Toldeo turns to 32-year-old rookie head coach Matt Campbell to continue Rockets' recent winning ways.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/14/12, 1:39 PM EDT
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MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Matt Campbell, 1-0 (First Full Season) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Campbell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Matukewicz
The Rockets have an excess of talent at the quarterback position. Both Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens have proven themselves as starters, and both finished 2011 ranked among the top 20 quarterbacks in the country in passing efficiency. Toledo coach Matt Campbell has the option of platooning the pair or settling on one and having a premium backup ready to step in.
The talent at quarterback has allowed Toledo to move third-teamer Dwight Macon to wide receiver, where he will join fellow sophomore Cassius McDowell, along with juniors James Green and Bernard Reedy. That corps has to keep the charge in the offense after the early exit for the NFL by the explosive Eric Page.
Junior David Fluellen, who squeezed out a combined 700 rushing yards the past two seasons while third on the depth chart, moves into the lead role at tailback. He has had 10-plus carries in a game only five times in his two years at Toledo.
The line suffered some significant losses to graduation. Second-team All-MAC center Zac Kerin and guard Greg Mancz will lead this revamped unit.
Toledo has been forced to play a lot of players on defense over the past few years, mostly out of necessity due to injury. Now, the Rockets should have depth and experience in all three levels. Transfers and proven veterans returning from injuries bolster the group even further.
Michigan transfer junior Vladimir Emilien has been moved from safety to linebacker, where he will join seniors Robert Bell and Dan Molls. Molls ranked 10th in the nation with 143 tackles two years ago but missed half of 2011 with a leg injury.
Safety Mark Singer, a fifth-year senior, returns after missing all last season with a shoulder injury. He will team with Jermaine Robinson, a third-year starter, to give Toledo a solid last line of defense. Senior Byron Best leads a corps of athletic cornerbacks, returning to that post after a stint at linebacker.
The pass rush is ignited by senior end T.J. Fatinikun and promising junior tackle Elijah Jones.
The return game gave opponents nightmares when Page had the ball, but his exit for the NFL opens the way for Reedy and Fluellen to keep this a productive unit. Sophomore Jeremiah Detmer is pushing to handle all of the placekicking duties after doing the distance work last season and nailing a pair of 50-yarders. Junior college transfer Brad Dunavant battles junior Vince Penza for the punting role.
The 32-year-old Campbell, the youngest head coach in the FBS, inherits a talented and experienced team from his boss Tim Beckman, who moved on to Illinois. Campbell was the players’ choice to direct the program, and he led the Rockets to a 42–41 win over Air Force in the Military Bowl.
Campbell, previously the Rockets’ offensive coordinator, knows his team is capable of scoring points. After all, Toledo averaged more than 50 points over the final six games of the ’11 season. He would like to see the defense improve so the offense doesn’t have to carry the load.
“Offensively, defensively, and special teams — we are one,” he says. “I think when you get to that point, you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”
The coach is right — Toledo should be good. Good enough to challenge Western Michigan and Northern Illinois for the MAC West title.