The Toledo Rockets lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball from the 2016 season. 3 or 4 of those guys could hear their name called in the upcoming NFL draft. Storm Norton, Mike Ebert, Michael Roberts and Kareem Hunt were all first team All-MAC on the offensive side of the ball and are now gone.
On the defensive side of the ball, they lost John Stepec, Trayvon Hester, and Dejuan Rodgers, all who were second team or better. They also lost Corey Jones, a potent receiver and a third team All-MAC special teams performer.
Even with all the departures, I still expect the Rockets to be potent on offense, as they are still loaded at the skill positions.
Defensively they will probably struggle early, but it wasn’t exactly their strong suit last season.
Since MAC basketball is over, I am going to make a way too early prediction on every Toledo football game next season.
Week 1: Thur., August 31st, Elon Phoenix
It’s never too early to predict a win against the Phoenix. They are an FCS school, and not a very good one. They finished last season on a seven-game losing streak, and lost their opening two games by a combined 78-20 to Gardner-Webb and Charlotte.
I would break this game down position by position, and go two-deep and include include third-and-fourth-teamers on some of the more interesting matchups, but on second thought, I am just going to go ahead pick it.
Prediction: Rockets win 55-20.
Week 2: Sat., September 9th @ Nevada Wolfpack
Nevada wasn’t a particularly good team last season, going 5-7. One of those losses was against Buffalo. They beat Fresno State, 27-21, a team that Toledo handled 52-17. As a rule, I generally don’t put too much into common opponents, especially a year out.
However, I do think it’s an indication of how this game should go. Nevada only scored 25 points per game last season, while giving up only 29. The 29 PPG on defense is (frankly) an accomplishment because they were a sieve on the ground, giving up 3571 rushing yards on the season. That’s 297 yards per game, with a 6+ yard per carry average.
Also working in Toledo’s favor, the Wolfpack open on the road against a solid Northwestern squad.
This game, along with the freebie first game of the year, should give Swanson and the offensive line some serious confidence.
Prediction: Toledo wins 45-20.
Week 3: Sat., Sept. 16th Tulsa Golden Hurricane
The Rockets are going to need all the confidence they can muster, as they face the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes next.
The bad news for the Rockets, Tulsa was fantastic last season. They only lost 3 games last season, with two of those losses against a very good Navy team and borderline great Houston team by a combined 9.
The Golden Hurricanes were blown out by Ohio State, but it was extremely close at the half, when the game was delayed for an hour or so because of the weather. Many believe the Golden Hurricane could have pulled that game out had it not been for the weather, ironically enough.
The good news for the Rockets is that Tulsa loses 9 starters off that team, including Dane Evans. The game is also in the Glass Bowl, which could be a great advantage.
However, I think the deciding factor in the game is who comes back, which is D’Angelo Brewer, a 1400 yard rusher. With the way the Rockets defended the run last season, that can’t be good news.
Prediction: Rockets lose a shootout, 50-45.
Week 4, Saturday, Sept. 23rd @ Miami Hurricanes
After losing four mostly close games in the middle of the season, the other Miami finished the season on a strong note. They won their last five in impressive fashion, including a blowout win against Pittsburgh.
Mark Richt has a lot of returning talent, and I fully expect the Hurricanes to be back, or mostly back, to their former glory.
Of all the games on the schedule, this one might be the most important to me. That said, I just don’t think the Rockets can pull it out. The Hurricane defense is loaded with returning talent, and their offense will be able to move the ball.
Prediction: Rockets lose their second in a row, 38-28.
Week 5: OFF
A much needed bye week for the Rockets to recharge and regroup.
Week 6: Sat., Oct. 7th, Eastern Michigan Eagles
This game scares me a bit, and not just because it was kind of close last season. Ok, I lied; that’s a big reason why.
The Eagles were a tough team last year, that played good defense. No longer are they the EMU team that floundered in the basement of the FBS. Brogan Roback returns, as does Shaq Vann, providing a balanced offensive attack that seeks to grind out teams.
The Eagles had a knack for keeping games close all of last season and that experience should help the formerly hapless Eagles learn how to grow as a football team.
This will be a good test for both teams.
