The Toledo Rockets suffered a disappointing finish to the 2013 season that was punctuated by missing out on a bowl bid for the first time in four years. Despite going 7-5, there was a feeling of the Rockets taking a step back in 2013 as they stumbled with back-to-back losses to close out the regular season that knocked them out of the running for the MAC championship.
This season, Toledo will have to replace a number of star players on both sides of the ball but head coach Matt Campbell has recruited well and stocked the roster with excellent depth across the board. Many key contributors from 2013 return to fill bigger roles in 2014 and how well they step up will determine just how far the Rockets go in the wild and wacky MAC title chase.
Long-time starting quarterback Terrance Owens has graduated leaving a void under center that Toledo has to address. Logan Woodside filled in admirably for Owens at times as a freshman last season when the senior starter was injured, completed 21-of-41 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown.
He’s the only quarterback on the roster with any game experience, though Alabama Crimson Tide transfer and former three-star quarterback recruit Phillip Ely is eligible and could push for playing time if Woodside struggles. 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman Michael Julian rounds out the depth chart giving the Rockets an untested trio to lead the offense.
At the skill positions, Toledo loses both their leading rusher, David Fluellen, and receiver/returner, Bernard Reedy, but returns basically everyone else. The running game will be handled by a talented trio of sophomore running backs, led by Kareem Hunt who averaged 6.3 yards per carry as he racked up 866 yards and six touchdowns.
At receiver, Toledo will lean on three upper classmen and a host of young players with all kinds of potential if not a lot of experience. Alonzo Russell is the team’s leading returning receiver after hauling in 59 passes for 728 yards last season and six touchdowns. Seniors Dwight Macon and Justin Olack round out the returners with notable experience after the pair combined for 34 receptions for 219 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.
The Toledo defense led the MAC last season averaging 3.0 sacks per game in 2013 but will have to find some new playmakers to keep the rush going in 2014. Defensive ends Jayrone Elliot (9.0 sacks) and Christian Smith (2.0) have graduated after leading the defensive line in tackles last season. However, there are plenty of able bodies ready to step in and fill the void next fall.
Big anchor Treyvon Hester returns at nose tackles after recording 27.5 tackles last season, including 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Allen Covington, who finished third on the team with 4.5 sacks last season, will step into the starting lineup at defensive end looking to bring pressure off the edge like Elliot did in 2013.
At linebacker, the team is stacked with returning talent with the top four producing linebackers from 2013 back this season. Junior Slyvestre returns to lead the group after finishing as the team’s leading tackler in 2013, notching 118 total tackles. He also added 5.0 sacks, an interception, and two fumble recoveries he returned for touchdowns.
The secondary returns three of four starters this season with the entire second and third string returning as well. Injuries and youth played a part in this unit struggling to defend the pass in 2013 but should be a strength in 2014 if the group can continue to develop.
Toledo will get tested early in their schedule before hitting conference play as they once again take on the Missouri Tigers in their second game of the year. After that, they are on the road to face the Cincinnati Bearcats, who should be a favorite in the AAC this season. They finish their non-conference slate up on October 11 when they travel to Ames to play the Iowa State Cyclones.
In MAC play, they open their conference schedule against the Ball State Cardinals before entering a very winnable stretch of conference games against foes who went just 12-36 last season. The Rockets then face tough back-to-back games with the 2013 MAC Championship participants, on the road against the Northern Illinois Huskies and at home against the Bowling Green Falcons, before finishing the regular season against the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
Toledo is a team that lacks a returning star but has great depth across the board with the potential to make a run at the MAC title in 2014. Look for the Rockets to be in the mix this November, winning six to eight games in 2014.