CFN Preview 2013 - Toledo Rockets
Toledo QB Terrance Owens
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Toledo Rockets
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After years of being close, it's time for Toledo to make the kind of jump that lesser MAC programs have been able to make over the last several seasons. The Rockets have been consistently strong after Illinois head coach Tim Beckman took over, but there has been a consistent wall – Northern Illinois has had a lot to do with it – that's been tough to climb.
Head coach: Matt Campbell
2nd year: 10-4
Returning Lettermen: 41
Off. 18, Def. 20, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Toledo Players
1. WR/KR Bernard Reedy, Sr.
2. RB David Fluellen, Sr.
3. C Zac Kerin, Sr.
4. QB Terrance Owens, Sr.
5. OG Greg Mancz, Jr.
6. WR Alonzo Russell, Soph.
7. PK Jeremiah Detmer, Jr.
8. LB Trent Voss, Soph.
9. CB Cheatham Norrils, Jr.
10. DE Jayrone Elliott, Sr.
8/31 at Florida
9/7 at Missouri
9/14 Eastern Michigan
9/21 at Central Michigan
9/28 at Ball State
10/5 Western Michigan
10/12 OPEN DATE
10/26 at Bowling Green
11/2 Eastern Michigan
11/9 OPEN DATE
11/20 No Illinois
11/29 at Akron
They've been good enough to come within a heartbeat of beating Arizona on the road in the opener and beat Cincinnati in the middle of the season, but they've also been flaky enough to come up with a mystifying clunker of a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Utah State.
Bowl games aren't quite enough anymore. The talent is there, the athleticism is in place, and despite several flaws across the board, there are as many playmakers as any team in the league. However, that hasn't necessarily meant much in the past with the last MAC championship appearance coming in 2004 – a win over Miami. Since then, NIU and Central Michigan have had dominant runs, but Toledo has been right there on the doorstep, even with a few losing seasons along the way. This year's team will go to another bowl, but it needs to get to Detroit on December 6th.
The offense should be unstoppable at times. Running back David Fluellen and receiver Bernard Reedy are legitimate pro prospects, while quarterback Terrance Owens is a seasoned veteran who should bounce back after a down year. The line is terrific, there's depth and head coach Matt Campbell knows how to make an offense fly.
Defensively, there are athletes and options across the board, but there isn't much experience from a group that struggled to stop anyone from throwing the ball and now needs to replace star linebackers Dan Molls and Robert Bell. The offense will make up for several defensive issues, and the special teams that might be the best in the MAC will do its part, but the D has to be just a wee bit better before there's any shot at coming up with a championship.
Fortunately, good isn't good enough. The coaching staff expects and demands a run to the title game, and overall the expectations are reasonably high. The potential is there to be the next Northern Illinois or Central Michigan and go on a multi-year run of excellence, but it's been that way for a long time.
What to watch for on offense: More pop and explosion. No team in the MAC has as many home-run hitting playmakers as Toledo, starting with Owens under center and continuing with a speedy backfield and big group of veteran receivers. This wasn't an efficient passing attack with the safe plays being more of the norm, but Reedy and Fluellen are dangerous every time they have the ball in their hands and Reedy should do an even better job of getting passes to speedsters out of the backfield as well as to 6-4 targets Justin Olack and Alonzo Russell. With nine starters returning, but shocked if the offense doesn't average well over 450 yards a game.
What to watch for on defense: Lots and lots of shuffling. The Rockets have options for every spot, but they don't have many sure-thing starters in what's going to be an open casting call up until the flight down to Gainesville to face Florida. The pass rush disappeared and the pass defense was a rumor, so to come up with any sort of overall improvement, it starts with finding big-time producers who can start to impact games. Linebacker Trent Voss appears to be one option and Jayrone Elliott is a nice pass rushing threat, but the defense can't give up almost 300 yards through the air again.
The team will be far better if … it does a better job of closing with a big stop. The Rockets had Ball State dead in the fourth, but the offense couldn't move the ball and the defense couldn't get off the field in the final few minutes allowing ten unanswered points. It was the opposite against Northern Illinois, rallying from 17 down in the fourth to come within a touchdown, but failing in the final few minutes to get off the field as the clock was ground down. There were several chances in the opener against Arizona, but instead the Rockets lost in heartbreaking fashion. Yes, ifs and buts, and there other close games the team was able to pull out, but it was three defensive stops away from having a truly special regular season.
The schedule: The Rockets start out with a nasty run going to Florida and Missouri as part of four road games before October. Fortunately, five of the next six games are at home including the key West showdown against Northern Illinois before closing out with a layup at Akron. Getting two weeks off to get ready for Navy should help in what should be a good run. Going to Bowling Green is a bad break from the East, but getting Akron and Buffalo isn't bad.
Best offensive player: Senior RB David Fluellen. Make receiver/returner Bernard Reedy No. 1A – he'll make it to the next level as a kick returner – and quarterback Terrance Owns and center Zac Kerin should be all-stars, but it's Fluellen who showed last season just how good the offense could be when he's rolling. He got beaten up after being handed way too much of the workload in the middle of the season, but the results were sensational tearing off 1,094 yards and nine touchdowns in a six-game stretch. A receiver, too, he can do it all.
Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Trent Voss. It's a bit tricky considering corner Cheatham Norrils is the most productive returning defender, and end Jayrone Elliott is the top pass rusher, but Voss has the biggest upside if he can push Vladimir Emilien out of a starting job. Voss is a great pass rusher with good range and consistency, coming up big late in the year with 12 tackles and a sack against Akron and with seven stops against Utah State. He should be the team's new statistical star.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore LB Chase Murdock. The line should be a bit better and there's enough experience on the outside to hope for more of a pass rush, but the linebacker corps needs to fill in the gaps around Voss. Murdock isn't huge at 6-0 and 215 pounds, but he needs to hold up in the middle and give the Rockets a physical presence. At the very least he has to put up nice tackling numbers, even if he's not the biggest impact player on the D.
The season will be a success if … the Rockets get to the MAC title game. There are major flaws on both sides of the ball and the defense is going to be a big guess at times, but there's enough firepower on offense and enough athleticism across the board to fight through the tough first part of the season and potentially win the West. Anything less will be a major disappointment.
Key game: Nov. 20 vs. Northern Illinois. Western Michigan will be strong and Ball State will be solid, but to get to win the West and get to the MAC championship, Toledo has to get by the league's signature star. After giving Northern Illinois a run in a tough 31-24 loss, this year the Rockets have to come up with a big win on a nationally televised Wednesday night game to potentially get over the hump. In some way, shape or form this will have something to do with the outcome of the division.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Interception Return Average: Toledo 23.2 yards on 17 picks – Opponents 5.8 yards on 11 picks
- Penalties: Toledo 89 for 884 yards – Opponents 73 for 682 yards
- 4th Down Conversions: Toledo 8-of-17 (47%) – Opponents 5-of-17 (29%)
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