Rocketing to the Top

It wasn't long ago that Toledo was American Conference mountain, the Rockets finishing either tied for, or winning outright the West Division title seven of the nine seasons logged between 1997 and 2005.

Fans in Toledo got a glimpse of what it would be like to be on top in 1990 as the team finished with a 9-2 record under then head coach Nick Saban, who led the Rockets to a MAC Co-Championship in his lone season as the head coach. Following Saban was Gary Pinkel, who really orchestrated the Rockets' sensational conference run, but it took a few years.

The Rockets got off to a sluggish start under Pinkel, as the team did not finish higher than third place in his first four seasons at the helm. In fact, in his fourth season Toledo finished sixth in the division, and it seemed as if maybe Pinkel was not the answer. That all changed the following year when the Rockets went 11-0-1, the best record posted in school history.

Toledo won the MAC title and the Las Vegas Bowl against Nevada that year, and finished with a Top-25 ranking. That season began a string of successful campaigns for Toledo, and when all was said and done for Pinkel he finished with 73 wins in his 10-year tenure, the most by any coach in program history.

The only dent in Pinkel's great career at Toledo was the fact that the Rockets, who won their division four times during that 10-year span, claimed only one overall conference crown.

Pinkel's success at Toledo earned him the head coaching spot at Missouri, but even with the departure of the winningest coach in school history the program would be just fine thanks to the arrival of Tom Amstutz.

Amstutz took over at Toledo and in his first season did what Pinkel could only do once in 10 years and that was lead the Rockets to the pinnacle of Mid- American Conference success. It was the second straight campaign in which Toledo would record double-digit wins, and the team also won the Motor City Bowl that year.

Toledo was back in the league's title tilt in 2002, but that season the Rockets would be runner-ups. The following year saw the Rockets finish second in the west division, but in 2004 Amstutz led the Rockets back to the promised land, as Toledo took care of Miami-Ohio for another MAC crown. That would be the last time Toledo would take part in the conference championship game.

In 2005, the Rockets finished tied for first in the west, but lost out on the tie breaker, and since then the team has not finished higher than fourth.

Amstutz coached three more years at Toledo, but finished fifth, fourth and fifth, respectively before leaving the program. However, those last three years provided some impressive memories, the best being a 13-10 victory over Michigan on the road. It was the first time a team from the MAC took down the mighty Wolverines.

In 2009, the Rockets brought in Tim Beckman as the 25th coach in program history. The first season was a rough one for Beckman, as the Rockets finished fourth in the MAC West, but Beckman's transformation of the program started taking shape last year.

In 2010, the Rockets finished with eight wins and claimed seven victories in their eight league bouts. That was good enough for only second place in the west division, but more importantly it was the first winning season overall for Toledo since 2005, and the first positive showing in conference play since that same year.

With the 2011 season just around the corner the Rockets are set to make another run at supremacy in the Mid-American Conference. Yes, the Miami-Ohio RedHawks and the Northern Illinois Huskies took part in last year's MAC title game, and they deserve their props, but the Rockets are loaded with 18 starters back in the mix.

They also have a manageable schedule. Sure, the Rockets have to battle Ohio State on the road, but they get both of last year's division winners at home, and have six total games at the Glass Bowl where they are always tough.

Obviously, the Rockets have to perform on the field, but the talent is there for them to shoot for the stars once again.