The Toledo Rockets more than likely aren't going to be in contention for the College Football Playoff this year, but even the slightest slip-ups could cost them from getting to Ford Field in early December. To open up the season, they'll be going up against the Stony Brook Seawolves, a team that went 5-7 (4-4 Colonial Athletic Association) last season and haven't had a winning season since 2012.
Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore is entering his tenth season as their head coach with a record of 57-47 with their program, 96-56 if we're dating back to the beginning of his head coaching days with Trinity (three undefeated seasons). The offensive-minded coach helped the Seawolves to average 315 yards of offense per game last season. They've also had a good defense, allowing only 15.3 points per game last season. But let's talk a little about the offense first.
Priore's quarterback is going to be returning starter Conor Bednarski. The senior is in his third season with the Seawolves after transferring from Fullerton College and being redshirtted in 2013. He threw the ball for 1,327 yards with nine touchdowns and seven picks, completing nearly 53 percent of his passes. Unfortunately for them, he'll be losing his two best targets from last season and will look for receivers Pat D'Amato and Julius Wingate to step up. He'll also have a Moorpark College transfer Ray Bolden (5-foot-10) to throw to this season after catching 60 passes for 802 yards in 2013. Bolden did not play in 2014.
Check out Bolden's highlights courtesy of Hudl:
Does anybody remember running back Stacy Bedell? In 2012 and '13, he was carrying the rock for the UMass Minutemen, ending his career there with 301 rushing yards but emerged as a a Second Team All-CAA player in his first season with the Seawolves. Averaged 18.3 carries per game, Beddell had 1,070 rushing yards (5.3 per game) with nine touchdowns, including six games with at least 100 rushing yards.
It's no mystery that the offensive line for Toledo is inexperienced yet very talented. In any case, watch out Seawolves' defensive lineman Victor Ochi. Number 91 is entering his redshirt senior season and is coming off of an extremely productive season, recording 57 tackles (16.5 for loss) with 11 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. Those aren't fluke numbers for the First Team All-CAA honoree, either. In 2012, he recorded 45 tackles and had 33 the year after. In his third career game, Ochi recorded seven tackles on the road against Syracuse and had four tackles against Buffalo in '13.
That defensive front will also have returning starter Aaron Thompson, a Third Team All-CAA performer as a sophomore. The 6-foot-3, 280 pound lineman recorded 23 tackles last year while getting to the quarterback a pair of sacks in both seasons as a starter.
More in the box: lineman Ousmane Camara (fantastic name, by the way) and linebacker Rahim Cassell started all 12 games last season and will be returning to make a repeat on being one of the best defenses in the FCS. Julian Quintin and Jeremy Leggiero will also be returning linebackers for this squad, both recording at least 60 tackles last season.
Having to replace two First Team all-conference players in the secondary is never a fun chore, but they'll be happy to return safety Naim Cheeseboro who recorded 76 tackles (six for loss) last year. Sophmore cornerback Marvin Hart played in all 12 games and made five starts last year recording a pair of interceptions, however the inexperience from cornerbacks Travon Reid-Segure and Quinton Littlejohn (1 start last year) should give the the Rocket receivers a necessary advantage.
This matchup in Toledo will be a Thursday night contest at the Glass Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on September 3.