Now that summer is winding down, football season winds up. While NFLers were negotiating, college programs have been practicing and filing down their depth charts in preparation for Labor Day weekend when the season begins. The weather outside is heating up and that must mean it's time for us to begin previewing the MAC, one team at a time...
Do fans of other teams secretly hear the Imperial March in their heads when it’s Toledo week? The Rockets showed last year that they’re always one or two steps away from being that powerhouse again, scoffing at the preseason prediction of finishing 4th in the MAC West and nearly running the table in conference (one nationally-televised beatdown at the hands of the Huskies stood in the way). This year, no flying under the radar (hurrr rocket joke): the media picked Toledo to win it all.
Last Season: If I told you a team that went 5 and 7 and lost 11 senior starters (including a 4-year starter at QB) was going to go bowling the next year, you’d either think I was crazy or Biff Tannen with a sports almanac. But that’s exactly what the Rockets were able to do: facing a meat grinder of a start to the year (Arizona, @Ohio, @Western Michigan, @Purdue, Wyoming, Boise St), they made it through at 3-3, and finished 8-5, 7-1 in MAC play, and playing in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, their first bowl game since 2005.
Returning Players: You mean besides First-Team All-American Eric Page? What about quarterbacks Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens, both whom had starts last year? How about the 3 headed hydra of Adonis Thomas, Morgan Williams, and David Fluellen in the backfield? When you have 17 returning starters, there’s a whole heck of a lot to highlight. It’s not all good news, though: that defense is going to miss the services of leading tackler Archie Donald (recently picked up by Cleveland) and 3rd leading tackler Isaiah Ballard (kicked off the team for punching people in the face).
New Faces: A lot of eyes will be on Cordale Scott, the transfer from Illinois. He’s listed as the second Z receiver on the depth chart behind Tim Cortazzo, but he’ll have the skill to draw the double coverage away from Page. Also keep a watch on the center position: with Kevin Kowalski off to play for the Cowboys, Beckman is putting redshirt freshman Greg Mancz on the ball.
Game(s) To Circle: Rockets fans are, of course, looking at that Sept. 10th game against Ohio State, hoping they can catch the Buckeyes when their down (Like they did Purdue last year, or Michigan, or Colorado, or Penn State, or or or...). Also of note: the Bowling Green game has been mercifully moved to October 15th, where it will no longer be subject to embarrassingly small crowds on the day after Thanksgiving, and the de facto MAC West Championship game against Northern Illinois on Nov. 1.
Did You Know...: that Coach Tim Beckman sleeps in the dorms with the team during camp? Worst. RA. Ever.
Did You Also Know...: that Northern Illinois considers Toledo their main rival? What the heck? We hate birds, not dogs. Well, birds and Herds, but they ran crying to Conference USA.
Prediction: I picked Toledo to win the whole shebang in our preseason poll, and I’m sticking to it. 9-3, 7-1 in conference. I’d love to pick UT to beat Ohio State (I did it in the Michigan game, but in my defense I was broadcasting live from the Toledo Alumni tent), but I can’t. But I’ll take a Syracuse upset, and a loss to Miami, just to make things interesting.