Thursday, July 6, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Toledo Rockets
The Rockets fell just short of winning the MAC West title in 2016, but the road is wide open for them to run to the West title this season, as Toledo may just have the most talented roster returning in the conference this fall. Jason Candle and staff appear to be holding all of the cards this season, but can their talented roster hold off all challengers to run to the MAC title, and even have enough to push USF out of the running for a NY6 bowl bid?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
One of the top five QBs in the nation resides in Toledo, in his name is Logan Woodside. Woodside is one of the most talented passers in the nation, and if he were playing at a Power Five program, he would be a front runner for the Heisman trophy this year. As it is, he is a dark horse candidate, who will likely be a major target for any NFL team in the first round of the draft in spring of 2018. Woodside passed for 4129 yards last season with 45 TDs to just nine INTs, and averaged 317 yards passing per game, while completing 69.1% of his passes. He will be a major force in the MAC, and will be the driving force moving the Rockets towards a title run in the league this fall.
Kareem Hunt is gone at RB, but Terry Swanson showed plenty last fall to show that he can carry the load. He averaged just over five yards per carry last season, and should get first crack at the full time job after rushing for 583 yards. Art Thompkins, a sophomore this season, averaged just over eight yards per carry in limited action, and could also be an explosive player in the mix. Nevone McCrimmon and Shakif Seymour, a pair of RS freshmen, are looking for carries as well.
Cody Thompson is back for his senior season at WR after leading the Rockets with 64 receptions for 1269 yards and 11 scores in 2016. He is one of the more talented receivers in the nation, and will give Woodside an proven target to get the football to on any given day. Jon'Vae Johnson is also back after a 40 catch season, and will move up the depth chart a bit to become the number two receiver, replacing the departed Corey Jones. Dionate Johnson is also back after missing last season with injury, and as many as five other receivers have seen action that return to the fold this season.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The line will lose three starters, and that is a concern on the surface, however, five players who saw major action all return in Elijah Nkansah, Nate Jeppeson, Bryce Harris, Brant Weiss, and Yazeed Atariwa. The challenge will getting these pieces to fit into the puzzle, and have them all ready to gel on day one of the season.
PK is another area where not all went perfectly last fall. Jameson Vest returns, but hit just 13/19 FG tries, and he also missed a PAT. The hope is for growth this fall, but having someone around to push him may not be the worst thing.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Ja'Wuan Woodley will be one of the best defenders coming back in the MAC this fall at LB. He finished last fall with 79 tackles, and more impressively finished with 13 TFLs. He is a force coming off of the edge. He will be joined by fellow returning starter Tyler Taafe, who started all 13 games at MLB last fall. He finished with 70 tackles on the season. Jack Linch figures in at the other OLB spot after mixing time between special teams and defense least season. Richard Olekanma is back after missing ten games last fall to injury. Tre'shun Wilson, a RS freshman, got some serious looks in spring ball as well.
Three starters return to the secondary this fall, including both CBs in Trevon Mathis and Ka'dar Hollman. Hollman was truly the star last fall, as he finished the year with eight PBUs. Mathis finished with 44 tackles. Aaron Covington, Marcus Whitefield, and Kennedy Frazier all return as key reserves at the corner, while Justin Clark, Keelen Roberts, and Kareem Felder are all RS freshmen who the staff is high on.
What To be Concerned About: Defense
The line is kind of hit and miss this fall, with only two players coming back with serious experience and production. DT Marquie Moore is back at DT, and finished with 36 tackles, while DE Olasunkanmi Adeniyi also returns after finishing last fall with eight TFLs. Zach Quinn is back at DE, but has spread 43 tackles over three seasons, and he will have to step up big this season. Seven others could figure into the rotation at DT, but none come with any kind of pedigree to date, while Tuzar Skipper will also figure in at DE after finishing with 22 tackles last fall.
The Safety spot is really up for grabs this fall as well, despite Josh Teachey coming back at the STAR spot. He does not have a firm grip on the job, however, and everything seems open as we head into fall camp.
The punting job is also open after the departure of Nick Ellis, who averaged 43.11 yards per punt last season.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 Elon, 9/9 at Nevada, 9/16 Tulsa, 9/23 at Miami, 10/7 Eastern Michigan, 10/14 at Central Michigan, 10/21 Akron, 10/26 at Ball State, 11/2 Northern Illinois, 11/8 at Ohio, 11/15 at Bowling Green, 11/24 Western Michigan
This may be one of the most talented teams in Toledo history on offense, as every position seems loaded, even at RB where Kareem Hunt has departed. Jason Candle has this team primed to win the MAC West and take the overall MAC title this fall, especially if a rebuilt line and deep secondary hold together. This defense gave up 25.7 points per game last fall, and may have to win a few more in shootout fashion. If that transpires, or the defense plays beyond expectations, we could see the Rockets pushing for a major bowl bid.