by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

Toledo (9-4 overall in 2011) came within a FG of winning the MAC West last season, coming out on the short end of a key 63-60 firefight on November 1 vs. eventual MAC champ Northern Illinois (which advanced to the MAC championship by virtue of that victory). But the Rockets’ prolific offense and back-to-back 7-1 MAC seasons were enough for HC Tim Beckman to get a nice offer to take over at Illinois. Beckman’s departure has left the door open for young (32), enthusiastic, OL coach and offensive coordinator Matt Campbell to get a chance as a head coach. And, although UT returns only four “formal” starters on each side of the ball, Campbell appears to have enough material on hand to make another strong run at the MAC title.

That’s because the Rockets fought through numerous injuries--several of them season-ending--last season, and most of those players return to action in 2012. Yes, like every college team, UT has its rebuilding to do. But, for the most part, especially on defense, the Rockets have lots of coveted depth and experience. Says youthful mentor Campbell, “We have a great mix of juniors and seniors in leadership positions on our team. I think we are a young football team in a lot of areas. But we have great talent and great leadership, so I think we have an opportunity to be a really solid football team.”

The leadership starts at QB, where Toledo has two proven veterans. Sr. Austin Dantin (64.9%, 1404 YP, 15 TDs vs. only 4 ints.) started the first 10 games last season until seeing his playing time limited by concussion symptoms. Mobile junior Terrance Owens (right; 72.2%, 2022 YP, 18 TDs, 3 ints.) had been seeing playing time throughout the season and then flourished when taking over as the starter in the last three games. While both QBs are proficient in executing Toledo’s spread attack, they are dissimilar enough (sr. Dantin steadier in the pocket; the 6-4 Owens a long-legged lefty who is more of a running threat) to present different challenges to defenses, who must prepare for both. That partly explains why the Rockets finished 9th in total offense last season, and 8th in scoring (42.2 ppg).

Even though the UT offense loses its 1000-yard rusher (Adonis Thomas) and prolific WR (Eric Page; a MAC-record 306 career receptions) from 2011, there is reason to believe there won’t be much drop off in Rocket firepower this season. 6-0, 215 jr. David Fluellen (left; 493 YR last season as the team’s No. 3 back) appears well-prepared for the starter’s role. Punishing 6-2, 232 David Pasquale (59 YR as a Wildcat back LY) will get an expanded “muscle” role, and it turns out he’s a good blocker and receiver as well.

At WR, 5-9 jr. Bernard Reedy (40 recs., 9 TDs as a soph) appears ready to be the No. 1 target after his three TDC helped him become the MVP of Toledo’s 42-41 victory in last season’s Military Bowl. As a taller receiving option, HC Campbell is high on the potential of 6-3 jr. James Green. And the star of spring was 6-0 soph Dwight Mason, the Rockets’ talented No. 3 QB who has been moved to wideout this season in order to get his big-play potential on the field. Meanwhile, 6-4 sr. Cordale Scott has been instructed to bulk up after being moved from WR to TE in order to provide a better threat from the slot. Highly-regarded 5-8 frosh speedster Corey Jones is expected to compete immediately for time at WR and on returns. Receivers Toledo has.

The big question mark on offense is the OL, which returns only two starters. However, those two are good ones, as jr. C Zac Merin is an engineering major already honored on the MAC’s gridiron and all-academic teams, while soph G Greg Mancz won numerous frosh A-A honors last year. Plus, 2011’s backups got plenty of playing time, including sr. tackle A.J. Lindeman, who has experience at both RT & LT, while soph G Jeff Myers saw more than 300 snaps as a frosh. An interesting project is 6-8, 335 Chase Nelson, a junior with interesting potential. Campbell, who was in charge of the OL for three years under Beckman, is confident his pet platoon will grow into the task in 2012.

Defense is another matter for Toledo, which gave up 31.7 ppg (94th in the country) and was 105th vs. the pass. Those numbers might have been worse were it not for UT’s 30 takeaways (16th in the nation) last season. Officially, the “four returning starters” phrase on defense is a bit misleading. It’s more like seven. Sr. LB Dan Molls (right), who had 143 tackles in 2010, missed seven games LY with a leg injury and had only 70 stops in 2011. Sr. DE T.J. Fatinikin (10 career sacks) missed the last half of the season with an elbow injury. Former starting safety Marc Singer (shoulder) missed the entire 2011 campaign and redshirted, but now returns. Meanwhile, Michigan transfer Vladimir Emilien is now eligible and won UT’s starting hybrid LB/SS slot in spring. Emilien’s availability has allowed sr. Byron Best--who played that “star” hybrid position last season--to take his experience to CB (which Best played as a freshman), where Toledo lost both starters to graduation. Returning sr. S Jermaine Robinson is a two-year starter who had three ints. last season, while backup jr. DT/DE Ben Price collected 5½ sacks as a pass-rush specialist last season. If the Rockets have just a little better injury luck this season, the defense has a chance to improve.

The FGs will be handled by kickoff and long-ball specialist soph Jeremiah Detmer, who was 5 of 6 last season (2 of 2 from 50 yards or more).

Summary...With its two proven QBs, backed by plenty of help, the Toledo offense should be more than okay in 2012. However, even though UT regains the services of several veteran defenders from 2011 injuries, it is difficult not to be at least a little skeptical of a Rocket team that yielded 63 points in back-to-back November games last season. Yes, part of that allowance is due to the uptempo games that Toledo prefers. However, the Rockets must play both top MAC West challengers Western Michigan and Northern Illinois on the road. And UT has a difficult start to its 2012 season with road games at Arizona (Rich Rodriguez’ debut with the Wildcats) and at Wyoming (where Dave Christensen has revived the program). The Rocket offense should be there all season, but the defense and its difficult schedule will test Toledo’s youngest-in the FBS coach perhaps more than expected. One MAC victory short once again?

Note: Toledo scored 42 or more points in its last six games of 2011! And the Rockets have gone “over” 14 of 25 chances in the last two years. But it’s Toledo’s MAC home games where the totals percentages have been high, with the Rockets 10-2 “over” hosting MAC foes the last two campaigns.


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