For the past half-decade, Toledo has lived in NIU's shadow as the Huskies have experienced unchecked success in the MAC. But it finally appears the Rockets are ready to reclaim their status as the best mid-major program in the Midwest.
With a pair of wins over "power" programs, including a road victory over Arkansas, Toledo has the early season resume a New Year's Day Bowl is looking for. It has bounced back from injuries, player suspensions and a cancelled game to earn a 4-0 start and its first appearance in the AP Poll since 2012.
And with MAC play already underway, Toledo's poised to sprint to the conference championship game. The Rockets' toughest remaining game is a road matchup with rival Bowling Green in late November -- a game Bill Connelly gives them a 70 percent chance of winning. The toughest defense UT will face the rest of the way? A Kent State team that gave up 52 points to Illinois in Week 1.
The Underdogs Poll is a weekly venture in which SB Nation's blogs on non-power schools vote to rank the top 15 non-power teams at the moment.
|2||Boise State (6)||210||1|
|Dropped Out: Air Force | Others Receiving Votes: ECU (6), Appalachian State (3), Air Force (2), Utah State (1)|
The Rockets possess a potent rushing attack, which has thrived despite the absence of 6'0, 225-pound star running back Kareem Hunt. They have a former Alabama quarterback (Phillip Ely) under center and a receiving corps that would make many "power" programs jealous.
Toledo also owns one of the most effective front sevens in all of college football. With size usually not found in the mid-major ranks, Toledo clogs up the line of scrimmage and can penetrate against even the most powerful offensive lines. The Rockets are absolutely dominant against the rush -- remember that game against Arkansas? The Rockets' front seven held the Razorbacks' power run game to just 103 yards on the ground.
With five years of coming up just short in the MAC West to fuel them, the Underdogs' spot in a New Year's Day bowl game is Toledo's to lose.
Greg Ward Jr.: Emerging as an early season Underdog Heisman sleeper, the pint-sized Houston quarterback is playing like a giant. He has expertly guided the Cougars to a 4-0 start and is one of the best dual-threats in all of college football.
Brandon Doughty: Another week, another helmet sticker for WKU's sixth-year QB. Doughty followed up an eye-popping performance against one of the FBS' worst teams with equally strong play against a solid Rice squad. Between Doughty and BGSU's Matt Johnson, we're going to see some QB records broken this season.
Roger Lewis: Speaking of Bowling Green, this week we're giving a nod to the Falcons' stud sophomore receiver. For the third time this year, Lewis eclipsed 200 yards receiving on Saturday. The one-time Ohio State commit is showing why he was considered one of the best prospects in the country.
Quenten Poling: See, we do pay attention to defense here. The sophomore linebacker has already emerged as the star of a surprisingly deep Ohio defense, and he cemented that with a strong performance in a road win over Akron. A do-everything linebacker, Poling is making a strong early push for MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Kyler Fackrell: It's clear the Utah State linebacker is fully healed from his 2014 season-ending knee injury. Just ask Colorado State's offense: Fackrell forced three turnovers and three sacks in the Aggies' win over the Rams.
THREE TO WATCH:
Kent State at Toledo, Sat., Oct. 10, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN3
Navy at Notre Dame, Sat. Oct. 10, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC
ECU at BYU, Sat. Oct 10, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU