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Toledo has to get through Northern Illinois if it wants to play on New Year's Day

The Toledo Rockets face off with MAC West rival NIU tonight in search of their first win over the Huskies in six seasons.

Toledo's Matt Campbell just might be the hottest young coaching prospect out there.
Toledo's Matt Campbell just might be the hottest young coaching prospect out there.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Toledo Rockets are red hot right now. The favorites to win the Mid-American Conference, the Rockets are sitting at a perfect 7-0 with three straight appearances on ESPN2 coming up.

Following narrow wins over SEC and Big 12 teams to open the season, Toledo has rattled off five straight wins by an average of nearly four touchdowns per game. Entering the final month of the season, the Rockets are in as good of a position as any Group of Five team to secure a New Year's Day bowl bid down the home stretch.

But the Rockets face their biggest challenge of the season Tuesday night on national TV when they welcome the NIU Huskies to the Glass Bowl.

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.

1 Memphis (15) 222 1
2 Houston (6) 214 3
3 Toledo (3) 210 2
4 Temple (1) 159 4
5 Navy 119 5
6 WKU 82 6
7 Boise State 77 8
8 BYU 74 7
9 BGSU 62 10
10 Appalachian State 44 9
11 Marshall 35 11
12 Louisiana Tech 21 12
13 Georgia Southern 14 15
14 NIU 10 NR
15 Cincinnati 9 13
Dropped out: SDSU | Others receiving votes: Utah State (7), WMU (7), SDSU (5), CMU (4)

Since 2010, the winner of this MAC West rivalry matchup has gone on to the MAC Championship game every year (winning the title three times in the process). The problem for Toledo? All five times, NIU has been the winner.

Toledo has watched as NIU has ruled the MAC and become a mid-major power. But Toledo hasn't been sitting idly by. Since head coach Matt Campbell took over the program at the end of the 2011 season, he's been slowly shaping the Rockets into a mid-major power in their own right.

And if UT is going to take that next step and conquer the mighty Huskies, it's going to be because of Campbell, the hottest coaching talent you've likely never heard of.

Check his résumé: 33-13 as a head coach, including a pair of bowl wins. A pair of Division III national titles as an offensive coordinator at Mount Union. Three more as a defensive end at Mount Union. Campbell has already turned down opportunities to go work with the New England Patriots and Ohio State. And he doesn't turn 36 until later this month.

A former defensive end with a brilliant mind for offensive firepower, Campbell is at the helm of one of the most productive teams in the nation. Toledo is allowing fewer than 17 points per game, while averaging a shade under 40 per on offense. A master recruiter as well, Campbell has been building his way to this moment since arriving on campus as an assistant to Tim Beckman in 2009.

Tuesday night, Campbell gets to put all of his pieces together and give the Glass City a taste of a championship caliber (MAC, relax!) team all their own.


Gunner Kiel: The kid was perfect, going 15 for 15 with 319 yards and five touchdowns to make quick work of the UCF Knights Saturday. Kiel, who has had some injury problems this season, is once again proving to be among the better quarterbacks in a deep conference.

Chase Litton: Speaking of big performances against bad opponents, the Marshall freshman quarterback has filled in quite nicely for Rakeem Cato this season. Saturday was no different, as Litton tossed for 486 yards and a pair of scores in a 24-point win over Charlotte.

Brett Rypien: We love our quarterbacks around here, and the Boise freshman is among the best. His performance against UNLV Saturday was stellar, after an admittedly timid third quarter. Rypien went 4 for 5 with 113 yards in the fourth quarter, finishing with 469 yards and two scores on the night.

Keenan Reynolds: We brought up Reynolds' chance to make history earlier this season, and Saturday he did so. The Navy quarterback tied Montee Ball's NCAA career rushing touchdown record with a pair of scores in the win over USF. With at least five games to go, Reynolds is far from over.

Greg Ward Jr.: We're going with a full house this week. Houston's do-everything quarterback leads the nation in rushing touchdowns and has the Cougars at a perfect 8-0 on the season. Saturday, Ward was once again a master of Tom Herman's offense as he lead Houston to a shutout win over Vanderbilt.


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Northern Illinois at Toledo, Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Cincinnati at Houston, Saturday, Nov. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Navy at Memphis, Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2