The fact that it’s in the Glass Bowl, and we don’t really know if EMU is going to be the real deal this season like they were last, gives me hope. In fact, enough hope to call this one a win.
Prediction: Rockets win, 34-17.
Week 7: Sat. Oct. 14th @ Central Michigan Chippewas
Cooper Rush is gone. Central Michigan fans are grumbling. It’s a likely rebuilding year in Mt. Pleasant.
Toledo has owned this series of late, with the last loss coming nearly seven years ago. The games have not been competitive, either, with Toledo winning by double-digits in all but one game in that span (28-23 in 2015.)
CMU will look to replicate Toledo’s offensive run-based spread this season with the new hires and personnel on offense, so it will be a fun little test to watch.
I don’t see the Chippewas stopping the Rockets, and I don’t see them keeping up on offense. I really like the Rockets chances in this one, too.
Prediction: Rockets win, 45-24.
Week 8: Sat., Oct. 21st, Akron Zips
I fully expect Toledo to lose a game they shouldn’t this season.
I was leaning toward this game, or the Bowling Green game.The Zips have a tendency to play their best football towards the middle of the slate and this game’s timing most definitely fits that bill. If Thomas Woodson can just stay upright and deliver the ball downfield, Toledo could have a very hard time stopping that, even with the loss of Jerome Lane.
Warren Ball also returns for the Zips, and if he is healthy for this game, look for him to be a game changer, especially against a porous Rockets defense that has given up some major yardage on the ground.
Prediction: Zips shock the world, or at least the Midwest, and win 35-28.
Week 9: Thursday, Oct. 26th, @ Ball State Cardinals
The Cardinals finished the season 4-8, but they never quit and most of their losses were close. By the end of the season, Riley Neal was throwing less picks and improving. Throw in James Gilbert, and his ability to move the ball on the ground, and this game scares me. It scares me even more because it’s in Muncie.
One thing that gives me hope is that the Cardinals were terrible defending against the pass last season. Maybe they don’t improve, and maybe they do but it doesn’t matter because Woodside and company are that good. I expect this game to be a shootout, and after the tough loss against Akron, Toledo will be ready to go!
Prediction: Rockets win in an orgy of offensive football, 58-55.
Week 10: Thu., Nov. 2nd, Northern Illinois Huskies
I don’t want to overthink this one too much. The Rockets got off the snide with the win in Chicago last year, and that’s that.
Prediction: Rockets win. They just do, ok?
Week 11: Wed., Nov. 8th, @ Ohio University Bobcats
In Athens, and then heading to Bowling Green next, it would be easy to call this a sort of a trap game.
I fully expect the Bobcats to have a good defense and in November, teams with good defenses beat teams with good offenses. We have no idea what the weather will look like, but it’s probably going to be bad, and that also helps the Bobcats.
That being said, I do believe that Toledo will be the much better team by this point in the season. It’s way too early to make predictions, and it’s ludicrous to have a gut feeling, but my gut feeling tells me that somehow Toledo pulls out this win.
Prediction: Rockets win in a slug fest, 28-24.
Week 12, Wednesday, November 15th, @ Bowling Green Falcons
Nothing says MAC football rivalry like a Wednesday night game on ESPN2.
The Falcons turned a corner in 2016 and played much better in the last half of the season than a brutl start suggested. While I don’t expect them to contend for the MAC East, I do believe they will be around 6-4 or so when they host the Rockets.
I have the Rockets at 7-3 at this point. It’s a rivalry game, so you can throw out record and players and stats and everything else. I just don’t believe I live in a world where the Falcons will be able to pull even with the Rockets this late in the season.
Prediction: Rockets win, and a win is all that matters in a rivalry game.
Week 13, Friday, November 24th, Western Michigan Broncos
P.J. Fleck is gone. Zach Terrell is gone. Corey Davis is gone. A long list of recruits and players left when Fleck did. That being said, I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom for Bronco nation.
The Broncos defense will likely have to carry them all season, and I suspect they will. If this game were in Kalamazoo, I think I would pick them. Going back to the whole defense wins in November when the weather is bad and all that.
But it’s in Toledo, and I believe the MAC West will be on the line.
Prediction: Toledo wins, 35-21, and wins the MAC West.
After that, can the Rockets win the MAC championship game? Who knows? It’s way to early to tell.