Boise State easily beat Toledo 57-14 early last season, but coach Chris Petersen walked off the field impressed with the Rockets.
"I remember thinking these guys are going to be good sooner than later," Petersen said earlier this week. "How they finished last season and the first two games have proven that out. It’s not surprising to this coaching staff how those guys are playing right now."
Indeed, the No. 4 Broncos go into their game at Toledo on Friday night (8 p.m., ESPN) prepared for an upset-minded team that nearly beat Ohio State last week and got the rest of the country talking. Toledo is not a revelation to those who follow the MAC. The Rockets were the preseason pick to win the conference, with 18 returning starters off a team that made a bowl appearance last season for the first time since 2005.
But playing well in Columbus is little consolation to Toledo, which held a third-quarter lead on the Buckeyes. The Rockets had one last chance to win, but Terrance Owens threw incomplete on fourth down from the OSU 17-yard line with 52 seconds left and they came up just short 27-22. In the game, Toledo had 14 penalties, a missed field goal and botched another field goal attempt.
When the team reviewed the game tape afterward, players saw how they hurt themselves with all their mistakes, costing them a chance to win. It was little consolation that the 22 points were the most an in-state school had scored on the Buckeyes since 1909.
"It was a tough defeat, no question about it," Toledo coach Tim Beckman said. "The kids and the coaching staff set their hearts out on the line to win that football game. As I told them, be there in the fourth quarter and we'll have a chance and that's what we had. ... We still have many, many things we have to get accomplished for this to be a successful year."
Meanwhile, the Broncos had an impressive 35-21 win against Georgia to open the season but had to sit for a week because of a bye. Nothing like getting geared up to start the season, get a nice win, then hit the practice field two weeks in a row. The same thing happened last year, when they had a bye after an opening week win against Virginia Tech. Boise State responded with a 51-6 win against Wyoming.
"It's tough, but we've done that," Boise State safety George Iloka said. "You get amped up with the whole offseason to play your first game against a very tough opponent, you get the win and think, 'Let’s keep it rolling,' but then you have a bye week and it’s like, 'Oh we just started playing. We have to stop again?' The schedule is set up in a way to help us recover, so you can see it both ways."
There are two big challenges for the Broncos -- preparing for two Toledo quarterbacks, and trying to slow down all-purpose player Eric Page. The Rockets play both Austin Dantin and Owens, to try to keep teams off balance. Page had 12 receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns against the Buckeyes, and also returns kicks and punts as well. Last year against the Broncos, he had 11 receptions for 120 yards.
"They do have a lot of the same guys, but they're running their offense a lot better and doing what they do a lot better," Iloka said. "They're on the same page, a lot more crisp and more exact in what they’re doing."
Toledo is a better team than it was at this point last season. We'll see whether that has any impact on the outcome of the game.