Toledo’s 2013 seniors have a lot to be proud of. They are the class that has returned the Rockets to the elite of the Mid-American Conference.When they came in as freshmen in 2010, UT had just suffered through its third straight losing season. Fast-forward to 2013, and all of that has changed. The Rockets have gone 26-13 in the past three years, with three winning seasons and three bowl appearances. Toledo’s MAC record over that span is 20-4.
And yet the seniors’ biggest goal — and the goal of the entire football program — has yet to be reached. This class of Rockets won’t be completely satisfied until it hoists the MAC Championship trophy in Detroit’s Ford Field.
“At the end of the day, our goals remain the same,” said UT Head Coach Matt Campbell. “We want to win the MAC West Division, win the MAC Championship Game, go to a bowl game, and get our team GPA to as close to a 3.0 as possible. But to get there, we need to focus on the process. We need to work hard at getting better every day. That’s the only way I know how to reach your goals.”
Toledo definitely has the talent to reach the top in 2013. The Rockets return 16 starters, including an offense that is brimming with talent.
Senior wide receiver/return specialist Bernard Reedy is among five All-MAC players lining up on offense. Reedy caught 88 passes and scored four times on special teams in 2012. He is complemented at wide-out by sophomore Alonzo Russell, a 6-4 athlete who caught 56 passes as a freshman.
In the backfield, senior David Fluellen rushed for 1,498 yards last year, despite missing one game and most of another due to injuries. And leading the troops up front are senior center Zac Kerin and junior guard Greg Mancz.
The key to the offense could be senior quarterback Terrance Owens, who has 17 starts to his credit over the last three years. Owens battled a pair of ankle injuries in the second half of 2012; he is healthy again and looking to repeat the monster season he had in 2011 when he set the MAC record by completing 72.2 percent of his passes.
The biggest question that remains is the defense. Campbell must find a way to adjust to the loss of eight starters, including the nation’s leading tackler in 2012, linebacker Dan Molls.
On the plus side, the Rockets return six players who had at least 30 tackles in 2012, as well as a group of talented newcomers who could elevate the level of play on the defensive side of the ball. Top returnees include junior All-MAC cornerback Cheatham Norrils and senior defensive end Christian Smith.
“I really like the players we have on the defensive side of the ball,” Campbell said. “This is a hungry group that has been waiting for their chance. I think people will be surprised at just how talented we are on defense this year.”
In its first 92 seasons of football, The University of Toledo never played a school from the Southeastern Conference. That will change in a big way.
The Rockets will begin their 2013 football season playing not one, but two games against SEC foes. Toledo opens with road contests at Florida and Missouri, undoubtedly the toughest opening assignment in school history.
“Our schedule is very challenging, particularly at the start of the season, but we are looking forward to it,” Campbell said. “Not only do we travel to Florida and Missouri, but we open at home against a very good Eastern Washington team (Sept. 14), then play two conference road games at Central Michigan and Ball State. I know our players will rise to meet the challenge.”
Toledo’s season opener is Saturday, Aug. 31, against a Florida team that finished the season with an 11-2 record, ranked No. 9 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the USA Today coaches poll. The game will be televised in the Toledo market on WMNT’s MyNetworkTV (My58). The over-the-air station is on channel 48.1; it is carried on channel 58 on Buckeye CableSystem and on channel 10 on AT&T U-Verse.
The Rockets then travel to Missouri, where they will face former UT Head Coach Gary Pinkel’s Tigers. Pinkel coached the Rockets from 1991 to 2000, compiling a 73-37-3 mark. He was inducted into UT’s Varsity ‘T’ Hall of Fame in 2009. Missouri was 5-7 in 2012, its first in the SEC and first losing season since 2004.
Toledo’s other two non-conference foes also are formidable. Eastern Washington was 9-2 last year and advanced to the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. The Eagles were FCS Champions in 2010. Navy was 8-5 in 2012 and earned a berth in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
MAC home games will be Western Michigan (Oct. 5, Homecoming), Eastern Michigan (Nov. 2), Buffalo (Nov. 12) and Northern Illinois (Nov. 20). The NIU game will be televised on ESPN2, while the Buffalo game will be on either ESPNU or ESPN3.
Conference road games are at Central Michigan (Sept. 21), Ball State (Sept. 28), Bowling Green (Oct. 26) and Akron (Nov. 29). The Akron game will be carried on either ESPNU or ESPN3.
UT students are admitted to home games free by showing their Rocket ID; UT faculty and staff can purchase tickets half off with ID.