Jason Candle will face a formidable opponent in his debut as the head coach of the University of Toledo Rockets (9-2) when the midnight blue and gold head to Boca Raton to square off with the nationally ranked Temple Owls (10-3).
The Owls will enter the December 22 contest seeking a school record 11th win of the season, while the Rockets pursue their first 10-win season since 2001.
While the 2015 season has been a tremendous success for both the Toledo and Temple football programs, both teams will enter the contest at Florida Atlantic University Stadium following late season disappointment. After an 8-1 start, Temple finished the season 2-2, getting routed by three touchdowns at South Florida and ultimately falling 24-13 to Houston in the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship. Meanwhile Toledo suffered the most disappointing of defeats in their season finale, losing at home to Western Michigan 35-30, thus costing the Rockets the opportunity to take on Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference Championship.
Following the defeat to Western Michigan, Rockets head coach Matt Campbell was named to the same position at Iowa State, taking multiple assistant coaches and staff members with him to Ames. Offensive coordinator Jason Candle was named head coach, which should provide continuity for the Rockets that will lean on multiple graduate assistants to fill the gaps created with the coaching departures.
Regardless of how many coaches the Rockets have at their disposal, they will look to control the game on the offensive side of the ball with the two headed running back combination of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson. While Hunt received the bulk of the carries for the Rockets down the stretch of the season, including four straight 100-yard plus rushing performances, Swanson still managed to rush for 870 yards with an impressive 6.6 yards per carry average. As a team the Rockets finished the regular season ranked 26th in the nation in total rushing, averaging over 213 yards per contest.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rockets will lean on two seniors in defensive lineman Orion Jones and defensive back Cheatham Norrils. Jones led the Rockets in tackles for loss and sacks in 2015 and was named a first team all-conference performer. Norrils, also a first team all-conference selection, led Toledo in interceptions and finished third on the team in total tackles.
For the Owls, the best news following the 2015 regular season is that head coach Matt Rhule will be returning to Philadelphia to lead Temple next season. Rhule was rumored to be a candidate for multiple higher profile positions, but his return should help the growing momentum surrounding the program.
When looking at Temple it starts and ends with an elite defense led by linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who was named a first-team all-American by the Football Writers Association of America. Matakevich, a Connecticut native, leads the team in tackles and tackles for loss and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's best defender.
While Matakevich is a national star, the defensive unit as a whole held opponents to just over 19 points per game and ranked in the top 20 in total defense. Defensive linemen Matt Ioannidis and Nate D. Smith anchor a strong defensive front and joined Matakevich as first team all American Athletic Conference selections along with safety Alex Wells.
Offensively, the Owls will feature junior running back Jahad Thomas, who led the team with 1,257 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns and was also an all-conference selection. Statistically, the Rockets were very strong in 2015 against the run, finishing 11th in rushing yards allowed per game at 115.5 per contest. However, Thomas presents a more dynamic threat than the Rockets have faced in recent MAC play and containing the Owls rushing attack will be key for Toledo.
For both teams, a win in the second annual Boca Raton Bowl will finish off a tremendous season, that while the ultimate goal of a conference championship may not have been met, a potential record 11th win for Temple and a 10th win for Toledo means there is plenty at stake.