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Central Michigan vs. Toledo Rockets Football Preview

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Central Michigan begins their MAC-tion run this week against Toledo.

No looking back now: Thomas Rawls looks to make a big impact in his return.
No looking back now: Thomas Rawls looks to make a big impact in his return.
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

It's crazy to think about how much can change in a year. This time last year, Central Michigan was coming into the game 1-2 (0-0) on its way to a mediocre 6-6 (5-3) record and leaving fans confused, frustrated and underwhelmed by the performance of their season. Toledo came in with promise and a talented team, albeit a similar 1-2 (0-0) record. Four ugly quarters of football and five turnovers combined later, Toledo ran away in a 38-17 thrashing. The Rockets ended the season a hair better than the Chippewas, going 7-5 (5-3).

In twelve months, Central lost a huge offensive weapon in Zurlon Tipton graduating, but got a sweet deal when former University of Michigan running back Thomas Rawls transferred to the Maroon and Gold.

Playing in the first two games of the 2014 season against Chattanooga at Kelly-Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant and Purdue away in West Lafayette, Rawls was on fire running for 276 yards and three touchdowns on 56 total carries.

Despite these stats, Central Michigan is coming off two tough defeats against Kansas in Lawrence and Syracuse at home with something to prove. They still rank 110th in rushing averaging 111 yards per game, but 63rd in average points against per game with roughly 24.

On the other side of the coin, Toledo has seen changes too, and not all for the best. Starting quarterback Terrance Owens, wide receivers Bernard Reedy and James Green, linemen Zac Kerin, and last year's game MVP David Fluellen all left from the offensive side of the ball, with numerous defensive ends and even the punter Vince Penza and the long snapper Matt Wall graduated and moving on.

Trying to bounce back from the departure of so many, Toledo tapped Phillip Ely to lead them into the 2014 season. However, the season had other plans when Ely went down with a knee injury in the third quarter of the game against the Missouri Tigers in week two. The starting quarterback for the Rockets looks to be dual-threat Logan Woodside, who dominated Ball State last week 34-23, with two rushing and a passing touchdown in the win and is taking over the reins nicely. Toledo is ranked 23rd overall in the nation with about 255 rushing yards averaged per game, and 46th with average points for per game of about 37, but still has a dismal ranking of 113th with about 38 points against averaged.

X-factors:

Thomas Rawls: will he be allowed to play after his off-field incident and ensuing suspension, and if so, will he be able to produce the way he did in the first two weeks?

Logan Woodside: will the Chippewa defense hold strong and keep him in the pocket or will Woodside make the game a shootout and put pressure on Cooper Rush?

Prediction: Thomas Rawls comes back and starts, running through the holes in the young Toledo defense and wearing them down quickly. Woodside makes few mistakes, but a few is all the Chippewas need to hold on and win. Final Score: Central Michigan 38, Toledo 17.