2009 CFN Toledo Preview
Toledo WR Stephen Williams
Toledo WR Stephen Williams
Posted May 7, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Toledo Rockets

Toledo Rockets

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak

- 2009 CFN Toledo Preview | 2009 Toledo Offense
- 2009 Toledo Defense | 2009 Toledo Depth Chart
- 2008 Toledo Preview | 2007 Toledo Preview | 2006 Toledo Preview 

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Head coach: Tim Beckman
1st year
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21, Def. 32, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 7
Ten Best Rocket Players
SS Barry Church, Sr.
2. LB Archie Donald, Jr.
3. WR Stephen Williams, Sr.
4. SS Lester Richmond, Sr.
5. QB Aaron Opelt, Sr.
6. RB DaJuane Collins, Sr.
7. RB Morgan Williams, So.
8. PK Alex Steigerwald, Sr.
9. OT Mike VanDerMeulen, Soph.
10. S Jermaine Robinson, Fr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 5-7
2009 Record:

9/5 at Purdue
9/11 Colorado
9/19 Ohio State (Cleveland)
9/26 at FIU
10/3 at Ball State
10/10 Western Mich
10/17 No. Illinois
10/24 Temple
10/31 at Miami Univ.
11/11 at Central Mich
11/20 Eastern Mich
11/27 at Bowling Green

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 3-9

9/6 at Arizona L 41-16
9/13 at East. Mich W 41-24
9/20 Fresno St L 55-54 2OT
9/27 FIU L 35-16
10/4 Ball State L 31-0
10/11 at Michigan W 13-10
10//18 at No Illinois L 38-10
10/25 Central Mich L 24-23
11/5 at Akron L 47-30
11/15 at West Mich L 27-17 
11/20 Miami Univ. W 42-14
11/28 Bo. Green L 38-10

There isn't an issue with talent going into the year with as many All-MAC candidates as anyone in the MAC (outside of Central Michigan). There isn't an issue with experience with a mere seven lettermen lost and almost all the key starters returning. The issue will be with the coaching with Tom Amstutz gone and Tim Beckman coming in to a great situation.

Amstutz was wildly successful up until a few years ago, with Toledo being among the MAC elite year after year after year. And then the bottom dropped out as the offense suddenly became wildly inconsistent and the defense was shockingly bad at getting to the quarterback. After three straight losing seasons it became time for some new blood and some new coaching, and Beckman might have stepped into a gold mine.

The Rockets are loaded. Beyond loaded. They have an abundance of experience in most key spots with next-level talent at receiver and in the defensive back seven. The lines are mediocre, but the skill players are fantastic and the linebackers can run. The special teams will be a focus and the return game and coverage teams have to improve, but the kicking game is solid with PK Alex Steigerwald a star and P Bill Claus improving.

The key will be consistency. There's more than enough firepower to keep up with anyone on the schedule, but there can't be the mystifying lulls like there were last season against Florida International (a 35-16 loss), Ball State (a 31-0 loss), and Bowling Green (a 38-10 loss). Defensively, Beckman needs his fast, athletic team to make more big plays, get into the backfield on a regular basis, and play up to its talent level.

It's absolutely possible for this team to go from the outhouse to the MAC championship in one year. In fact, it needs to be demanded for a team that's been building to this spot for a few years. The times might have been lean for the once mighty power, but Beckman should be able to provide just the change needed to bring back the glory days.

What to watch for on offense: The up-tempo spread. Everyone's doing the same thing now, trying to run the Oklahoma offense with a fast-paced attack, but Toledo has the veterans to actually do it. Aaron Opelt has been the starting quarterback for the last three years and knows his receivers, while DaJuane Collins and Morgan Williams should run wild with bigger holes to cut through. This was a high-powered offense to begin with, and now it could explode.

What to watch for on defense: Barry Church as a linebacker. The all-star, NFL-bound safety will be used to do more as the team's third linebacker. The Rockets had a 4-2-5 alignment over the last few years, with a Rover being used as a part safety and part linebacker. Now, Church will be all over the place as a pass rusher and in pass coverage. He should put up huge numbers.

The team will be far better if … the defense gets a sack. Ten. Ten sacks. Getting to the quarterback has been a major problem for a long time, and the trickle down effect continued with ten sacks leading to a rough year for the talented secondary while putting more pressure on the linebackers. The line isn't big with the starting foursome averaging a linebacker-like 250 pounds per man. If the D is going to sacrifice size, it needs to make up for it with plays in the backfield.

The Schedule: As always, the Rockets are taking on a nasty non-conference schedule, at least in theory. Going to Purdue for the start of the Danny Hope era will be a good test for Tim Beckman and his new coaching staff, while home date with Colorado will be a good chance to make a big statement. The Ohio State game will be in Cleveland, while the date with FIU, which Toledo lost last year, will be down in Miami. In MAC play, getting Bowling Green, Temple, and Miami University from the East isn't a plus, but it's not horrible considering how much weaker the other division is. The conference schedule starts out at Ball State, but this isn't the same Cardinal team as last year while the showdown with Central Michigan is in Mount Pleasant. On the plus side, there's a nice three-game home stretch in October highlighted by the big games against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Stephen Williams. The 6-5, 199-pound star needs 72 catches to be the program's all-time leading receiver. While he'll be used more on deep routes to take advantage of his size, speed, and experience, he'll still be a key target on short to midrange plays. Moving to the outside, he'll hit a couple of long home runs.

Best Defensive Player: Senior S/LB Barry Church. The 6-2, 219-pound star has done it all so far in his career but win. He'll do whatever it takes to help the defense and the team in his final year before going off to the NFL, and that means moving to linebacker where he'll do more against the run and be able to show off his range into the backfield more often.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DE Sean Williamson ... or junior DE/LB Derrick Summers. The Rocket ends have to star hitting quarterbacks to help the entire defense. Williamson missed last year with a leg problem and Summers is moving to the line from linebacker. These two need to start generating pressure early on or else the coaching staff will have to go to a plan B.

The season will be a success if ... Toledo wins the MAC title. The schedule isn't a walk in the park and the team has to turn the switch on after three bad years, but the experience and talent is there to make this a special year. The new coaching staff will only be a plus, and if it doesn't step on itself trying to make big changes to a team that needs more tweaking than a massive overhaul, winning the MAC championship is a reasonable goal.

Key game: Oct. 3 at Ball State. Nate Davis is gone and Ball State is vastly different than it was last season, but it would make a big early statement in the Beckman era to pull off a win in the MAC opener, especially because it's on the road. With a road trip to Central Michigan to deal with, and with Northern Illinois and Western Michigan still to play, the Rockets will be playing from behind all year if they can't get by the Cardinals.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Opponents 16 for 125 yards - Toledo 10 for 77 yards
- Kickoff return average: Opponents 25.4 yards - Toledo 20.4 yards
- Interception return average: Toledo 18.1 yards (on 10 picks) - Opponents 5.4 yards (on eight picks)