The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 75 Toledo.
Previewing Toledo’s Offense for 2014:
Toledo has maintained one of the best offensive machines in the MAC ever since it went to the spread more than a decade ago under former coach Tom Amstutz. In 2013, the Rockets were again near the top of the league in scoring (33.0 ppg) and total offense (447.3 ypg). Although it has several skill positions to fill, Toledo is once again loaded with talent and options to charge up its offense.
Sophomore Logan Woodside is the frontrunner to start at quarterback after seeing time in four games as a backup and hitting on 51.2 percent of his passes without an interception. Sophomore Kareem Hunt is the featured back after rolling up 866 yards and averaging 6.3 yards per carry in a supplemental role in 2013 behind 1,100-yard rusher David Fluellen. Filling in for the injured Fluellen, Hunt rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the final five games.
The strength and experience of the Toledo offense is up front, where four starters return. All-MAC guard Greg Mancz is a pro prospect who leads the group, along with fellow returning starters Jeff Myers at guard and Josh Hendershot and Chase Nelson at tackle. The group allowed just six sacks in 12 games last year, best in the conference.
The receiving corps is rich in talent and speed, led by junior Alonzo Russell, who has had 115 catches over the past two seasons. Seniors Dwight Macon and Justin Olack are steady performers. Junior Kishon Wilcher adds explosive speed.
Previewing Toledo’s Defense for 2014:
With six returning all-conference players among the 10 regulars coming back on this side of the ball, the Rockets should be a stronger defensive unit in 2014 and improve on the 421.8 yards allowed per game last season. Toledo has five of its top six tacklers returning, led by senior linebacker Junior Sylvestre.
The crew up front is deep, with a dozen players possessing a shot at making the rotation. The athleticism of the unit should allow it to pressure the quarterback in the same manner the Rockets did in 2013, when they recorded 34 sacks in 12 games. All-conference tackle Treyvon Hester anchors the middle. Senior Ray Bush and junior Allen Covington will man the ends, with junior college transfer Tre James also a part of the plan.
Sylvestre joins experienced juniors Trent Voss and Chase Murdock in a strong linebacking unit. The Rockets have nine defensive backs with experience, but when the sorting out is completed, look for seniors Cheatham Norrils and Cameron Cole to man the corners, with help from sophomore Jordan Martin. Senior Jordan Haden leads the group at safety.
Previewing Toledo’s Specialists for 2014:
Senior Jeremiah Detmer is one of the nation’s most accurate placekickers, currently working a streak in which he’s hit 36-of-37 field goals. Sophomore Nick Ellis looks to replace four-year starter Vince Penza at punter. Speedster Wilcher leads a deep return corps.
Toledo has 17 starters back to work on purging the sour taste left from last season, when the Rockets went 7–5 overall and missed playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2009. The schedule is not easy; the Rockets play Missouri, Cincinnati and Iowa State in non-conference action and host Bowling Green, the defending league champs, from the MAC East.
Toledo has a wealth of experience and talent along its offensive front and at linebacker, but the Rockets will be featuring a new starter at quarterback — always a dangerous proposition. If Woodside emerges as viable playmaker and the defense improves, the Rockets should be right back in the MAC East title picture.