Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Here we go*
A year ago, Toledo entered the season with a super-young, new head coach and without its top two running backs, three of its top four pass targets, three starting offensive linemen, its top three defensive linemen, two of its top four linebackers, and three of its top four defensive backs. Under Tim Beckman, the Rockets had recruited quite well in comparison to the rest of the MAC, but this was a lot of inexperience to overcome.
If 2011 provided affirmation for the program Tim Beckman was building in Toledo, 2012 will be the ultimate test of whether the Rockets can withstand the typical parity effects of the MAC. Beckman was snatched up by Illinois in the offseason, and quite a few of Toledo's more interesting, explosive players are gone, replaced by unproven prospects and one-time star recruits. To keep the momentum going, both on offense and in the program as a whole, Toledo replaced Beckman with offensive guru Matt Campbell, [who] takes over a program that is both in transition and on an upward trajectory, having gone from three wins, to five, to eight, to nine in the last four seasons. [...]
[I]f the Rockets win eight or nine games this year despite the rash of turnover, the sky will have officially become the limit for a program that has recruited better than its rivals for a while now. The Campbell hire is both exciting (he's young and very, very proven already) and terrifying (he is also still just a 32-year old head coach), but he has as much upside as anyone they could have hired, and upside has been the name of the game for the Rockets recently.
Toledo won nine games in 2012. Sky becomes limit.
* Why "Here we go" instead of "It's time" or something similar? Because of that damned Bud Light commercial I've seen approximately 1,473 times since Thursday morning. I actually liked it on Thursday. Less so by Saturday.
2. Toledo is recruiting on a different level
It is an annual tradition at this point for me to spend part of the Toledo preview talking about the Rockets' ridiculous recruiting, but in 2013, it remained ridiculous. Toledo's 2013 signing class ranked 69th in the nation according to Rivals.com, ahead of BCS programs SMU (yes, they're BCS now, remember?), Cincinnati, Syracuse, UCF, Georgia Tech and Boston College, and it drastically outpaced the rest of the MAC. Bowling Green ranked 83rd, Central Michigan ranked 87th, and every other MAC program ranked 101st or worse.
Now, recruiting rankings only matter if they are followed by production, and Toledo's recent record is mixed. The Rockets have gone 20-4 in the MAC and won 26 games overall in the last three years, but thanks to Northern Illinois' recent run of dominance (which survived both turnover at quarterback and head coach), they have not been to a MAC title game since 2004. Northern Illinois is working under its third coach in four years and must once again visit Toledo for the rivals' matchup this fall, so maybe this is the year it turns around.
But either way, there are worse fates in the world than having to settle for nine-win seasons.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 54|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||at Arizona||17-24||L||15.0 - 31.9||L|
|8-Sep||at Wyoming||34-31||W||25.6 - 42.2||L|
|15-Sep||Bowling Green||27-15||W||48.7 - 29.8||W|
|22-Sep||Coastal Carolina||38-28||W||24.4 - 37.9||L|
|29-Sep||at Western Michigan||37-17||W||42.2 - 25.3||W|
|6-Oct||Central Michigan||50-35||W||25.5 - 22.0||W|
|13-Oct||at Eastern Michigan||52-47||W||43.0 - 54.5||L|
|20-Oct||Cincinnati||29-23||W||29.7 - 27.4||W|
|27-Oct||at Buffalo||25-20||W||29.3 - 25.3||W|
|6-Nov||Ball State||27-34||L||29.7 - 30.1||L|
|14-Nov||at Northern Illinois||24-31||L||36.7 - 33.9||W|
|20-Nov||Akron||35-23||W||32.0 - 20.6||W|
|15-Dec||vs. Utah State||15-41||L||26.2 - 38.1||L|
|Points Per Game||31.5||44||28.4||67|
|Adj. Points Per Game||31.4||42||32.2||97|
3. Wanted: stability
Toledo faced two different issues in 2012, both of which could be ascribed rather directly to inexperience. First, the Rockets were simply a pretty poor team in September. One would expect this, really. Thanks in part to turnovers and special teams, they took Arizona (another team dealing with turnover early in 2012) to overtime despite playing relatively poorly overall (they were outgained, 624-358). Then they limped past poor Wyoming and Coastal Carolina teams and lucked into drawing Bowling Green before the Falcons' defense found fifth gear. Over the first month of the season, Toledo went 3-1 but played at, overall, a pretty low level.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 35.5, Toledo 28.4 (minus-7.1)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 9 games): Toledo 32.7, Opponent 30.8 (plus-1.9)
The rest of the season saw a solid uptick in Toledo's overall level of play, but it was accompanied by drastic inconsistency. The Rockets looked great in disposing of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, then tried really hard to lose to Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti. They powered past Cincinnati, then fell at home to Ball State. They rebounded with solid reasonably performances against Northern Illinois and Akron, then fell apart late in the Potato Bowl versus Utah State. In all, Toledo's No. 54 ranking was good for third in the MAC (behind No. 33 Northern Illinois and No. 48 Kent State), but the team rarely played like No. 54. As often as not, it was either top 40 or bottom 40.
