2014 CFN Preview - Toledo Rockets
Toledo RB Kareem Hunt
Toledo RB Kareem Hunt
Posted Jul 6, 2014

Preview 2014 - It's time for Toledo to become a major MAC player again. (Getty Images)

Toledo Rockets

Preview 2014

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Head coach: Matt Campbell
3rd year: 17-9
Returning Lettermen
Off: 24, Def. 22. ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Rocket Players
1. LB Junior Sylvestre, Sr.
2. RB Kareem Hunt, Soph.
3. OG Greg Mancz, Sr.
4. OG Jeff Myers, Sr.
5. WR Alonzo Russell, Jr.
6. PK Jeremiah Detmer, Sr.
7. LB Chase Murdock, Jr.
8. DT Treyvon Hester, Soph.
9. LB Trent Voss, Jr.
10. QB Logan Woodside, Soph.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 New Hampshire
Sep. 6 Missouri
Sep. 12 at Cincinnati
Sep. 20 Ball State
Sep. 27 Central Michigan
Oct. 4 at Western Michigan
Oct. 11 at Iowa State
Oct. 25 UMass
Nov. 4 at Kent State
Nov. 11 at Northern Illinois
Nov. 19 Bowling Green
Nov. 28 at Eastern Michigan

After three straight bowl appearances and two nine-win seasons, going 7-5 might not seem like too massive a step back, but it was more than that. Toledo wasn't considered cool enough to go to a bowl game.

It's not like there were a ton of at-large bids, and the MAC only gets a few invites, but it was still a massive snub for a program that's been among the league's traditional powerhouses.

Bowling Green won the conference and Northern Illinois was a star, so those two getting bowl invites was okay. Ball State won ten regular season games, so that was cool, and even with the win over Buffalo, the Bulls did win one more game. However, Ohio got the fun trip to St. Petersburg to play East Carolina – and got all the sweet swag – after going 6-6 and losing four of its last five games. Toledo lost to Florida in the Swamp, at Missouri, at Ball State and to Northern Illinois – the last three combined to win 34 games – and managed to beat Bowling Green on the road, but a tight 31-29 loss at Akron in the regular season finale ended up being just enough to give Ohio the extra game.

And now Rocket head coach Matt Campbell has his motivation.

Besides not losing money like all schools do when they get bowl invites, getting ignored might have been the best thing to happen to the team going into 2014. Motivation all season long shouldn't be a problem now, and Campbell can play the "nobody respects us" card, and actually mean it.

But that could all quickly change if the Rockets can build off what really was a strong season – they were among the four best teams in the MAC – and tweak things just enough to be in the hunt for the conference title.

Defense has been option over the last several years, but that's where the star power and experience are, at least early on. The offensive line is always terrific, and now it should be loaded – especially at guard – and the kicking game will be among the best in America with all-star Jeremiah Detmer returning.

Combine it all with an attitude and a fire that needs to be there from the start, and all of a sudden, a third nine-win season in four years might seem a bit too low. Toledo has to be more ambitious and think bigger to become the star of MAC stars again.

Toledo has to be too good to blow off.

What to watch for on offense: All of the focus is on the quarterback situation after losing Terrance Owens, but the running game is what makes the offense go. When the ground attack rolled, so did Toledo going 7-0 when tearing off more than 230 yards and 0-5 when hitting the mark – like it did against Akron – or going under. In the seven wins, the Rockets ripped off 23 touchdowns and came up with just three in the losses. Leading rusher David Fluellen is gone, but the next three top backs were all freshmen and they're all back working behind a terrific line that allowed just six sacks all year. Now the front five should be even better with five senior starters including all-stars at guard. The Rockets combined for 2,887 last year, and after averaging six yards per pop, they could end up cranking out a 3,000-yard season.

What to watch for on defense: Can the defense come up with a key stop? The Rockets didn't hold up well game in and game out, getting bombed on a bit too easily and allowing teams to convert third downs without too much of a problem. Generating sacks wasn't a problem – the Rockets came up with 34 – and the back seven could tackle, but offenses converted a whopping 45.5% of their third down tries and completed 61% of their throws chucking for 200 yards or more in every game but two. The two who didn't were Navy, who never throws, and Florida, who didn't need to throw but got a 17-of-22 day out of Jeff Driskel. With seven starters back and a strong front seven, the D should take a step forward.

