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2005 MAC Football Pigskin Preview
Bruce Gradkowski is one of the nation’s most accurate passers, and this season, he may be the next great one to come out of the MAC and into the NFL. "The Polish Cannon" completed over 70% of his passes for the second straight year and averaged over 270 yards per game last season, tossing 27 TDs with just 8 INTs. Gradkowski got off to a slow start and was injured during the MAC championship game otherwise those stats would have been a lot higher. Expect him to have an outstanding senior season given the offensive weapons the Rockets have with a stable of quality tailbacks and receivers. The backup position is up for grabs as Marques Council has yet to establish himself as starter material. Clint Cochran has a gun for an arm and may press into the #2 QB slot. True freshman Brandon Summer may figure into the mix.
Few teams in the country have the talent and depth as UT has at the tailback position. 240-pound Scooter McDougle is expected to be back at full strength after having three huge games against NIU, BG & Miami (MAC Championship Game) to catapult the Rockets to the MAC title. "At the end of the season, there was not better player in the league than Scooter, stated MAC Commissioner Rick Chryst" Also in the mix is Jalen Parmele, another big back in the 220-range who averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season. The Rockets also have two proven seniors, Trinity Dawson who rushed for 999 yards in 2003 and Quinton Broussard. Both are capable of being starters in this league. Redshirt freshman Richard Davis has excited the coaching staff and brings size and lots of speed to the position. True freshman Dajuane Collins, a top-50 rated running back from New Jersey, may see playing time.
The Rockets graduated a very good group of receivers in Lance Moore, now with the Cleveland Browns, Kenny Higgins who signed with the San Diego Chargers, and Terrance Hudson. Toledo still has some very good talent in Steve Odem who has 115 receptions in his first two years, veteran Pete Lepley, and mighty might Andrew Hawkins, a small but fast target. The coaching staff is very excited about 6-7 wideout David Washington. Nick Moore, Lance’s younger brother, and Trumaine Smith are redshirt freshmen who were each highly recruited out of high school. JUCO DJ Nichols figures into the mix this fall. At tight end, Josh Powell is a steady performer ready for a break out season. Chris Hopkins is another big target at 6-5 270. Andrew Clarke returns after a medical redshirt. He was on many NFL watch lists prior to a freak accident where he injured his back when his chair collapsed.
Toledo traditionally has one of the leagues finest offensive lines and this year should be no different. Toledo graduated Nick Kaczer, a 3rd round draft choice by the Super Bowl champ New England Patriots and David Odenthal who signed with an NFL Europe team. John Greco looks to be the next star in the trenches as the 6-5 315-pounder moves from right tackle to left. David Perkins, Hassan Adebesin, Chris Wakeman and Jerry Aguwa lead what should be a very athletic unit. There is good depth with Sean Zabinski, Jesse Anderson, Kevin Hobbins, Patrick Dawson, Andrew Decker and Greg Luna. This group of eleven averages 6-4 297 per man. The Rockets are so confident with their O-line that they went for it a league leading 39 times (4th down conversion attempts), making it 23 times.
The Rockets defensive line get a lot better as the season when on last year after getting torched for 63-points per outing against Minnesota and Kansas in weeks #1 & #2. Toledo played a lot of young players who were forced to grow up fast. New defensive coordinator Tim Rose has installed a 3-4 defensive scheme, a contrast to Toledo’s 4-4 in previous seasons. At the tackle position, Tyree Pollard, a 310-pounder and JP Bekasiak, a 285-pounder, anchor the middle of the field. Andre Bouldin and Patrick Clark have potential while 260-pound Al Martin can play both DT and DE. The end positions are in transition as Sean Williamson, a converted DT, and Bernard Faithful, look to be the starters. The defensive line is very thin with several undersized players and converted LBs, such as Seth Thitoff and Nick Lawrence, are battling for playing time. There may be even more position movement during the fall.
The strength of the defense is the linebacker unit. David Thomas and Anthony Jordan are two players with all conference potential. Jordan amazed 107 tackles last season while Thomas added 91. Steven Morrison and Mike Alston are two undersized but extremely fast LBs who can be very disruptive. Mike Chamberlin and Brandon Alexander are in the 6-foot 200-pound range, but each has the ability to make plays from the outside. Keon Jackson, a strong safety who often plays near the line scrimmage, is one of the best play makers in the league. He is an early candidate for the MAC defensive MVP award. If Brock Dodrill returns after leaving the program last season, that will only strengthen this group.
The DBs really got beat up last year giving up a blistering 275-yards per contest and 27 TDs last season. Much of that had to do with a pathetic defensive scheme that has been addressed by the new defensive coordinator. Nigel Morris looked very good at times as a true freshman last year and senior Antonio Malone is due for a good season. Bo Martin and Jason Flowers provide speed and experience at CB. Greg Hay, De’Veon Harris and Tyrell Helbert have good size and athleticism at FS. Billy Relford, a star recruit from the 2004 class, returns after briefly quitting the team. Toledo signed six defensive backs in the 2005 class so a few true freshmen may figure into the mix this fall.
Jason Robbins will never be remembered as one of the school’s top place kickers, but he has become steadier and can consistently hit from 38-yards. Punter Brett Kern did very well as a true freshman last fall and looks to do better than his 40-yard average. Toledo needs to do better in punt and kick returns.
The sky is the limit for Toledo as they have a very talented squad with a pathetically easy schedule. Outside of trips to Fresno State and Bowling Green, this schedule is a joke for a non-BCS program as good as the Rockets. Offensively Toledo should average in the neighborhood of 40 points per game. The key to a championship season is how well the new defensive schemes take shape and if Toledo can adapt to playing so many (five) weeknight games. If Toledo gets major improvement from its defense, a 10-win season and national ranking is not out of the question. With BG moving to the east division, the Rockets are the team to beat in the MAC west.
Mark it down!
Toledo will beat NIU once again – the Rockets have not lost the Huskies since 1989. The Rockets have not been beat by the Huskies at the Glass Bowl since 1972, when Nixon was president. The big question is, will Toledo win at Ball State – a house of horrors for the Rockets through the years.
vs. Western Illinois (Thurs.) - WIN
vs. Western Michigan - WIN
@ Temple - WIN
@ Fresno State (Tues.) - LOSS
vs. Eastern Michigan - WIN
@ Ball State - WIN
vs. Buffalo - WIN
@ Central Michigan - WIN
@ Ohio (Fri.) - WIN
vs. Northern Illinois (Wed.) - WIN
@ Bowling Green (Tues.) - LOSS
9-2 Overall, 7-1 MAC
MAC Championship: Bowling Green over Toledo
Motor City Bowl: Minnesota over Toledo