added. ”We’re a new team and it’s a new year, and we are looking forward to going out and playing this game.”
Returning to the MAC championship game for the first time in 12 years, was the goal for Toledo since the start of the season. It has been a driving force and motivation for the entire season, especially for the team’s 23 seniors who have one final chance to make it to Detroit for a conference title game. Now, the Western Michigan game is what stands in the way of reaching that goal.
A week after ESPN’s College GameDay made a stop in Kalamazoo for the Buffalo-Western Michigan game, the Broncos will welcome Toledo, which has won three consecutive road games in the series.
“It’s a great feeling,” senior defensive tackle Treyvon Hester said. “I’m happy that we are in the position that we are right now. I’m sad it’s my last regular-season game as a Rocket, but I’m happy that as a whole, as seniors, we got to put this team in the right position to go in and do what we planned to do at the beginning.”
After a loss Oct. 27 at home to Ohio, it looked like Toledo might not keep its championship hopes alive. But the Rockets responded to adversity and took care of business by winning their next three games and keeping themselves within striking distance of Western Michigan.
“After the OU game, this team could have gone one of two ways,” Candle said. “They could have gone far, far away or they could have stayed the course and continued and we have been able to do that. I’m really proud of our guys and that is a testament to our senior leadership to get into this position to be in this game. We’re playing a tremendous team at the end of the year for a chance to go and play for a championship. I don’t know where else you would rather be at this point in the season.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.