1st and Ten – The Big
O – The lineage of receivers in the MAC over the past four or five
years is quite impressive. Go looking for another conference that has
had as many receivers with 70+ catch seasons over that same time frame.
Hard to do, that’s for sure. Toledo’s best WR over that time frame was
Lance Moore, but his former running mate, Steve Odom, has taken over as
the best WR on this roster, one of the candidates to be the ‘next’ great
MAC receiver. He’s not a big fella, that’s for sure, but when it comes
to consistency and consistently getting open, Odom fits that bill. The
5’10”, 170 pound waif has caught a ball in 37 straight games and
finished last season with 55 catches and six touchdowns. A great year,
no question, but it was one in which he was able to rely upon record
setting QB Bruce Gradkowski getting him the football and a 1,294 yard
rusher to keep teams from throwing nickel and dime packages at them
every series. Alas, Gradkowski is gone and so is Trinity Dawson.
Consequently, the person most effected by that duo’s departure may end
up being Odom. The good news, though, for the Big O is that QB Clint
Cochran should fill in well for Gradkowski and probably has a stronger
arm, allowing Odom to be more of a downfield threat this season.
Furthermore, although Dawson is gone, the running back crop is talented
and deep, which should keep the running game fresh throughout the
season. And, extra defensive backs off the field. Lance’s brother Nick
Moore could very well emerge on the other side as a strong number two
option. Ultimately, Odom could have an even bigger season than he’s had
in the past three.
2nd and Seven – Fast
and the furious – There’s nothing in the game of football quite like
speed. Sure, you may have a team with heart and character, but you’ll
lose every time to a team that has guys who can pick ‘em up and lay ‘em
down. Toledo’s speed comes from a little different angle, that being
outside linebacker Mike Alston. He’s no bigger than most strong
safeties in the league, but lined up on the edge of the Rockets 3-4
defense, he must be accounted for every down. Last year, he registered
9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss coming off the edge for this
defense. If he can keep his wheels in check and healthy, then he should
have another season like the one that he had in 2005. Offenses should
use more screens and draws in his direction to slow his pass rush down a
bit, but they can’t run screens and draws all night long. Eventually,
teams are going to have to game plan to eliminate his speed, which is
never easy, but if the GMAC bowl was an indication of what teams are
going to see in 2006, oh boy, look out.
3rd and Three – A
healthy Scooter is a good Scooter – Scooter McDougle was on his way
in 2004 to being an absolute nightmare for MAC opponents. After rolling
up, stressing the word ‘rolling’, over 600 yards in that season, he was
knocked out of action with a devastating knee injury that kept him on
the shelf for all of 2005 as well. But, 2006 should see the return of
the 6’, 245 pound punishing back. Whether he’s completely back to 100%
or not will always be a question, but if he can provide those inside
zone carries to move the chains, that’ll be a huge boost for this team.
After losing a nearly 1,300 yard rusher Trinity Dawson, number two RB
Quinton Broussard and QB Bruce Gradkowski, the Rockets are going to need
a guy who can keep the offense on the field for 12 to 14 play drives.
McDougle can be that man, if healthy, and if he’s in shape. Jalen
Parmele will be the other half of the 1-2 punch and the more explosive,
speed wise, of the two backs, but it’ll be nice to see McDougle back on
the field, bowling over opponents as he did in 2004.
4th and One – Meet me
in DeKalb on November 7th – For the four years prior to
last year, Toledo had beaten MAC West rival NIU each time. No matter
how good NIU was, Toledo owned them, so it made sense that when NIU
traveled to Toledo to take on the Rockets for the 2005 MAC West title,
done deal – Toledo going away. Uh, well, let’s just say that’s why they
play the game. NIU surprised the Rockets with an 18 point victory in
the Glass Bowl. Not that the Rockets needed any extra motivation, but
most analysts are predicting that last year wasn’t a fluke and NIU will
win the West. If there’s one game that’s circled on the Rockets’
schedule with a big fat red pen to remind them of who has the trophy
that they want, it’s the one taking place on November 7th,
2006. Not that their memories are that short, but when the Rockets head
to DeKalb for this rematch, it’s going to be a good one. Who ever
thought that the road to the championship would go through DeKalb?
Toledo wouldn’t want it any other way, after losing last year.