The Mid-American Conference takes its annual November spotlight once again when the Toledo Rockets host the Northern Illinois Huskies on Wednesday night. Toledo (6-3, 3-2 MAC) needs a win to keep pace in the race to win the MAC West crown, while Northern Illinois (3-6, 2-3) needs a victory to keep its postseason hopes alive.
The Rockets lead this all-time series 31-15, but over the last few seasons, it's become one of the MAC's bigger rivalry games. The MAC West has been decided by this game, bowl game pairings have been decided by this game, and this rivalry has helped the Mid-American Conference earn respect among the bigger conferences.
The Huskies are 2-2 in their last four games while the Rockets are on a two-game winning streak. At 3-6, North Illinois will be desperate for a win to keep its bowl chances alive for a third straight season.
Northern Illinois at Toledo
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Toledo -2.5
When Northern Illinois Has the Ball
The Huskies began the season with a two-quarterback system, but over the course of the year, California transfer Ross Bowers has taken the job from Marcus Childers. Bowers has completed 57.9 percent of his attempts for 1,947 yards and six touchdowns on 7.5 yards per completion. However, the most glaring numbers are the eight interceptions he's thrown, along with the 18 sacks he's taken. He's not the most of fleet of foot (-108 rushing yards) but Bowers does have the best arm on the team.
The ones who are effective on the ground are running backs Tre Harbison and Jordan Nettles. Together these two have posted 957 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Childers is the Huskies' best running quarterback with 130 yards and two scores. Running the ball is at the core of the NIU program. On the pass-catching side, wide receivers Spencer Tears, Tyrice Richie, and Cole Tucker, along with tight end Mitchell Brinkman, have accounted for 1,499 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches.
The Huskies will need to attack Toledo's defense early and often as the Rockets have allowed each of their last three opponents to score 35 points or more. Toledo has also struggled to force mistakes; their 11 takeaways are tied for 90th nationally.
When Toledo Has the Ball
This offense averages 29.1 points per game and has scored 72 in its last two games combined. This comes despite the fact that the Rockets are down to their third-string quarterback in Eli Peters. Peters has thrown for 332 yards with three touchdowns in two starts since the team losing both starter Mitchell Guadagni and backup Carter Bradley to injuries. Helping Peters along is running back Bryant Koback and wide receiver Bryce Mitchell who've accounted for 1,552 total yards of offense and 14 combined touchdowns.
The Huskies defense has posted 10 sacks and eight takeaways through nine games, and they'll be looking to take advantage of Peters' lack of experience. Peters has been sacked twice this season and has thrown two picks. Expect Toledo to run early and often, since Northern Illinois is one of 33 schools to hold opponents under 200 passing yards per game but ranks 85th nationally by giving up 174.6 rushing yards per game.
These teams have evenly split the last four matchups, although the Huskies have won three of the last five meetings at the Glass Bowl. Still, Northern Illinois' inconsistency this year could be their downfall. You can expect another classic between these programs.
Prediction: Toledo 24, Northern Illinois 23
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of Northern Illinois Athletics)