Again, though, what else would you expect from a high-ceiling team bereft of experience?
|Q1 Rk||63||1st Down Rk||61|
|Q2 Rk||45||2nd Down Rk||52|
|Q3 Rk||45||3rd Down Rk||61|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Terrance Owens||6'4, 205||Sr.||** (5.1)||215||350||2,707||61.4%||14||8||18||4.9%||7.1|
|Dwight Macon||6'0, 210||Jr.||*** (5.5)||2||3||30||66.7%||0||0||0||0.0%||10.0|
|Brian Blackburn||6'6, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
4. The healthiest quarterback platoon ever is no more
Matt Campbell was hired at a young age because of his prowess both on offense and in recruiting. With Campbell pulling the strings, the Rockets averaged 42 points and 481 yards of offense in 2011, and they did so with one of the most strangely effective, peaceful quarterback platoons ever. That year, then-junior Austin Dantin threw for 1,404 yards, 15 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 65 percent completion rate, while then-sophomore Terrance Owens threw for 2,022 yards, 18 touchdowns, three picks, and a 72-percent completion rate. Dantin was magnificent in the middle of the season (321 yards and five touchdowns versus Northern Illinois), while Owens lit up defenses late (1,070 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, no picks in the last four games of 2011). There were no threats of transfer, and there was no bickering. The two just alternated the No. 1 spot, and Toledo's offense pushed forward either way.
In 2012, Dantin struggled against Arizona (10-for-25 for 63 yards), and Campbell gave the reins to Owens, who did not relinquish them until a late-season ankle injury. With a new receiving corps and a new line protecting him, Owens completed 63 percent of his passes in the regular season, but his finish was less than memorable. He threw three picks in a tight loss to Northern Illinois (one that once again cost Toledo a shot at the MAC title), he missed the Akron game with injury (Dantin completed 29 of 35 passes for five touchdowns), and at less than 100 percent, he completed just six of 17 passes for 30 yards against a brutal Utah State defense in the Potato Bowl.
Owens was successful enough in 2012 as a whole that one would have assumed he'd beat out Dantin again in 2013, but Dantin is officially out of eligibility. The job is Owens' in entirety. And with a strong line and a developed receiving corps, he should do some very good things this fall.
|David Fluellen||RB||6'0, 215||Sr.||*** (5.6)||258||1,494||5.8||5.1||13||+14.1|
|Terrance Owens||QB||6'4, 205||Sr.||** (5.1)||83||490||5.9||4.0||5||+7.8|
|Cassius McDowell||RB||5'9, 180||Jr.||*** (5.5)||77||372||4.8||2.6||3||-3.4|
|Bernard Reedy||WR-M||5'9, 175||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||63||4.8||1.9||0||+1.2|
|Damian Jones-Moore||RB||5'7, 180||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Marc Remy||RB||6'0, 186||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Kareem Hunt||RB||5'10, 205||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Bernard Reedy||WR-M||5'9, 175||Sr.||*** (5.6)||133||88||1113||66.2%||8.4||31.4%||69.9%||8.4||122.1|
|Alonzo Russell||WR-X||6'4, 190||So.||*** (5.7)||99||55||953||55.6%||9.6||23.3%||49.5%||9.8||104.5|
|David Fluellen||RB||6'0, 215||Sr.||*** (5.6)||44||32||246||72.7%||5.6||10.4%||52.3%||5.8||27.0|
|Cassius McDowell||RB||5'9, 180||Jr.||*** (5.5)||35||21||187||60.0%||5.3||8.3%||71.4%||4.9||20.5|
|Justin Olack||WR-Z||6'4, 220||Jr.||*** (5.6)||34||19||260||55.9%||7.6||8.0%||64.7%||7.8||28.5|
|Dwight Macon||WR-Z||6'0, 200||Jr.||*** (5.5)||25||18||110||72.0%||4.4||5.9%||72.0%||4.7||12.1|
|James Green||WR-Z||6'3, 205||Sr.||**** (5.8)||11||9||108||81.8%||9.8||2.6%||81.8%||9.2||11.8|
|Alex Zmolik||TE/FB||6'5, 245||So.||** (5.4)||5||3||11||60.0%||2.2||1.2%||100.0%||1.3||1.2|
|Zach Rogers||WR-X||6'2, 195||So.||** (5.3)||2||2||0||100.0%||0.0||0.5%||50.0%||0.0||0.0|
|Kishon Wilcher||WR-M||5'7, 180||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Brandon Neverdon||WR-M||5'8, 170||RSFr.||NR|
|Rodney Adams||WR||6'1, 166||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Zachary Yousey||WR||6'2, 190||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
5. A weapon for every level
Strong recruiting might not produce star power, but it does usually give you solid depth. After a slow offensive start, Toledo established some wonderful depth in 2012 and returns a wealth of diverse options. You've got big David Fluellen (well, big for this offense), a solid between-the-tackles runner with occasional explosiveness. You've got Bernard Reedy, a Tavon Austin-style weapon near the line of scrimmage, capable of catching a high percentage of short passes and stretching defenses horizontally. And you've got X-receiver Alonzo Russell, a former star recruit who showed serious big-play (and low-efficiency) potential; Russell averaged 17.3 yards per catch last year; he caught six passes for 152 yards against Bowling Green, three for 98 against Eastern Michigan, and nine for 139 against Akron. Add to this lineup some interesting backups at running back (along with the ever-present threat of screens and dump-offs to the backs), big junior Justin Olack, and some high-upside freshmen (running back Kareem Hunt and receivers Rodney Adams and Zachary Yousey were all three-star signees), and Campbell has a lot of interesting toys in the toy box.
