Following Western Michigan's loss to Northern Illinois on Tuesday night, CMU (7-4, 5-2 MAC) can claim the MAC West title and a spot in the championship game against Miami (Ohio) with a victory at home over Toledo.
The Rockets (6-5, 3-4) secured bowl eligibility at the start of the month but has been on a two-game skid since. They narrowly lost to Northern Illinois at home before getting blown out at Buffalo last week. It underscored how tumultuous the Rockets' season has been; they could easily have a much worse record since they've won five of their six games decided by a score or less.
Meanwhile, the Chippewas are finishing their season in prime form. They've won five of their last six games with the average margin of victory at 19.4 points. With a shot at the MAC title on the line, CMU has picked the perfect time to be clicking on all cylinders.
Toledo at Central Michigan
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 29 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Central Michigan -9.5
When Toledo Has the Ball
Toledo's chances in Mount Pleasant will ride or die on its ability to establish the run. Bryant Koback and Shakif Seymour are a fantastic 1-2 punch with 1,893 yards and 16 touchdowns between them. Even Ronnie Jones has picked up 6.9 yards per carry in his limited opportunities. However, they'll face tough competition in Central Michigan, whose 26th-ranked run defense allows just 121.5 yards per game.
That should be a problem for the Rockets, as the only team with a better run defense in the MAC than CMU is Buffalo, who beat Toledo by 19. The Bulls held the Rockets to 154 yards on 4.4 yards per rush — 83 total yards and a yard per carry below their season averages. Without its rushing attack at full speed, Toledo will have to lean on quarterback Eli Peters, who has an underwhelming 59.0 percent completion rate and little ability to stretch the field.
When Central Michigan Has the Ball
Whereas Toledo's offense is fairly one-dimensional, Central Michigan has one of the most balanced attacks in the MAC with both passing and rushing offenses ranking in the top-50 nationally. Quinten Dormady is heating up at the right time with a 66.3 percent completion rate and an average of 302.8 passing yards in his last four games. He also has dangerous weapons at his disposal with Kalil Pimpleton (67.1) and JaCorey Sullivan (62.9) ranking second and third in the conference for receiving yards per game.
The Chippewas' vertical attacking game is complemented by a ground attack with two potential 1,000-yard rushers. Jonathan Ward (968 yards) and Kobe Lewis (822) could have a field day against a Toledo defense that ranks 118th nationally by allowing 212.0 rushing yards per game. Seemingly the only thing that is holding back the Chippewas is their turnover problem; no FBS team has lost more fumbles than their 15,
Jim McElwain's first season at Central Michigan has been an unmitigated success with a six-win improvement and another two to three games left to play. Toledo has a promising team with upset potential, but the Chippewas should be able to stymie their greatest strength: running the ball. Expect a resounding CMU win at home to punch their ticket to Detroit for next Saturday's MAC Championship Game.
Prediction: Central Michigan 45, Toledo 30
(Top photo by Benjamin Suddendorf, courtesy of cmuchippewas.com)