There were a lot of reasons for optimism going into the season. Jason Candle won the Boca Raton Bowl in his first game as head coach.
On offense, quarterback Logan Woodside showed promise 2 years ago, before redshirting last season.
Cody Thompson, Jon’Vea Johnson and Corey Jones all had varying levels of success coming into the season, and tight end Michael Roberts showed a lot of promise.
Running Back Kareem Hunt had a phenomenal sophomore season, but was slowed by injuries as a junior. It was almost certain he was going to have a great season. If he didn’t, Terry Swanson was coming off a 923 yard season, where he averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
A Mike Ebert and Storm Norton led offensive line looked to be one of the top in the nation, just like the year before.
On defense, the line was anchored by Treyvon Hester, a member of the 2014 all conference second team.
Linebacker Ju’wuan Woodley was named defensive MVP of the Boca Raton Bowl after an already good season, and looked to break out his junior season.
DeJuan Rodgers, out of legendary Cass Tech, was 3rd team All-MAC, and looked to lead the secondary.
All lived up to potential.
After beating Arkansas State 31-10 in the first game, a team that had gone to a bowl game the previous 5 seasons, that optimism started to grow. After beating down FCS Maine and now perennial loser Fresno State, that optimism was confirmed.
Excitement built the entire bye week, as the Rockets headed to Provo to take on a 1-3 BYU squad. Any true football fan knew this was a huge game. Even though they were only 1-3, BYU beat Arizona in their opening, then suffered three extremely close losses, to UCLA, Utah, and West Virginia.
In one of the greatest regular season games ever, at least if you are a fan of offense, Toledo fell 55-53.
After the win, BYU went on rattle off 6 more wins in 7 games, and finished the regular season 8-4.
After that heartbreaking loss, won their next three, Toledo moving to 6-1. A close win over hated rival Bowling Green was wedged between wins over EMU and CMU.
At this point in the season, the Rocket’s offense was in full motion. Logan Woodside had already thrown for 28 touchdowns on the season, one short of Bruce Gradkowski’s record of 29. People like me were eyeballing and talking about the end of the season match-up with undefeated Western Michigan, and what huge game that would be.
Next, disaster struck. Well, not really, but Ohio did pick up their first win in the Glass Bowl in a really long time.
Toledo still controlled their own destiny in the MAC. All they had to do was win out.
Of course road games against Northern Illinois and WMU were still on the schedule, so much easier said than done.
Toledo managed to beat the Zips, the Huskies, and the Cardinals, setting up a winner take all match-up against the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos. The game started with a Logan Woodside pick 6, and it really didn’t get any better after that. The Broncos finished with a 55-35 win.
The Rockets finished the season a respectable 9-3, with a couple of close losses to quality teams, and one semi blow out against a historically good team.
Toledo was selected to play in the Camellia Bowl against a 9-3 Appalachian State squad out of the Sun Belt. The Rockets lost a really close one, 31-28. That game perfectly summed up the entire season. Really close, just a little bit short of greatness.
The Rockets offense put up some incredible numbers. They averaged 38.8 points a game. Their 529.8 yards per game led the entire MAC and was top 10 in the nation.
Defensively, they gave up 25.3 points per game, finishing 4th in the MAC.
Individually, the offense had several record setters.
Logan Woodside finished with 43 passing touchdowns, shattering the previous Rockets record for a season.
Tight end Michael Roberts caught 16 of those scores, also a single season record for any Rocket, regardless of position.
Kareem Hunt finished the season with 1475 yards. His career mark of 4945 is the most for any Rocket in history, and places him 3rd all time for the MAC.
Cody Thompson finished with 1269 yards on the year, another Rockets record.
9-4, with no hardware is still a good season. The Rockets lose some great players, like Hunt and Roberts, but also return Woodside, Thompson, and other play makers.
There will be reason for optimism, next season, too.