DETROIT (AP) — Akron coach Terry Bowden stopped himself in mid-sentence.
As his team prepared to take on Toledo in the Mid-American Conference championship game, Bowden was asked to assess the Zips’ chances against the high-powered Rockets, who thrashed Akron by 27 points in October and have been tabbed three-touchdown favorites to win the title on Saturday at Ford Field.
“It will take a miracu … ,” Bowden said before some quick self-editing. “It will take us playing our very best.”
It may take more than that.
Borrowing a motivational page from his famous father’s pregame playbook, Terry Bowden painted the Zips as overwhelming underdogs for their first appearance in the MAC championship since 2005. Bobby Bowden piled up 417 victories and won 21 bowl games at Florida State, and one of his tricks was building up an opponent just before springing an upset.
It’s worked for the Zips before.
“We’ve been double-digit underdogs several times this year and won,” Bowden said, pointing to a win over Ohio and Akron’s tough schedule, which included an opener at Penn State. “Toledo has been a fine football team. We’ll have to play at the top of our game. Toledo has just done an outstanding job. We’ll show up and play our best. We have been underdogs and come through several times.”
When the teams met at Toledo’s Glass Bowl on Oct. 21, the Rockets (10-2, 7-1 MAC), led by senior quarterback and MAC offensive player of the year Logan Woodside, rolled up 626 yards of offense.
But Akron (7-5, 6-2 MAC), is a different team now as Bowden has been playing redshirt freshman quarterback Kato Nelson after suspending senior QB Thomas Woodson for violating unspecified team rules. Bowden declined to name his starter earlier this week in perhaps another attempt to outfox the Rockets.
Toledo coach John Candle knows his team can’t be overconfident despite what the odds-makers might think or what happened six weeks ago.
“That game seems like forever ago,” Candle said. “That has no bearing or impact on what the outcome of this game will be. It’s really hard to play any team twice.”
Bowden called Woodside “one of the finest quarterbacks in the country.” That’s not hyperbole. This season, he completed 225 of 345 passes (65 percent) for 3,451 yards and 24 touchdowns with just three interceptions. In Toledo’s regular-season win over Akron, Woodside threw five TD passes and finished with 304 yards. Woodside holds school records in yards (10,083) , TDs (89) and 300-yard games (16). Now he wants a title.
“It would mean everything to me,” he said. “The main reason I came to Toledo was to win a championship.”
By replacing Woodson in the starting lineup, Nelson, who is from Hollywood, Florida, has given Akron’s offense another dimension with his running ability. He’s completed 53 of 107 for 732 yards and six touchdowns, but Nelson is most dangerous when he’s outside the pocket and Toledo’s defense has to stay disciplined.
“He’s a different guy because they can have dome designed runs for him,” Candle said. “He adds that element of being able to duck it and run and improvise.”
With their campus just an hour away, the Rockets should have plenty of support in Detroit. Candle said Toledo’s season has invigorated the program, the entire city and a first MAC title since 2004 would be another jolt of civic pride for the community. While motivating his team, the second-year coach challenged Toledo’s fans to represent in the Motor City.
“They want to be the best mid-major fan base in the country, get out there,” he said. “See you on Saturday.”
Akron and Toledo are two of seven MAC programs eligible for bowl games. Buffalo, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ohio and Western Michigan all won at least six games. The conference had seven schools accept invitations in 2012 and 2015. Ohio has already accepted a spot in the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 22 against UAB. The Bobcats have been bowl eligible for nine straight seasons.
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