In his first year as head coach of the Toledo Rockets, Matt Campbell led the squad to an impressive 9-4 record in 2012, capped off with an appearance in the Idaho Potato Bowl. Although for those with cloudy memories of this explosive unit, this team was dangerously close to finishing the year undefeated and possibly replacing Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.
In 2013, do Campbell and this version of the Rockets have enough to close out games they weren’t able to last season and possibly be this year’s BCS-buster?
Let’s see as we take a look at the number 52 team on our Top 100 Countdown, the Toledo Rockets.
With nine returning starters on offense, seeing Toledo in a major bowl game in January might not be out of the realm of possibility altogether.
Senior QB Terrance Owens returns to lead the offense after throwing for over 2700 yards and 14 TDs last season. The dual-threat athlete also added 500 yards on the ground with five scores. Imagining this young man only getting better in his last year on campus is a scary thought for all opposing teams.
Speaking of adding yards on the ground, the Rockets can brag about being the owner of one of the best running backs in all of college football whom also returns for his final year of college action. David Fluellen set the MAC world on fire last year rushing for 1498 yards and 13 TDs. With 32 catches out of the backfield for 246 yards to add to the impressive rushing skills, Fluellen is one of the most versatile athletes in the country that not a lot of people may know about–but they soon will.
To add to the threat of this offense, potential First-Team All-MAC receivers Justin Olack and Bernard Reedy return to catch passes from Owens and make this unit that much more dangerous. Reedy capped his year with over 1100 yards in 2012 and Olack, while not as effective, certainly has the talents to break out on the same level this season.
Couple all of these pieces with the fact that the offensive line returns all but one starter, and you have the formula for one of the most fluid and effective offenses, not just in the MAC, but in all of college football.
The Rockets only return four starters on the defensive unit, which could ultimately be the Achilles heel of this team.
Up front, Toledo loses basically all the starters from last season, however this is nothing new. This is the third straight season that the school loses at least three starters from the defensive line. If anything, they’ll have to improve upon their 182 yards-per game rushing average.
Losing your top two tacklers from your linebacker unit doesn’t help much neither. Senior Michigan transfer Vladimir Emilien will need to emerge and utilize those skills that made him a one-time Big Ten LB recruit in the first place.
With the Rockets playing a 4-2-5 on defense, help in the secondary is all over the place. But, losing virtually everyone on that unit as well means that the new starters have to learn on the job, and quickly, in the pass-heavy MAC. While losing a combined 79 career starts in the defensive backfield, they do get back Florida transfer S Jordan Haden after suffering an injury in the spring last season.
Now while I said that this team has the ability to break the BCS barriers, the schedule doesn’t help matters much. The Rockets open up 2013 against two SEC opponents in the Florida Gators and the Missouri Tigers on the road. Following those, it’s off to the exciting slate of MAC games, with a contest against the Navy Midshipmen sandwiched in on Oct. 19. But certainly, all eyes will be fixed on the Nov. 20 contest against defending MAC Champion, the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Assuming losses to Florida and Missouri to begin the year, this squad can easily run the table behind that explosive offense after those games. A 10-2 campaign with a MAC Championship to go along with that certainly seems plausible. As long as the defense can come together quickly as the year progresses, this could end up being a year to remember for the Rockets.
Jack is a College Football Writer for Rant Sports. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackJ14RS