The University of Toledo football team is popular pick to win the MAC West, but the Rockets have not won a conference title since 2004. BLADE PHOTO
Fool me once, shame on the University of Toledo football team.
Fool me a half dozen times, shame on me.
And yet ...
Here goes again: I think the Rockets will win the Mid-American Conference this year.
So does everyone else.
A walk through the magazine aisle at the grocery store the other day confirmed the fuss about this Toledo season is growing. Every just-released college football forecast — Athlon, Lindy’s, Street & Smith’s — all but came with a bottle of bubbly for Rockets fans, installing the hometown team as prohibitive favorites in the MAC and one of the top anti-establishment candidates nationally.
Lindy’s rates UT (No. 43 overall) behind only Boise State (24) and Western Kentucky (42) among the best programs from the Group of Five conferences. An anonymous MAC coach told Athlon: “Everything seems to be in place for them. ... They could be dangerous.”
Should we buy in? If history is your guide, you know the answer. How many times has Toledo captured the offseason championship, only to constrict in the vise of pressure and cry wolf when it matters?
The Rockets this year will be picked to win the MAC West Division for the fifth time in seven seasons and the sixth time since their previous league title in 2004. They have not won it once, their piles of early victories — UT has won 28 of its last 30 conference games in September and October — giving way to November heartache. (Last year was a notable outlier. Nobody was beating Western Michigan.)
For a program with a string of highly rated recruiting classes, coveted coaches, unsurpassed league resources, and a strong fan base, the Rockets’ 13-year absence from the MAC championship game remains among the most mystifying droughts in college football.
But I suppose that’s all water under the Skyway. Inevitably, there will come an autumn when the weight of history falls off its back and Toledo wins the big one.
Could be this season. Heck, it should be. With former Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck off rowing the boat in Minnesota — and the Broncos’ biggest stars gone, too — and their top rivals in transition, the Rockets are the clear favorite to take the helm. They have a rising young coach and big-time recruiter of their own (Jason Candle), the league’s top quarterback (Logan Woodside), a flotilla of playmakers, a solid offensive line, seven returning defensive starters, and a favorable schedule. Their two top division challengers, Northern Illinois and WMU, both come to Toledo.
Despite noted personnel losses — including star rusher Kareem Hunt among three NFL draft picks — all anyone expects Toledo to do is win. Again.
Can the Rockets finally finish the deal?
Candle said that question alone should not cast a season as a success or failure, noting, “There would only be a few teams in the country that are happy and claim success.” Which is true, and truer still for teams not named Toledo. But let the record be clear: The Rockets are not striving for another good but not great season. The MAC’s abiding bridesmaid covets a big championship day of their own.
“I think that’s the reason you come to Toledo,” Candle said. “You expect the expectations and you want to have our name thrown out there. Our guys have big goals, big dreams.”
There’s no shame in that.