|Zac Kerin||C||6'5, 300||Sr.||** (4.9)||26 career starts; 2012 1st All-MAC|
|Greg Mancz||RG||6'5, 300||Jr.||*** (5.5)||26 career starts; 2012 3rd All-MAC|
|Josh Hendershot||LT||6'4, 295||Jr.||** (5.4)||13 career starts|
|Jeff Myers||LG||6'3, 290||Jr.||** (5.4)||13 career starts|
|A.J. Lindeman||RT||13 career starts|
|Chase Nelson||RT||6'8, 335||Jr.||NR|
|Robert Lisowski||RG||6'4, 292||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Erik Carlson||C||6'2, 292||Sr.||NR|
|Colin Perchinske||LT||6'5, 275||So.||** (5.3)|
|James Henry||LT||6'8, 290||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Raymond Marlowe||LG||6'7, 310||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Paul Perschon||RG||6'6, 310||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Storm Norton||RT||6'8, 310||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
6. Offensive line coach Tom Manning knows what he's doing
At this point, one could almost make the case that experience on the offensive line doesn't matter as much as having a great line coach. Certain coaches seem to milk quality play out of their lines no matter who returns, and let's just say that 29-year-old OL coach Tom Manning acquitted himself really, really well last fall. In 2012, Toledo returned just two starters from a line that had played at a really high level, and the line arguably played at as high a level, or higher. The Rockets were fantastic in setting up opportunities for their backs and avoided negative plays. Meanwhile, they protected two different quarterbacks well in passing downs situations. Despite decent size, this was not a line built to succeed in power situations, but this was a strong unit overall.
And now it returns four starters and 78 career starts in 2013. And it can probably expect to return another four starters in 2014.
|Q1 Rk||59||1st Down Rk||94|
|Q2 Rk||73||2nd Down Rk||115|
|Q3 Rk||115||3rd Down Rk||54|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Elijah Jones||NT||6'2, 295||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||23.5||3.2%||7.5||1.5||1||0||2||0|
|Jayrone Elliott||DE||6'3, 240||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||15.0||2.0%||7||6||0||0||1||0|
|Christian Smith||DE||6'2, 260||Sr.||** (4.9)||7||10.5||1.4%||2||1||0||1||0||0|
|Orion Jones||DT||6'2, 285||So.||** (5.4)||9||3.5||0.5%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Collins||DT||6'4, 290||So.||** (5.4)||5||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ray Bush||DE||6'3, 245||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Allen Covington||DE||6'2, 260||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Robert Zimmerman||NT||6'3, 325||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Phillip Martin||NT||6'4, 290||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Daniel Davis||DE||6'3, 245||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Marquise Moore||DT||6'1, 270||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
7. Recruiting rankings need to matter up front
Again, recruiting rankings are in no way guarantees of success. Development matters, and the rankings are not always perfectly accurate (to say the least). But Toledo needs them to be pretty accurate when it comes to the play of its front seven. The Rockets must replace five of their top eight players on the line, along with their top two linebackers (who combined for 9.5 tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed and 27 percent of Toledo's tackles). The departing talent was impressive, but it bears noting that the top two returnees on the line were each three-star recruits (and both Elijah Joens and Jayrone Elliott showed solid play-making ability in 2012), there are two three-star sophomores (Allen Covington and Robert Zimmerman) waiting in the wings, and two three-star freshmen enter the fray this summer.
