Western Michigan (6-5, 4-3 MAC) can breathe a little bit easier than other teams throughout the country who are fighting to get their sixth win in this final week of the regular season. The Broncos secured bowl eligibility two weeks ago against Kent State, ensuring that their season finale at Toledo (9-2, 6-1) would be more of a tune-up before the postseason. Toledo is the team with more to play for, in fact, as the Rockets can clinch the MAC West with a win on Friday. Toledo enters the final week tied in conference play with Northern Illinois, but hold the tiebreaker over the Huskies thanks to a head-to-head win three weeks ago.
This series began nearly 80 years ago when Toledo won the inaugural matchup 6-0 back in 1939. There have been plenty of winning streaks interspersed throughout the rivalry, the longest of which is six games (1967-72) for Toledo and five (1941-52, no games played from 1943-50) for Western Michigan. Speaking of runs, WMU is looking to take its third straight in this matchup, a feat it has not accomplished since winning four in a row from 2006-09. Before that 2006 win, the Broncos had previously won this game only twice since 1989 (1993, 2000), which fueled Toledo’s current 41-30 advantage in the all-time series.
Not to be forgotten in this current two-game streak for the Broncos is that both of those wins came once the two teams began scheduling each other for the final week of the regular season. Previously — before 2015 — WMU and Toledo would play at other points during the season, but once this matchup was moved to be the regular season finale, the Broncos have held the edge.
Western Michigan at Toledo
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 24 at 11:30 a.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Toledo -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Toledo’s offense still on a roll
Entering last week’s game at Bowling Green, the Rockets averaged just under 500 yards per game. What did Toledo do against the Falcons? Well, the offense upped that figure to 510 yards per game after putting up 637 total yards — 389 of which came on the ground — en route to a 66-37 beatdown of Bowling Green last Wednesday. Senior quarterback Logan Woodside leads the MAC with 3,151 passing yards, also good enough for third in the FBS. The freshman-senior combination of Shakif Seymour (school-record five touchdowns last week) and Terry Swanson (3,283 career rushing yards, sixth in school history) makes for a dynamite backfield. Woodside’s favorite target through the air is Diontae Johnson, who enters with 98 receiving yards per game (second in MAC, ninth nationally) and 10 touchdowns (second, eighth).
2. Broncos piling up the takeaways
Few teams have been able to corral the Rockets’ offense this year, but Western Michigan might be the best-equipped of any. The Broncos lead the MAC in turnover margin (+9, 0.82 per game) on the strength of an FBS-best 16 fumbles recovered. Western Michigan’s impact player defensively is sophomore defensive back Stefan Claiborne, whose three fumble recoveries are second in the nation to UNLV’s Brian Keyes (four).
3. Morning MACtion
Toledo is 3-0 in games kicking off at noon over the last two seasons, while Western Michigan has won its only such game in that span. Not to say that the kickoff time will necessarily decide the game, but it certainly is rare for a game to start before noon ET. Whereas many teams will have a day in between the Thanksgiving holiday and their game on Saturday, a morning game on the day after the holiday will be significantly more difficult. Compare this start to the occasional 12:10 p.m. start time for midweek MLB games in the summer. Teams’ preparation is condensed enough when playing at 1:05 p.m. on Sundays, and even more so for earlier games. With this matchup slated to kick off at 11:30 a.m. ET, how sharp the teams look early on will certainly be interesting to watch.
With so many exciting matchups to be served up on this Thanksgiving weekend, it is a reminder that many teams have a lot to play for, even those outside the top 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Not only can Western Michigan keep its win streak in the series alive, but more importantly can put itself in a position for its fourth consecutive eight-win season (would need to win the bowl game too). That might not sound too impressive initially, but it should when considering that WMU suffered through a 1-11 campaign in 2013. Meanwhile, Toledo can clinch the MAC West with a win and lock in its second 10-win season in three years, having already earned its sixth nine-win campaign since 2011.
Prediction: Toledo 52, Western Michigan 28
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Associate Editor of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.