Head coach Jason Candle continued the success Toledo had enjoyed under his former boss and current Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell, as the Rockets won nine games last year. Candle returns most of the pieces to one of the nation’s most explosive offenses in 2016 and seven starters on defense. Toledo not only has a chance to win its first MAC title in more than a decade, but these Rockets also have a shot at being one of the top Group of 5 teams.
Previewing Toledo Football’s Offense for 2017
Second-year head coach Jason Candle has key elements at his disposal to field one of the more explosive units in the country — a solid encore after Toledo averaged 38.0 points and led the MAC with 517.8 yards per game of offense in 2016.
Senior quarterback Logan Woodside led the nation a year ago with 45 touchdown passes — he threw at least three in every regular-season game — while connecting on 69.1 percent of his throws for 4,129 yards. Woodside has two of his top three receivers back in senior Cody Thompson and junior Jon’Vea Johnson. Thompson had 68 catches and 11 scores, while Johnson caught 40 balls with 10 touchdowns — and both averaged nearly 20 yards per reception. Senior Adam Kulon, who had one catch for six yards a year ago, has the huge task of replacing All-America tight end Michael Roberts and his 16 touchdown receptions.
Career rushing leader Kareem Hunt is gone, but his backup, senior Terry Swanson, earned second-team All-MAC honors in 2015 with nearly 1,000 yards. Backing Swanson up is explosive sophomore Art Thompkins, who averaged 8.1 yards on his 29 carries last year.
Up front, the Rockets lose three starters, but a core group of five experienced players should give the unit a strong foundation. Seniors Elijah Nkansah, Nate Jeppesen and Brant Weiss, sophomore center Bryce Harris and junior Yazeed Atariwa have all been at least part-time starters or top reserves. A two-year starter, Nkansah will anchor the group at left tackle.
Previewing Toledo Football’s Defense for 2017
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The Toledo defense is looking for leadership and an all-conference performance from fifth-year senior tackle Marquise Moore, who has 21 career starts. The 300-pounder had 36 stops last season and will be counted on to be an every-down player. Senior Daniel Davis, sophomores Nate Childress, Lamarr Davis and Willie Ross, as well as junior college transfer Reggie Howard all figure to get snaps alongside Moore. Junior Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, with 49 stops a year ago, is locked in at end, where seniors Zach Quinn and Tuzar Skipper will see significant action.
The linebacker position is experienced with junior Tyler Taafe and seniors Ja’Wuan Woodley and Jack Linch. Woodley earned third-team All-MAC honors last season.
Senior Trevon Mathis, with 13 starts and 44 tackles last season, and junior Ka’dar Hollman, with eight starts and 33 stops, return at cornerback. Junior Josh Teachey is a leading candidate at strong safety after starting 12 games at the hybrid Star position a year ago. Sophomore Ronnie Jones also will see time at safety, along with redshirt freshman Jordan Williams and sophomores Kahlil Robinson and Calvin Bransford.
Previewing Toledo Football’s Specialists for 2017
Backup quarterback Michael Julian is slated to handle the punting this season. Junior Jameson Vest and senior Sam Vucelich likely will again split the kicking duties, with Vest handling field goals — he made 13-of-19 last year — and Vucelich working kickoffs. Sophomores Diontae Johnson, Danzel McKinley-Lewis and Art Thompkins will share return duties.
A schedule that includes Tulsa at home and the Miami Hurricanes on the road presents its challenges, but the Rockets have the league’s best quarterback, tremendous depth and talent at wide receiver and a stable of productive running backs that never seems to thin. The defense doesn’t have to be great for this team to succeed; another middle-of-the pack finish in the MAC stats should suffice. The Rockets have won at least nine game five times in the last six seasons yet have not played in the MAC Championship Game since 2004. That drought should end in 2017.