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2023 Arizona Bowl Preview: Toledo Rockets vs. Wyoming Cowboys

Despite falling short in the MAC Football Championship, Toledo has the opportunity to finish with 12 wins for the first time since 1971 with a win over Wyoming.

2023 MAC Championship - Miami (OH) v Toledo Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Toledo Rockets (11-2, 8-1 MAC) and Wyoming Cowboys (8-4, 5-3 MWC) face off in this year’s Arizona Bowl which closes out the MAC and Mountain West bowl schedules.

Toledo is coming off another MAC West division title but was not able to successfully defend their MAC championship as they fell to Miami (OH). However, for the first time since 2017, Toledo earned 11 wins in a single season. After a last-minute loss at Illinois win Week 1, Toledo rattled off 11 consecutive wins and mowed through the MAC. It could be argued that despite the loss, Toledo was the best team in the MAC with its 14 All-MAC honorees. Ultimately, Miami (OH) prevailed in Detroit and Toledo ended up in Arizona.

Wyoming actually returns to the Arizona Bowl as they look to avenge their 30-27 overtime loss to Ohio last year. This season, Wyoming kicked off the year winning five of their first six games. That lone blemish? A loss at CFP participant, Texas. Wyoming then slipped up by losing three of the next four on the schedule. They ended up righting the ship with back-to-back big wins to close out the year. In total, the Cowboys ended up 3-4 against bowl-bound teams with six wins by more than one score.

This will be the third time Toledo and Wyoming face off with each program winning one at the other’s stadium. Wyoming is making its second consecutive Arizona Bowl appearance and second all-time. This will be the first time Toledo plays in the Arizona Bowl and owns an 11-9 record in postseason play.

Transfers and Opt-Outs

Wyoming will be at mostly full strength. Starting cornerback Kolbey Taylor (did not play in the final two games) has transferred out to Vanderbilt. The Cowboys will also be without starting right tackle, Caden Barnett, due to injury.

Craig Bohl, Wyoming’s head coach, will be retiring following the bowl game.

Toledo was hit hard on the offensive side of the ball. Starting quarterback and 2023 MAC MVP Dequan Finn has announced that he is transferring to Baylor. Running back Peny Boone also took his 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns to the portal. In the trenches, star guard Vinny Sciury is taking his talents elsewhere.

Watching the Toledo Offense

This Toledo offense will look quite a bit different as Finn and Boone represent about 83% of the offensive productivity on this team. Tucker Gleason gets to step in yet again at quarterback. Last year, Gleason started three games (Toledo went 1-2) and threw for 767 yards and seven touchdowns while adding 165 yards and three scores on the ground.

Out wide, Jerjuan Newton and Junior Vandeross III will be leaned on, Both playmakers have been able to break through at crucial moments for the Rockets and they’ll have to help make Gleason’s job that much easier in this one. Stepping in for Boone, last year’s leading rusher Jacquez Stuart can carry the load for the Rockets.

The offense will likely look similar with Gleason. This year, Toledo is running the ball 38.8 times per game and throwing it 26.4 times. Last year with Finn, the offense ran about 41.8 times and threw 28.4. Compare that to the three-game Gleason-led offense of 42.3 rush attempts and 40.3 passes. He, himself, may not take off as much as Finn but this offense will still lean on Stuart on the ground.

Toledo will have to take care of the ball. Wyoming was not fantastic on the defensive side of the ball but they did force turnovers. On the year, they forced 21. Of those 21, the Cowboys scored touchdowns off of 13. Keeping the ball away from Wrook Brown will likely be the strategy for the Rockets in this one so as to not add to his three interceptions on the year.

The Toledo Defense Will be Tested

If there’s one thing that defines the Wyoming offense heading into the Arizona Bowl, it’s the rushing attack. Led by running back and Northern Illinois transfer, Harrison Waylee, Wyoming had a pair of players eclipse 100 carries on the year. In just nine games, Waylee led the way with 856 yards and five scores off of 146 attempts.

The second-leading rusher was quarterback and Utah State transfer, Andrew Peasley. His seven touchdowns led the team. Additionally, he added 403 yards off of 101 carries. Throwing the football, Peasley threw for 1,823 yards and 20 touchdowns while completing 60.6% of his passes. Overall, this Cowboys offense was 109th in FBS in yardage (119th in passing, 65th in rushing) and 76th in scoring.

Toledo is led by eventual top NFL Draft pick, Quinyon Mitchell. A now two-time All-American, Mitchell has been a star for the Rockets. Week in and week out, he’s been locking down opposing receivers. His interception tally was not as high as last year (one in 2023, five in 2022) and he has yet to score, but that is due to his decreased target share. However, he still broke the program record with 18 pass breakups. That secondary only allowed over 300 yards passing once (Bowling Green).

The front seven for Toledo is led by a couple of household names in the MAC in Dallas Gant and Judge Culpepper, the latter who recently was ruled cancer-free after being diagnosed earlier in the month. The pair of transfers have found a home with the Rockets. Gant posted his second consecutive 100+ tackle season after transferring in from Ohio State while Culpepper (Penn State) added 10.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Toledo gave up a handful of yardage this year (330.1 yards, 29th in FBS) but only allowed 20.6 points per game, good for 25th.

Predicting the Arizona Bowl

At full strength with Finn and Boone, this game likely would not be as competitive as it will be now. Losing two of the best from the MAC will hurt, but the team is battle-tested. There are worse quarterbacks than Gleason. The Toledo defense will be up to the challenge and should be able to stifle the Cowboys rushing attack.

Toledo wins, 27-17