Philadelphia, PA – 2010 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Rockets entered the 2010 campaign having suffered through four consecutive losing seasons. However, coach Tim Beckman changed the team's attitude and in just his second season in Toledo he turned the Rockets into a relevant MAC team once again.
Although the team did not look the part of a quality football squad in its first game, scoring just two points in a loss at home to Arizona. Toledo was able to bounce back from that with an impressive run of three consecutive road victories. The first came against Ohio, as the Rockets slipped past the Bobcats, 20-13.
Toledo followed that with a solid 37-24 decision against Western Michigan, but the team's next victory was probably the most impressive. In their fourth game of the season the Rockets invaded Big Ten country and promptly pounded the Purdue Boilermakers, 31-20.
Riding high on a three-game winning streak the Rockets returned home, but again the team let down the fan base by losing to Wyoming, 20-15. Beckman's boys fell to an even 3-3 with an embarrassing, 57-14 setback against a much better Boise State squad.
The Rockets were able to get back into the win column and did so at home, where they defeated Kent State and Ball State in back-to-back matchups. Toledo added another road victory with a decision over Eastern Michigan, but the Rockets tough play on the road was no match for Northern Illinois, as the Huskies dropped Toledo in convincing fashion, 65-30.
While a chance at the MAC title game was out of the question the Rockets still had a shot for their first bowl appearance since 2005, and all they had to do was win their last two games. Well, the Rockets did just that, as Toledo took care of business against Bowling Green and Central Michigan.
The eight wins led the team into the Little Caesars Bowl where the Rockets played FIU. Toledo fought with everything it had, but eventually fell just short, 34-32.
OFFENSE: Toledo's three game improvement in the win column last season was the first step in returning to MAC glory. The next step is competing for the league title and coach Beckman has the offense to do so.
Last year Austin Dantin and Terrence Owens were tossed into the fire due to injuries. First Dantin stepped in for Aaron Opelt, then Owens stepped in for Dantin. What that did was prepare both signal callers for life in the MAC, and also gave both gunslingers plenty of experience. Now with 2011 on the cusp of beginning coach Beckman has a great situation, as he possesses two quarterbacks that can win games.
As of now it looks like Dantin will be the starter in game one, and if that is the case he will likely try to rekindle his relationship with Eric Page.
Before Dantin separated his shoulder he was hooked on Page, and knew if Toledo was going to win he had to get the ball in his hands. Regardless of who was under center Page made it a habit of getting open, hauling 99 passes. Now a junior, Page should produce at a similar level, and it will be hard for opponents to double him with the likes of Illinois transfer Cordale Scott on the other side.
There is plenty of noise surrounding Toledo's passing attack, but opponents better not overlook the ground game. In fact, Toledo was better on the ground this past season. Do not be surprised if the Rockets lean on the run just as much in 2011. Adonis Thomas, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last year is back to lead the charge out of the backfield, but this year coach Beckman has reinforcements and they are David Fluellen and Josh Haden.
DEFENSE: The offense is ready to get rolling with nine starters returning and the defense enjoys similar veteran leadership back.
However, while the offense showed promise last season, the defense had its shortcomings and coach Beckman is hoping the improvement on that side of the ball.
The front line has four starters back in the mix, including Malcolm Riley, who led the team with 5.5 sacks last season. Coach Beckman is excited about the defensive line and understands the importance of these four starters.
"Up front we've got four players that are very very important for our success and we went out and recruited players that we thought would be capable of filling out those positions," said coach Beckman. "We're bigger, we're stronger, we can run up front, so we are very very excited about the defensive line."
At linebacker the team loses Archie Donald who led Toledo in tackles for three straight seasons. Middle linebacker Dan Molls is ready to take over that honor. Last year Molls finished behind Donald with 143 stops, adding five sacks and three interceptions as a sophomore.
The biggest problem for coach Beckman's squad last year was defending the pass as the team finished 11th in the conference. All four starters return for their senior seasons and each player will have to step up their performance for Toledo to content for the league title.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Page was the top receiving target for the trio of quarterbacks that were under center a year ago, but the junior also played a large role on special teams. Page returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged over 30.0 yards per return.
However, this unit is not without its question marks. Punter Vince Penza netted just 31.9 yards per punt and that is a number that will need to improve significantly in his second season. Taking over the kicking duties will be Jeremiah Detmer. Detmer is only a freshman so it will be interesting to see if he can handle the pressures of kicking for a contending team.
OUTLOOK: The Rockets are primed to make a big jump in production this season, but the team is going to be challenged early in its schedule. After the season opener against New Hampshire the Rockets will have to play Ohio State, Syracuse and Temple on the road, and in between those games is a home matchup against Boise State.
Clearly the non-conference slate is grueling, but if the Rockets can handle their business in Philadelphia against the Owls, look for them to take off towards the top of the conference.
Obviously that is tough to assume after only one league game, but after that Toledo's schedule lightens up. The team will benefit from playing Miami-Ohio and Northern Illinois at home, but those contests are back-to-back. Out of those two matchups the game against the Huskies is far more important because it could determine what team heads to Detroit out of the West.
Whether the Rockets win the division or not this team is still built to win eight to nine games, and will likely be headed to another bowl contest. However, coach Beckman knows the opposition is preparing for Toledo after last year's success and the Rockets will not be able to fly under the radar.
The head man at Toledo likes that fact because it shows the team is making progress.
"When you're building a program and you want to become a championship level program then you're gonna be in these situations where, hey you've won eight games so your expected to win now," said coach Beckman. "Lucky enough I have been with programs that have been that way down at Ohio State, Oklahoma State and with coach (Urban) Meyer at Bowling Green. We were that way, we were suppose to win, so now we're at that level. We're building this program to be at that level."