Bulldogs host the Rockets in an intriguing matchup of Group of 5 conference contenders
Though conference play has begun in most corners of the country, Week 5 offers one last non-conference game for both the Toledo Rockets and Fresno State Bulldogs. With both teams coming in 2-1 overall, the clash at Bulldog Stadium offers the pair an opportunity to carry momentum into their respective conference title races, and it should give us a sense as to whether or not the Rockets and Bulldogs are legitimate contenders in the MAC and Mountain West, respectively.
Toledo at Fresno State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 29 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Fresno State -8
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterbacks
Two of the better quarterbacks in the Group of 5 conferences will square off Saturday night. Fresno State senior QB Marcus McMaryion led the Bulldogs to the Mountain West Championship Game in 2017 and has posted better numbers in many cases this year. McMaryion has increased his completion percentage to 70.3, which ranks 16th nationally. He also has averaged 227.3 passing yards per game, which is an increase of more than 30 yards over last season. McMaryion has not run as much early this season, but he has already matched his 2017 total in rushing touchdowns after scoring four times against UCLA.
Toledo junior Mitchell Guadagni is in his first season as a starter. Guadagni has proven to be an impressive passer in the early going, completing 63.9 percent of his pass attempts for 698 yards. His 205.46 passer rating and 11.4 yards per attempt both lead the MAC and rank No. 4 nationally. Guadagni has an impressive 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and he has been a weapon on the ground as well having tallied 198 rushing yards, including 131 against Nevada, with two touchdowns on the ground.
McMaryion has one of the best receivers in the Mountain West at his disposal. KeeSean Johnson ranks in the top five in the conference in both receiving (97.3 ypg) and receptions (6.7 per game). Likewise, Toledo receiver Diontae Johnson ranks fourth in the MAC in receiving (82.0 ypg), and is one of the best in the conference.
2. Strength vs. strength
Both Toledo and Fresno State have good quarterbacks, but only one has led his unit to a top 25 standing in yards per play. The Rockets have averaged 6.75 yards per play this season, which sits No. 24 on the FBS leaderboard. Fresno State has gained 5.58 yards per play, which lands at No. 79 overall. Against FBS opponents, Toledo has gained more than a full yard per play more than the Bulldogs. Fresno State has averaged 5.03 yards per play against FBS opposition (which ranks 95th nationally) while the Rockets have averaged 6.11 yards per play against FBS foes (No. 42 overall). Toledo also has scored more than 60 points in two of its three games this season.
But on the other side of the football, Fresno State has a top 25 defense in terms of yards allowed per play. The Bulldogs rank No. 22 overall in the category, having surrendered 4.65 yards per play. Fresno State has been even better against FBS competition, and ranks 17th (4.62). No opponent has surpassed 5.0 yards per play against the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, the Toledo defense has allowed 5.32 yards per play in all games this season, which ranked No. 67 overall. The Rockets have been worse against FBS competition, ranking 103rd with an average of 6.55 yards allowed per play against FBS foes. Both Miami (6.22) and Nevada (6.85) gained more than six yards per play against Toledo.
3. Turnover margin
Both Toledo and Fresno State rank among the top 25 teams in the country in turnover margin. The Rockets enter this game at plus-three thanks in large part to their ball security on offense. Toledo has turned the ball over just twice this season.
The Bulldogs rank No. 2 nationally in turnover margin (+8), but Fresno State has achieved its place among the national elite in a much different manner. The Bulldogs have turned the ball over four times on offense — a small number overall, ranking No. 27 among FBS programs — while the defense has created 12 takeaways. Only two FBS programs have forced more turnovers to date, and both have played four games. Therefore, no FBS program has forced more turnovers per game (4.0) than Fresno State. Can the aggressive Bulldogs' defense break Toledo’s ball security?
Both Toledo and Fresno State were projected to compete for conference championships this season, and both have played like title contenders thus far. The Rockets have an explosive and efficient offense, which will face off against a stingy, aggressive Bulldogs defense. But, the Toledo defense is flawed, and doesn’t match up nearly as well against Fresno State's offense, led by one of the Mountain West’s best quarterback and receiver combos. The Bulldogs also have home-field advantage and the Rockets must travel across multiple time zones for the game. Therefore, Fresno State has multiple advantages that should combine for a quality non-conference win.
Prediction: Fresno State 35, Toledo 24
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Top photo courtesy of Keith Kountz/Fresno State Athletics)