2012 Record: 9-4 (6-2 in MAC)
Head Coach: Matt Campbell (10-4 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: lost to Utah State 41-15
Stadium: Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio (capacity = 26,248)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 13th out of 55 mid-major teams
Revenge: 9/28 at Ball State, 11/20 vs NIU
SEC East Opponents: 8/31 at Florida, 9/7 at Missouri
Stat to Fear: gave up 228 plays of 10 or more yards in 2012 (last in MAC, 122nd in Nation)
Stat to Cheer: held opponents to 48.98% TD rate in red zone (2nd in MAC)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 56th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 9, Defense 4, Special Teams 2
Key Defensive Returnees: DB Cheatham Norrils (74 tackles), DB Junior Sylvestre (49 tackles), LB Trent Voss (47 tackles), DL Jayrone Elliott (18 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 7 TFL)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Terrance Owens (2707 yds pass, 14 TD, 8 INT), RB David Fluellen (1498 yds rush, 13 TD), WR Bernard Reedy (88 rec), WR Alonzo Russell (55 rec)
Inside Scoop with LetsGoRockets.com:
CFBZ: Matt Campbell took over for Tim Beckman last season and maintained the Rockets record from the previous season. What did Campbell do well and what would you like to see him improve?
LetsGoRockets.com: While Campbell preserved the high flying offense we became accustomed to under Beckman, he also allowed some defensive inconsistency to persist. The defense is improving but we feel the single biggest issue Campbell has to fix is the defensive porosity, especially in the secondary. Campbell and his staff have shown that they can develop young talent but we need to see that consistently on the defensive side of the ball to help the Rockets continue to improve.
CFBZ: Toledo has had three straight winning seasons but hasn't claimed a MAC title since 2004. What are the missing pieces that would get them to a MAC Championship?
LetsGoRockets.com: Toledo’s last MAC title was in 2004, over Miami OH and since then, the largest missing piece for Toledo lies with it’s defense. With the onslaught of high scoring offenses in the MAC, the Rockets have struggled on the defensive side of the ball and have won mostly by outscoring it’s opponent. The defense needs to tighten up if the Rockets want to get back to the MAC championship caliber team we know they can be.
CFBZ: Looking at the schedule, what are the games Toledo fans have circled?
LetsGoRockets.com: The Rockets start the season with an uphill battle against SEC opponents Florida and Missouri in back-to-back weeks. Facing that kind of opposition on the road in the first two weeks of the season earns circles from us. The home game against Navy is another important game for the Rockets and usually draws a big crowd (largest crowd in Glass Bowl history came against Navy in 2001 with 36,852 fans attending). Strong performances in non-conference games are absolutely vital to maintaining Toledo’s scheduling ability and notoriety for bringing a tough team to play. Key games in the MAC schedule include games against Ball State, NIU, and arch-rival Bowling Green.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
LetsGoRockets.com: In order to be successful, the 2013 campaign has to see the Rockets continue to improve on both sides of the ball. While the offense has been holding it’s own as of late, the defense has left some unfinished business on the field. We’d like to see the defense tighten up and take some pressure off the offense to score every single possession just to stay in the game. If the defense holds up their end of the deal, we see a 10-2 season being ideal with a fourth consecutive bowl game appearance. Going undefeated in the MAC would be icing on the cake and restore the Rockets to the top rung of the MAC. If the defense does not show more maturity and progress from last season, then a few bad plays could see the Rockets dropping winnable games and ending the season in disappointment.
Toledo has won at least eight games in each of the last three years and don't appear to be fading. The Rockets have quite a bit of talent on offense with QB Terrance Owens, RB David Fluellen, WR Bernard Reedy and WR Alonzo Russell. The Rockets also return four starters on the OL including two All-MAC performers from 2012. This is the best cumulative offensive unit in the conference.
In the Q&A we talked a lot about the defense being the Achilles heel and that is something the Rockets have to fix if they want to take the next step. The defense gave up 5.33 ypc last season (11th in the MAC) and gave up a league worst 290 yds passing per game so they weren't good at stopping the run or the pass. Toledo losses a lot of depth on their DL but do return two seniors including Jayrone Elliott (6 sacks). At LB, the Rockets must replace their top two tacklers. Trent Voss returns but they need some of the younger guys to step quickly into position and have an impact. In the secondary, both starting corners return but both safeties must be replaced. This defense has potential due to the stellar recruiting the Rockets have had over the past couple of years. The defense also losses a lot of starters, which could be a good thing since the defense has not played well recently.
I expect Toledo to be in the MAC Championship picture at the end of the season. The catch a bit of a break by not having to play Kent State or Ohio from the other division but the key game is NIU. NIU is the new boss of the conference as they are fresh off of a BCS bowl game and the Rockets are 0-3 in their last three games against them. Defensive improvement is a must for the Rockets. I see another eight to nine win season on the horizon for the Rockets but they do have the talent to win ten or even eleven if they get the right breaks and the defense steps up.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:
@CFBZ There's a good piece over at Crystal Ball Run on the Toledo defensive picture this season: http://www.bloguin.com/crystalballrun/2013-articles/may/mac-preview-tom-matukewicz-leads-toledo-rockets-defense.html
@29sonski recruiting rankings don't win football games but 247 sports has Toledo as the #1 class for each of the last three years. The talent is there they just need to put it together on both sides of the football.
@CFBZ I've been to Toledo.... Not sure why they can recruit so successfully, but hats off to them. Of course, recruiting success is measured by pundits at their keyboards rather than players on the field.
Whatever the case, the Rockets were young an inexperienced last season. Look for improvement, but the MAC is a funny conference in that there's seldom a runaway team. The season is often in question until the finals weeks.
@29sonski I think if you are fringe BCS conference offensive player, you would want to take a look at a school like Toledo that likes to get run up and down the field. You can sit the pine at Michigan State or Illinois, etc or you can be a star at Toledo.