The Toledo Rockets and Ball State Cardinals will hook up this week for a little Thursday night #MACtion. This is a game that features two teams headed in completely different directions. The Cardinals have dropped four straight and are tied for last in the MAC's West division, while Toledo is playing like a team that could win the conference title and possibly land the Group of 5's New Year's Six bowl bid.
Toledo at Ball State
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN3
Spread: Toledo -26
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Ball State get pressure on Logan Woodside?
Woodside is one of the best pure passers in college football. He is the engine that drives the explosive machine that is the Toledo offense, which averages more than 500 yards and 38 points per game. Those numbers are good enough to rank among the top 20 in the FBS in both categories. Woodside operates with deadly efficiency in the pocket when given time. Ball State head coach Mike Neu must figure out a way to constantly pressure Woodside if the Cardinals are going to have any shot at winning this one.
2. Cardinals must figure out how to score through the air
Ball State hasn't scored with its passing game in over a month. That's obviously not good, and it's worse when you take into consideration the offense on the opposite sideline. Something needs to happen through the air early for the Cardinals, and that might mean forcing the ball to their best receiver — freshman Justin Hall — and hoping he can make a big play. Adding to this challenge is the quarterback situation. Starter Riley Neal is sidelined due to injury, and backup Jack Milas is also dealing with an injury that could keep him out of Thursday night's game. If Milas is out, Zack Blair will make his first career start. Ball State's run game is just not good enough (137.9 rushing ypg, ninth in the MAC) to control the clock and play keep away.
3. Is Toledo looking past this game?
Truth be told, there isn't much about Ball State that should concern the Rockets on either side of the ball. As a result, Toledo may be looking past this game and thinking about the huge matchup with Northern Illinois next week. First place in the MAC West will be on the line in that one. If the Rockets come out and just go through the motions early, it may allow the Cardinals to hang around longer than they should. If that happens, than it prolongs the game in terms of how long the starters will need to play, which potentially puts them in a position where they could be risking injury when they otherwise would be resting. Toledo needs to come out and take care of business early.
There's no reason this game should be close. Toledo is a solid football team that can keep up with most Power 5 teams. When clicking, the Rockets' offense — led by quarterback Logan Woodside — operates with surgical precision. Chances are this game is over by halftime and Toledo's starters get plenty of rest in preparation for the showdown with Northern Illinois next week.
Prediction: Toledo 48, Ball State 6
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also covers the Big Ten for Black Heart Gold Pants, Iowa's SB Nation blog. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.