After a long season with high expectations, suiting up one more time after falling in the MAC Football Championship has to be underwhelming. Even then, the Toledo Rockets (11-2, 8-1 MAC), sans a few playmakers, have a prime opportunity to end a successful 2023 with a win.
This year, the Rockets drew the Wyoming Cowboys (8-4, 5-3 MWC) from the Mountain West Conference. This is Toledo’s first appearance in the Arizona Bowl while Wyoming is coming back for a second consecutive year after dropping last year’s contest to MAC runner-up Ohio, 30-27, in overtime. This is the lone MAC/MWC matchup and the final game on the MAC bowl slate. The Rockets look to pull the conference even as the MAC sits at 2-3 after five games.
Let’s take a look at a few numbers for this critical Arizona Bowl:
To kick off the bowl season, the All-MAC honors were announced and Toledo led the way with an impressive 14 players on the list.
Quarterback Dequan Finn, running back Peny Boone, receiver Jerjuan Newton, offensive linemen Vinny Sciury and Nick Rosi, defensive lineman Judge Culpepper, linebacker Dallas Gant, defensive back Quinyon Mitchell and Maxen Hook, and kick returner Jacquez Stuart were all named First-Team All-MAC.
Finn earned the MAC MVP award while Boone earned MAC Offensive Player of the Year and head coach Jason Candle earned Coach of the Year honors.
Tight end Anthony Torres was the lone Second-Team selection.
Defensive lineman Darius Alexander, defensive back Chris McDonald, Jr., and kicker Luke Pawlak finished with Third-Team honors.
Chance for 12 wins
2023 was the sixth time Toledo finished with at least 11 wins on the year.
With the Arizona Bowl on its way, the Rockets have the opportunity to do something they haven’t done since 1971: win 12 games. Back in 1970 and 1971, Toledo put together back-to-back 12-0 seasons. The last time Toledo posted an 11-win season was 2017 when they fell in the Dollar General Bowl.
Very few teams end up winning 12 games so a win over Wyoming would put a nice bow on a 2023 season that fell short of expectations.
Percent of the offense gone
The unfortunate reality of being great in the MAC is that the Transfer Portal is an enticing entity and each of the conference’s best have the opportunity to get poached. Even before the Portal era, top MAC talents have tried to find greener pastures.
This year, the Transfer Portal has poached some of the best Toledo has to offer. Finn (3,220 yards from scrimmage), Boone (1,400 rushing yards), and Micah Kelly (six yards) made up 82.8% of the team’s offensive output (not counting receiving yards as they are just the same yards as the passing yards). Of all of the bowl-bound teams, Toledo is among the offenses hit the hardest by portal departures.
Next man up will be the mantra for the Rockets offense in this one.
Number of Tucker Gleason starts
With the departure of Finn, therein lies a vacancy at quarterback. While some programs have a completely unproven and unknown entity at quarterback (as Miami had in the Cure Bowl, for example), Toledo has a quarterback with at least a little starting experience.
The Arizona Bowl will be a little preview of what the Rockets have in Gleason and the offense moving forward. This game will be the fourth start by Gleason with Toledo after transferring in from Georgia Tech in 2021.
In his three previous starts (win at Eastern Michigan, loss vs Bowling Green, and loss at Western Michigan in 2021), Gleason accounted for 767 yards and seven touchdowns through the air on 50/105 passing. He also added 165 yards and three touchdowns.
Even with those two losses, Gleason played well enough. While he may not be as dynamic as Finn with the ball, he’s plenty talented enough to lead the Rockets to a win.
All-time Record between the teams
This year’s Arizona Bowl is the third time Toledo and Wyoming will face off with both programs earning one win.
The Cowboys won the first-ever matchup in 2010, 20-15. Toledo dug itself into a 20-0 hole and didn’t crack the scoreboard until a safety with just 47 seconds to go in the third quarter. They would go on to score two touchdowns in the fourth but it was not enough as they turned the ball over on downs on each of their final two drives. The Rockets outgained the Cowboys 374 to 266 on the day.
Toledo got its revenge two years later, 34-31. As with the first matchup, the road team won. Defense was optional in this one and Terrance Owens had a significantly better day for his Rockets, tossing four touchdowns to go with 307 yards. The difference was the fact that Toledo forced three turnovers while not turning it over themselves.
This will be Jason Candle’s 100th game
The MAC Football Championship was Candle’s 99th as head coach of Toledo, tying him with Tom Amstutz (2001-2008) for second in program history. Compared to Amstutz, Candle won seven more games in his 99 attempts.
With game number 100, Candle will be alone in second behind just legendary coach, Gary Pinkel (1991-2000).
Candle enters this game 65-34 and 2-4 in bowls. Pinkel, meanwhile, coached in 115 games and earned a 73-37-3 mark while winning the only bowl game he coached in. Win or lose, Candle is well within striking distance of the record assuming he returns in 2024.
Turnovers per game forced by Wyoming
A little bit about Toledo’s opponent, they force turnovers. On the year, Wyoming forced 1.8 turnovers per game. In total, the Cowboys hauled in 10 interceptions led by Wrook Brown’s three. When it comes to fumbles, 10 different defenders recovered the 11 fumbles.
In each of its 12 games, Wyoming forced at least one turnover. It forced multiple turnovers in eight different games and even came out of the win over Colorado State with three.
As for Toledo, the offense turned it over a total of 20 times. Finn threw nine interceptions and the team lost 11 fumbles on the year.
Wyoming takes advantage of those turnovers. Of the 21 turnovers they forced, the Cowboys scored 13 touchdowns directly following. When they scored off of the turnovers, they were only touchdowns, the Cowboys only attempted one field goal and missed it. That’s 4.3 points per turnover.