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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Redemption Left the Building Early

It was a time for redemption. Losses like Toledo’s 65-30 setback at Northern Illinois last November — a game also played on a Tuesday night — can push a program and team in two directions: for a weaker, leader-free team, it can be the ultimate deterrent to future success; for a strong, confident team, such a loss can be the ultimate motivator. This was doubly true in specific for Mike Ward’s defense, which was humbled by Northern Illinois’ fierce running game a year ago: now, more than ever, the Rockets were in line for redemption.

Just kidding! Hey, redemption — see you next year! Touchdown. Touchdown. Kickoff return. Kickoff return.  Touchdown. A tackle? Well, there were a few. Bu there was no redemption for Toledo last night, unless the Rockets can take a bit of solace in the fact that the defense allowed only 63 points, not 65.

That sort of solace… well, it’s not something Ward is adding to his resume, which to this point — he arrived with Tim Beckman in 2009 — included a nice finish to last fall and a solid performance against Ohio State in September, when the Rockets nearly upended the Buckeyes in Columbus.

At least Toledo isn’t Kansas: the Rockets may have allowed the Huskies to rack up 532 yards last night, but they would have needed to allow another 23 yards to match what the Jayhawks are giving up on a weekly basis. Again, a small slice of solace for a program who saw its grand plans go up in smoke.

Toledo has been the MAC favorite — let alone the MAC West favorite — since August, when most pegged the Rockets as the strongest team, if not the best-coached team, in the 13-team conference. Northern Illinois wasn’t far behind, but the general consensus was that the Huskies would fail to reach last year’s high-water mark in Dave Doeren’s debut season.

The Huskies may still fail to reach last year’s 11-win mark; to do so, they’d need to roll off four straight wins to end the regular season, top the MAC East representative in the conference title game and then win a bowl game. Probably not too likely. But one area where the Huskies are clearly of 2010 vintage is against the Rockets, who simply have no idea how to stop N.I.U.’s run-based offensive attack.

Even the great Eric Page, who continues to stake a claim to being the finest offensive skill player among the non-B.C.S. conferences, couldn’t lift the Rockets past Northern Illinois’ prolific offensive attack. While the final image we saw of Page was him dropping a pass with seconds left that might have put Toledo’s Jeremiah Detmer in line for a long game-tying field goal — it would have been long – his game was otherwise off the charts: 9 receptions for 150 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The problem wasn’t the offense, of course. It was everything, everything else. The defense hit rock-bottom, then broke through the ground floor and into the basement before ending six feet under. Toledo’s special teams was horrific, allowing touchdowns on each of Northern Illinois’ first two kickoff returns. And the coaching?

Toledo can take a bit more solace in the fact that Tim Beckman will be back along the sidelines in 2012. There’s no way Beckman will be considered for the open position at Ohio State, for example; he may have impressed in nearly knocking off the Buckeyes in September, but his mismanagement of the clock and of basic in-game decisions should raise question marks with potential suitors.

Beckman’s terrible use of timeouts in the fourth quarter might have revealed a genuine misunderstanding of how to manage late-game situations. Down by four points, N.I.U. has the ball inside the Toledo red zone with less than two minutes left. Why, based on how the defense has played thus far, would Beckman hold onto his timeouts, hoping that his group can make a miraculous goal line stand?

In doing so, he left his offense with less than 20 seconds to field a kickoff, run a few plays and make a game-tying field goal. And Toledo may not have been in such a dilemma had Beckman not opted to go for a two-point conversion twice in the fourth quarter, when down 49-47 with 10:46 left and ahead 53-49 just 15 seconds later. Nonsensical, to put it lightly, considering how each team’s offense was having little trouble scoring points.

Redemption has left the building — for Beckman, Toledo and their goal of being the class of the MAC. From here, the Rockets find themselves in a similar situation to a year ago: outside of the conference title picture, making a drive to bowl play and dreaming of next fall, when they’ll again enter September as the presumptive MAC favorites. Again, that’s of precious little solace.

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  1. CoolBreeze says:

    As a NIU alumnus, I was happy to witness the victory. However, the defense by both teams was brutal to watch. I couldn’t get excited by NIU’s offense simply because the defense was awful.

    I listened to the ESPN commentary during the Temple-Ohio game they described the NIU-Toledo game as an offensive shootout. I thought the game was more like a poor demonstration of defense.

  2. niufan99 says:

    As long as we have one more point than Toledo I’m happy!It wasn’t pretty but we got the job done!

  3. Brian says:

    i think its a bit premature to say Toledo is “dreaming” of next season. One loss by NIU, and Toledo is back in front. NIU lost to CMU of all teams, a 2-6 squad, so its rather bias to write them off for dead.

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