A first-year coach won the Mid-American Conference title last season. Toledo is hoping that will happen two seasons in a row.
Last season, Dave Doeren guided Northern Illinois first to the MAC West title, then to a win in the MAC championship game. NIU's main competition last season was Toledo. The Rockets lost coach Tim Beckman to Illinois in December, then promoted offensive coordinator Matt Campbell.
|Coach: Matt Campbell (1st season)
Last season: 9-4 overall, 7-1 in MAC
Spring practice dates: March 14-April 13
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (4): QB Austin Dantin, C Zac Kerin, G Greg Mancz, WR Bernard Reedy
Defense (4): LB Robert Bell, LB Dan Molls, SS Jermaine Robinson, E Christian Smith
Special teams (1): P Vince Penza
If Campbell is to have a title winner in his first season, he and his staff need to fill some holes this spring. Just eight fulltime starters return, four on each side of the ball.
The biggest loss was WR Eric Page, who turned pro a year early after three great seasons with the Rockets. Toledo started the same five offensive linemen in all 13 games last season, but three of those guys are gone, including bookend Ts John Morookian and Mike VanDerMeulen. Toledo also has to replace its top two tailbacks.
It's more of the same on defense. Three-fourths of the starting line is gone, and the secondary must be rebuilt.
But there is a nice core group of talented players still on the roster, and assuming the Rockets can fill the holes and make some strides on defense this spring, the fall should be quite successful for Campbell.
The biggest problem: Defense. The biggest area of concern is the defense. Early in the 2011 season, there looked to be improvement on that side of the ball. Then the Rockets gave up 63 points in back-to-back games against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, along with 41 points to Air Force in the Military Bowl. Toledo is hoping to address this problem with a revamped defensive staff. Tom Matukewicz has been hired as the new coordinator, and he has brought in a few new assistants. He had been linebacker coach at Northern Illinois.
On the spot: WR Cordale Scott. With Page's departure, Scott needs to step up and be the senior leader of the wide receiver corps. Scott had just five receptions for 78 yards in 2011 after transferring in from Illinois. He will be counted on to improve those numbers and, more important, to serve as a leader to a fairly young group of receivers.
[MAC spring preview: One in and one out means the league will have 13 teams again]
On the verge: TB David Fluellen. With the loss of TBs Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams to graduation, Fluellen will get the opportunity this spring to show he can be the feature back. Fluellen could be on the verge of a breakout season. He rushed for 493 yards and four touchdowns, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season playing behind Thomas and Williams.
General overview: The most important aspect of spring practice for Toledo will be how the players mesh with Matukewicz and his system. Toledo has expectations of playing in the MAC championship game in 2012, and any chance of doing so depends on an improved defense. Another key is the production from the wide receivers. Bernard Reedy showed potential last season, but others need to step up to offset Page's loss. Finally, the question is the same as last season when it comes to the quarterback: Who will it be? Will Toledo continue with the two-quarterback system, or can either Terrance Owens or Austin Dantin separate himself this spring?
For in-depth coverage of Toledo athletics, go to TheRocketNation.com
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- Northern Illinois