2012 Record: 9-4 (6-2 MAC); Lost to Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Returning Starters: 11: Offense: 9, Defense: 3
Key departures: MLB Dan Molls (San Diego Chargers undrafted free agent, nation-leading 166 tackles), SS Jermaine Robinson (4 INTs, including two for touchdowns, New Orleans Saints undrafted free agent), OLB Robert Bell (second on the Rockets with 100 tackles), OT A.J. Lindeman (former walk-on with 13 career starts as a fifth-year senior, undrafted free agent of the Chicago Bears)
Player to watch offense: WR/return specialist Bernard Reedy – Florida’s deep secondary will get a first-hand look at one of the nation’s most explosive, but unheralded receivers. Toledo’s senior wide out caught 88 balls for 1,120 yards and six touchdowns in 2012, while also chipping in four return touchdowns. Reedy, a Lakewood High alum and first-team All-MAC performer, is super shifty.
Player to watch defense: DE Jayrone Elliot – With the Rockets returning just three starters from last season’s 11th ranked MAC defense, the pickins’ are a tad slim here. Elliot -- a senior -- recorded six sacks and seven tackles for loss as Toldeo’s top pass rusher in 2012. But with gaping holes at linebacker (especially) and in the secondary, the Rockets desperately need Elliot to develop into more than just a situational edge rusher. Elliot’s tag-team partner Christian Smith is another defensive end to keep an eye on.
2013 Outlook: Potentially promising: Toledo is expected to seriously compete for its first conference title in a decade.
Reedy is a seasoned star, as is Rockets junior tailback David Fluellen, the nation’s 12th leading rusher (1,498 yards and 13 TDs). Senior southpaw quarterback Terrance Owens is finally Toledo’s cemented starter after splitting time with the departed Austin Dantin the previous three seasons.
The Rockets also return four regulars from their offensive line.
The Rockets have two major obstacles if they want to win their first outright MAC title since 2004: Northern Illinois and an inexperienced, overhauled defense. Toledo hasn’t beaten its division rival since 2009 and the Huskies return their bulldozing duel-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Toledo finished 2012 with the nation’s 113th ranked total defense, but the Rockets were surprisingly successful at forcing turnovers (25th nationally with 27).
However, top-tackler Dan Molls (3 INTs) and safety Jermaine Robinson (4 INTs, 2 FFs) no longer wear Toledo’s blue and yellow, and those are two monumental losses for a defense that already struggled with consistency.
The offense will undoubtedly score points in bunches, but with three new starters in the secondary and the team’s leading returning tackler a cornerback (Cheatham Norris), it could be tough sledding for the Rockets if their young unit doesn’t mature quickly.
Florida hosts Toledo on Saturday at 12:21 p.m. (SEC Network)
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton