Eastern Michigan's football program is brimming with confidence following wins over Central Michigan and Kent State. The Eagles' 2-0 Mid-American Conference record has them atop the West Division standings.
But head coach Jeff Genyk is treating Saturday's game at Toledo (6:45 p.m. on 89.1, WEMU) as a reminder that the Eagles' early success has not yet earned them a place among the MAC's elite teams.
"We have to play the league champion from last year and a very tough program," Genyk said Monday at his weekly media luncheon. "We're shooting to knock them off so we can get into that upper tier."
With six division titles and two league crowns in the last eight seasons, Toledo has attracted enough quality players to make Genyk envious.
"They have the depth of an experienced, perennial powerhouse program," he said. "They're fourth tailback is pretty good; we can't quite say that. It comes with their experience and their tradition and it's where we want to be."
Genyk said EMU's entire roster must be prepared to contribute if the Eagles are to pull the upset.
"We have to play with some extra effort. We have to have extra effort during the week and at the end of plays. The young guys who are in backup roles need to prepare just as well as the starters. If (middle linebacker) Daniel Holtzclaw goes down, (true freshman) Spenser Smith might have to finish this game. He needs to know what to do."
EMU's winning record through five games and two-game winning streak put the Eagles players in unchartered territory. After Saturday, EMU plays at Northern Illinois and at home against Miami (Ohio). Will EMU finish the season fighting for position in the middle of the MAC pack? Or can the Eagles exceed even the loftiest preseason expectations and contend for a title now?
"We'll find out in the next three weeks," Genyk said. "We are starting to learn how to win. That gives us a chance."
Click on the audio icon at the top of the article to hear Coach Genyk's comments.
Bruce is Back: Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski has been cleared to play Saturday. He missed the Rockets' 44-14 loss at Fresno State last Tuesday with a concussion.
"He has a tremendous handle on exactly what they want to do and he makes tremendous decisions with the ball," Genyk said of Gradkowski, whose career completion percentage is 70.2 percent. "He's tough to defend."
In two games against EMU, Gradkowski is 45-for-57 passing, totalling 627 yards and six touchdowns.
Prolonged Preparations: Toledo will have had ten days off by the time Saturday's game begins. Genyk says the extra time helps his opponent.
"Both of our next two opponents have that week-and-a-half to prepare," he said. "It allows you to rest your injured players. It also allows your coaching staff to watch more film. So it's a good benefit."
Northern Illinois plays Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday, ten days before hosting EMU.
MAC Honors: Holtzclaw was name MAC West Defensive Player of the Week after leading the Eagles with 11 tackles and recording his first career interception against Kent State. The freshman from Enid, Okla. leads the team and is fifth in the conference with 53 tackles on the season.