Briggs: Should Toledo football even accept a bowl invitation?

By David Briggs / The Blade
Tue, 03 Dec 2019 18:50:31 GMT

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With bowl invitations about to be dispensed to nearly two out of every three college football teams, there is a good chance Toledo — believe it or not — will be on the guest list.

Now comes the real question.

Should the Rockets want the charity?

After Toledo crashed to a 6-6 finish, a good number of fans would just as soon see the season laid to rest, with contributions — in lieu of flowers — going to the Save the Defense Fund.

Toledo awaits bowl fate after disappointing season. But even if invited, should the Rockets go to a bowl game?

— Toledo Sports (@toledosports) December 3, 2019

I asked UT athletic director Mike O’Brien if the Rockets might want to sit this one out.

“I’ll answer your questions, not your insults,” he said.

Whoops, wrong notebook.

This was O’Brien: “You never want to turn down any bowl opportunity, so absolutely, we’d be more than pleased to accept any invitation to a bowl game.”

Look, I understand both sides here.

If you do not want to watch the Rockets play another game, I hear you.

A .500 season, by definition, is no better than average, and the Toledo team we watched the last two months — the one that lost five of its last seven games and had its doors blown off more than a storm screen in Tornado Alley — was a far shout even from that.

What’s more, Toledo just cleaned out half of its defensive staff.

Wouldn’t the Rockets be better served by hitting reset and beginning preparations for next season?

I mean, I see one ESPN projection has Toledo playing No. 21 Cincinnati in the Frisco Bowl outside Dallas. Yikes. Other than giving Katy another door to bar, what purpose would that game serve?

Still, I get Toledo’s position.

A few reasons:

■ If Toledo declines an invite now, it makes it easy for ESPN — the owner and operator of all MAC-affiliated bowl games — not to ask at all later.

■ It could come off as a concession Toledo quit on the season, and what would that say about Jason Candle? O’Brien is fully behind the fourth-year coach. “I'm very confident in Jason Candle and the staff to ‘fix this,’” he said, “and I expect that to happen.”

■ A bowl game means a dozen or so extra practices, which are used more for player development than game planning. Those would be especially valuable to a Toledo team in which 44 percent of the roster has freshman eligibility.

■ Players deserve the reward for their year-round work.

OK, that last part is debatable.

But if the team wants to go to a bowl game — and the university can break close to even on the trip — who are we to deny the players an experience they always enjoy?

Besides, deserve is a relative term.

As much as we all rag on the number of bowls, these made-for-TV events are what they are, and somebody’s got to fill them.

A quick refresher: There will be 78 teams headed to 39 bowls. The MAC has guaranteed spots in five of them — the Boca Raton Bowl, the Bahamas Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho, the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. — and conditional spots in others.

Toledo’s postseason hopes appeared shot after its 49-7 loss to Central Michigan on Friday, but that was before it got help elsewhere as half of the 14 teams who entered the weekend in position to reach the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility lost their final games.

That means there are 79 bowl-eligible team for the 78 slots.

Will Toledo be the odd team out? Doubtful.

Long story short, expect the outlier to be one of the four 6-6 teams in the MAC: Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Ohio, and Kent State. Given that none of these programs will have fans motivated to travel, the invites will depend on the whims of ESPN, and Toledo has as good — or bad — of an argument as any of its .500 league peers.

Consider: The Rockets did not play Ohio, but they beat Eastern Michigan and Kent State, and have four wins over bowl-eligible teams. The other three teams each have two.

“Our brand is still very strong,” O’Brien said of the Rockets’ case. “We’ve been bowl-eligible 10 straight years. Granted, this season didn’t end up the way we wanted it to. What makes this place so special is we have expectations. Clearly, 6-6 didn’t meet those.

“It’s really interesting. I’m watching some other games where coaches reach their sixth win and they’re getting showered with Gatorade while we’re miserable. Still, we had some really good wins over BYU, Colorado State, and Western Michigan, and our tradition and history is very sound.”

That might just be enough to keep Toledo’s season going.

Whether you want it to or not.