The team will be far better if… the quarterback situation is settled in a hurry. It won't be all that hard to turn around and hand the ball off to Kareem Hunt or any of the excellent options in the backfield, but considering the defense – experience and all – isn't going to be a brick wall, the passing attack has to keep up the pace from time to time. That means either Logan Woodside, who has the most experience and is the odds-on favorite for the gig, or former Alabama prospect Phillip Ely or Michael Julian has to make the job his from the start. If there's a rotation throughout the fall as the coaching staff looks for the right guy, kiss MAC title hopes goodbye.

The Schedule: As always, the Rockets take on a few big battles against BCS-conference teams, but outside of the Missouri game at home, they're winnable. They have the offense and the talent to hang with Cincinnati, and they can certainly beat Iowa State on the road. Getting Ball State and an improved Central Michigan at home is a nice way to start out the MAC campaign, but the payback comes the rest of the way with four road games in the next five and five in the final seven dates. On the plus side, Western Michigan, Kent State and Eastern Michigan are three of those away dates, but the Northern Illinois showdown is also on the road. Getting UMass and Kent State from the East is good, having to deal with Bowling Green is very, very bad.

Best offensive player: Senior OG Greg Mancz. It's actually going to be RB Kareem Hunt, but he needs guys to pave the way starting with Mancz along with senior guard Jeff Myers. No, it's not sexy that the stars of a high-powered attack are guards, but they make life a whole bunch easier. With a young backfield full of underclassmen, the line should be a godsend. All five starters are seniors, but the veterans in the interior will be the ones paving away for the big season on the ground. Mancz and Myers were all-stars last year, and they might be the two best blockers in the MAC this season.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Junior Sylvestre. With Sylvestre combining with Chase Murdock and Trent Voss, Toledo has a loaded linebacking corps that should lead the conference for the most tackles by a linebacking trio. This isn't a huge group - they're built like safeties - but they can all run and they all get around the ball to swarm on a play. Sylvestre is the leader of the pack from his spot on the weakside, averaging close to ten stops per game, but Murdock isn't far behind and Voss is back after missing almost half the season. They make too many plays down the field and have to be stronger against the pass, but they're good. Sylvestre is the sure-thing all-star of the group.

Key players to a successful season: Sophomore CB Jordan Martin. Besides the quarterback situation, the biggest key is cornerback where Cheatham Norrils has a spot on one side, but another option has to emerge on the other. The Rockets were beaten way too easily last season, and while Cameron Cole will battle for his starting spot again - he could and should have it at some point this summer - it would be a major plus if the bigger Martin turned into a better option. At 6-2 and 192 pounds, Martin is built like a safety, can hit, and can run. Just a sophomore, he needs to establish himself as a playmaker when the ball is in the air.

The season will be a success if ... Toledo wins the MAC championship. Just getting to a bowl game would be nice after getting spurned last year, but there's enough experience and firepower returning to not only get back to the title game for the first time since 2004, but win it. It's not going to be easy with the rough second half of the schedule with five road games in the final seven, but the Rockets should be favored in every MAC game except for the road trip to …

Key game: Nov. 11 at Northern Illinois. Not only have the Rockets lost the last four games in the series and five in the last six, but they've had a few problems on defense. Things have improved since the 63-60 loss in 2011 and 65-30 in 2010, but the losses were still big in the MAC title hunt. The road to Detroit might not go through DeKalb, but it's at the end of the run of four road games in five weeks and it'll play a big role in the title chase. With Bowling Green to follow, the Rockets have to break the hex.

2013 Fun Stats:
- 1st Quarter Scoring: Toledo 115 – Opponents 69
- Sacks: Toledo 34 – Opponents 6
- Fumbles: Opponents 23 (lost 12) – Toledo 11 (lost 6)

- 2014 Toledo Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players