Meanwhile, the linebacking corps might get a boost from three-star redshirt freshman Jaylen Coleman and three-star incoming freshman Austin Niswander, not to mention a full season from four-star senior Vladimir Emilien. Star rankings usually hint at upside; this front seven, which thrived in power situations but proved leaky at times, needs for that upside to become actual production.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Junior Sylvestre||WLB||6'0, 222||Jr.||** (5.2)||13||38.5||5.2%||1||0||0||1||0||1|
|Trent Voss||SLB||6'3, 220||So.||** (5.4)||12||36.5||4.9%||6.5||3.5||1||5||0||0|
|Vladimir Emilien||SLB||6'1, 215||Sr.||**** (5.8)||8||23.5||3.2%||0.5||0||1||1||0||0|
|Chase Murdock||MLB||6'0, 215||So.||** (5.4)||12||9.0||1.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ethan Kagy||SLB||5'11, 200||Sr.||NR||12||5.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|James Gordon||LB||6'3, 220||Jr.||*** (5.5)||5||4.5||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jaylen Coleman||MLB||6'0, 235||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Josh High||MLB||6'0, 222||RSFr.||NR|
|Drake Fletcher||WLB||6'0, 230||Jr.||NR|
|Austin Niswander||LB||6'2, 191||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cheatham Norrils||CB||6'0, 195||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||61.5||8.3%||1.5||0||2||5||0||0|
|Chris Dukes||CB||5'9, 185||So.||*** (5.5)||13||31.0||4.2%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Ross Madison||SS||6'1, 200||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||17.5||2.4%||0||0||0||2||1||0|
|Jordan Haden||SS||5'11, 200||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||14.0||1.9%||0||0||2||1||0||0|
|Juwan Haynes||CB||6'0, 185||So.||** (5.3)||13||8.5||1.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chaz Whitaker||FS||6'2, 200||So.||NR||8||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cameron Cole||CB||6'0, 190||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Danny Larkins||FS||5'11, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Travis Nees||SS||5'11, 195||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Delando Johnson||DB||6'2, 180||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
8. Who makes plays in the secondary?
Between corners Cheatham Norris and Chris Dukes, safeties Ross Madison and Jordan Haden (a Florida trnasfer), and newcomers to the rotation like Cameron Cole, Danny Larkins, and Delando Johnson, defensive coordinator Tom Matukewicz certainly has some athletic pieces here. But last year's Toledo secondary was a bit passive, decent at preventing big plays but content to allow shorter gains, and three of four players who defensed at least six passes in 2012 are gone. Can the pass defense avoid becoming even more passive in 2013?
|Vince Penza||6'1, 201||Sr.||58||40.5||3||14||21||60.3%|
|Jeremiah Detmer||5'8, 170||Jr.||85||61.6||23||27.1%|
|Jeremiah Detmer||5'8, 170||Jr.||44-47||18-21||85.7%||6-8||75.0%|
|Bernard Reedy||KR||5'9, 175||Sr.||32||27.7||3|
|Dwight Macon||KR||6'0, 210||Jr.||10||15.4||0|
|Cassius McDowell||KR||5'9, 180||Jr.||4||14.8||0|
|Bernard Reedy||PR||5'9, 175||Sr.||19||11.1||1|
|Special Teams F/+||25|
|Field Goal Pct||16|
|Kick Returns Avg||57|
|Punt Returns Avg||39|
9. A well-rounded special teams unit
I've written before about how kick and punt coverage can give us a hint toward a team's depth of athleticism. You want to put backups on the field, especially on kick coverage, and if you're allowing a lot of big returns, that is a red flag toward the competency and speed of those backups. Well ... Toledo's backups did their job perfectly well. Vince Penza was strong in the punting game, and though Jeremiah Detmer didn't boot many touchbacks, net kicking was decent, too. Throw in a good place-kicker (Detmer) and a great return man (Reedy scored four touchdowns on returns last year), and you've got yourself an exciting special teams unit, one that returns just about everybody.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|21-Sep||at Central Michigan||96|
|28-Sep||at Ball State||84|
|26-Oct||at Bowling Green||67|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||80|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||75|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+7 / +8.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (9, 4)|
10. Survive, then thrive
The goal for last season is the goal for this season. If Toledo can weather a rough early slate that features two projected Top 40 opponents and four road trips in five September games, Toledo could catch fire in October and November. Only two of the Rockets' final seven games are against teams projected better than 93rd, and only two are away from home.
Win the games you're supposed to win and take out NIU for once, and you can survive a slip-up against a Bowling Green or Ball State with your West Division title chances intact. Toledo has the best depth in the conference; it's time to turn that into a conference title.