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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Matt Campbell, 10-4 (1+ Seasons) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Louis Ayeni, Jason Candle | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Matukewicz
It’s been four years since the Rockets have gone into a season settled on a quarterback. Terrance Owens, who took a majority of the snaps last season, is the unquestioned starter in 2013, and he is surrounded by a wealth of talent and experience.
Owens should improve on his 2,707 passing yards and 14 touchdowns from 2012, and be the confident leader Toledo’s potent spread offense needs. Owens has a strong arm and is a solid runner; he rushed for 50 yards or more five times last season.
David Fluellen, a first-team All-MAC pick last year, is back at tailback. He rushed for 1,498 yards (on a solid 5.8-yard average) and 13 touchdowns as a junior. Fluellen provides the punch, and backup Cassius McDowell gives Toledo an elusive outside runner.
Toledo also possesses game-breaking talent at wide receiver, led by senior Bernard Reedy, the league’s top deep threat. Reedy had 88 catches and six scores last season, and was an All-MAC pick as a receiver and return specialist. At 6'4", Alonzo Russell gives Toledo a lanky target to complement Reedy.
The group up front should give Owens room to operate. Four starters return, including first-team all-conference center Zac Kerin. Guards Jeff Myers and Greg Mancz and tackle Josh Hendershot are also returning starters. Chase Nelson and Storm Norton will battle for the right tackle position.
Toledo’s defense has ranked seventh or worse in the MAC in each of the last four seasons. And things might not get any better any time soon. The Rockets must replace nine starters from the 2012 group that gave up 473.2 yards per game (and ranked 11th in the league).
The coaches, however, are hoping that an increased level of athleticism will help the defense be more productive in 2013.
Senior end Christian Smith will be asked to lead the defensive front. Elijah Jones, Orion Jones and massive junior college transfer Robert Zimmerman, who checks in at 6'3" and 340 pounds, man the inside. Jayrone Elliott is at the end opposite Smith.
At linebacker, Toledo has to replace a ton of production. Dan Molls and Robert Bell, both gone, combined to record 266 tackles in 2012. Sophomore Trent Voss leads the next wave of Rocket linebackers, while Chase Murdock, Junior Sylvestre and Derek Batt will push for playing time.
All-MAC performer Cheatham Norrils, a junior cornerback, is the only starter back in the secondary. Toledo ranked 116th nationally in pass defense last year, giving up 290.9 yards per game.
Reedy is the star of the special teams units, ranking second in the MAC in punt returns (11.1 ypr) and first in kickoff returns (27.7 ypr). Steady kicker Jeremiah Detmer hit 24-of-29 field goals last season, while punter Vince Penza put 21 of his 58 punts inside the 20.
Toledo has a 26–13 record overall and 20–4 mark in the MAC over the past three seasons with three straight bowl appearances. The only thing missing is a conference title, something this program has not won since 2004.
The offense is loaded, with four all-conference players back, plus a veteran quarterback in Owens. The Rockets, however, might have to overwhelm the opposition to reach a championship. The strength of the defense remains in doubt, following the loss of Molls, the nation’s leading tackler in 2012, and eight other starters.
Second-year coach Matt Campbell contends he has the talent on hand to finally conquer the MAC West Division, but his defense will need to show up early and often for that to happen.
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