Toledo football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Rockets, best players and season prediction.
It’s the cost of doing business as a successful MAC program.
Unless he’s a retread at the last stop of his career – like Frank Solich at Ohio or Terry Bowden at Akron – there’s no such thing as a MAC head coaching lifer, so no one expected Matt Campbell to stick around after a wildly successful 2015 season.
There wasn’t a MAC championship at the end of the fun, and there wasn’t even a trip to the title game, but Toledo made a big splash with its stunning win over Arkansas to open the season and with a blowout win over eventual MAC champion Bowling Green. The losses to Northern Illinois and Western Michigan proved costly – the team was ten points away from being perfect – but the big year added up to a new gig for Campbell, going to the Iowa State program his Rocket team beat in a double-overtime thriller.
And in steps Jason Candle, who if all goes well, is a rent-a-coach, too, just like Campbell, and Tim Beckman, Gary Pinkell, and Nick Saban. Since 1990, only Tom Amstutz didn’t leave for a power job, and after leading the way to a dominant win over Temple in the Boca Raton Bowl, the 36-year-old Candle seems like he has what it takes to be the next great ex-Toledo head coach.
But first, the Rockets have to keep on winning.
They need a new quarterback, and they need a new No. 1 receiver, and they need three new starters on the defensive line and several key starters, but the fundamentals of the program are still strong.
The schedule isn’t bad – at least early on – the running game should be great, and the team should be deep in the MAC championship mix again.
But for all the success, and all the great coaches, and all the positives, the last MAC championship win was 2004 – which was also the last time the team was in the title game.
Candle has a chance this season to make his own big name and his own success.
What You Need To Know About The Toledo Offense
The offense rolled last season, and now it’s up to former Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Brian Wright to keep it all going. Everything will start with the ground game and the running back combination of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson working behind a great line that loses C Ruben Carter, but gets back four starters. The ultra-efficient passing game has to replace QB Phillip Ely, but Logan Woodside is back to battle with several young options. Good WR Alonzo Russell is gone, but Cody Thompson and four of the top five receivers are back.
Biggest Key To The Offense
There’s no need to overthink this. It’s a new coaching staff with a new style – maybe. The offense gets back four starters on a line that allowed just four sacks and paved the way for 208 rushing yards per game, and two 900-yard backs – Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson – return. Out of the 2,495 rushing yards amassed last season, all but 12 are back along with 25 of the 26 rushing scores. The passing attack will be fine, and the balance will be there again, but this could and should be among the MAC’s most lethal and consistent rushing attacks – expect close to 3,000 yards from this backfield.
What You Need To Know About The Toledo Defense
Defensive coordinator Brian George has the most work to do. The guy who helped the Kent State defense turn into one of the MAC’s best over the last few years should be able to get this group to attack, but he needs to do it with several new parts. The run defense finished tenth in the nation, but three starters on the line are gone along with two of the other key parts up front in the former 4-2-5 alignment. Why was the run D so good? It really was solid, but it’s also because offenses spent so much time bombing away. Two starters are back in the secondary led by S DeJuan Rogers and CB Trevon Mathis.
Biggest Key To The Defense
Can the secondary come up with a stop? It was fine over the first half of the season allowing just two touchdown passes in the first six games, and then the wheels came off. The pass rush was great at times, and there were plenty of interceptions, but the secondary gave up massive yards allowing 200 or more in every game but one – Kent State couldn’t throw on anyone – and there were way too many rough patches. Eight offenses connected on 60% of their passes or more, but on the plus side, even with all the woes in the defensive backfield it was still a major improvement over 2014.
Toledo Will Be Far Better If …
The penalties slow down. Getting flagged wasn’t a problem over the last two years, and then last year the Rockets were hit eight times per game with 14 against Ball State and ten against UMass. The penalties were mostly the ticky-tack variety, but giving away 80 yards or more in five games was a problem. By comparison, Toledo was tagged with over 80 yards worth of penalties once in 2014.
Best Toledo Offensive Player
RB Kareem Hunt, Sr. – An early suspension and just nine games of overall work knocked down his production in a big way after coming close to running for 1,700 yards in 2014, but he still led the team with 973 yards and was still one of the MAC’s best backs. Combining with Terry Swanson and Damion Jones-Moore, Hunt should once again be the lead dog in a phenomenal rushing rotation.
Best Toledo Defensive Player
S DeJuan Rogers, Sr. – At least he might have to be the best defensive player. The Rockets return three starters to a group that gave up way too many yards, but managed to make up for several big problems with interceptions. Not just great against the run, he was a big hitter on receivers with 11 broken up passes at safety. He can do a little of everything for the back seven.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DT Treyvon Hester, Sr. – With three starters gone on the defensive front, the 6-4, 305-pound Hester has to work as the anchor and occasional factor in the backfield. More than anything else, he’s got to be the leader of the rebuilding front. He came up with 34 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, but as long as he can hold on and be a force against the run on the inside, he’ll be doing his job.
The Toledo Rocket Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the MAC championship. It might be a new coaching staff, and there might be some major holes on the defensive line and, maybe, at quarterback, but the bar is set at title or bust. There’s enough time to get geared up and seasoned before the schedule kicks in full force in November. At the very least, 9-0 isn’t an insane goal if there aren’t any major slip-ups before …
Nov. 9 at Northern Illinois. The regular-season finale at Western Michigan is massive, and the home game against Bowling Green will be fun, but the showdown in U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago should be an elimination game for the division title. The Rockets got hit at home last year by the Huskies for their first loss of the season. They could be unbeaten again this time around, too.
2015 Toledo Rocket Fun Stats
– Sacks: Toledo 26 for 165 yards – Opponents 5 for 25
– Third Quarter Scoring: Toledo 90 – Opponents 37
– Fumbles: Opponents 27 (lost 10) – Toledo 18 (lost 4)