Sunday, April 30, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: TOLEDO
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Post-Gradkowski, Rockets may turn to defense, corn and flour tortillas to continue winning ways
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 45-18 (31-8) 2005: 9-3 (6-2 MAC); won GMAC Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 15 (8 Offense, 7 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Bruce Gradkowski, latest in the Bartkowski-Jaworski-Majkowski tradition of inevitably "blue collar" Polish quarterbacks, graduated after completing every pass over the last three seasons - er, it seemed that way, at least: he was 764 of 1120, which comes in just shy of 70 percent in about 31 attempts per game, with a better than 3-1 TD-INT ratio and more than 1,000 career rushing yards. Trinity Dawson, Keon Jackson, Anthony Jordan and David Thomas won their share of accolades, too, and all are gone.
WHAT'S THE SAME: "A Championship Legacy," they say, and that's largely true: Toledo has the best record in the MAC in the aughts, almost totally under Amstutz's watch, and are one of those rare teams that's put together more than a consecutive decade above .500 (12 straight winning years and counting); it was the league's best team again last year despite missing out on the championship game. The Rockets have three MAC championships in that span (which may not be great as opposed to Marshall, which had five in six years without winning all that many more games from 1997-2002, but is otherwise best in that span), two under Amstutz. They haven't put fewer than four players on the all-conference team in any year since 1980. So, new backfield or not, they're going to be pretty good.
THE NEW KID: Heir apparent to Gradkowski is Clint Cochran, who ran the spread - the same one, by the way, Amstutz installed because it was the offense that kept him awake at night as a defensive coordinator...wait, what? You've heard that one? Huh... - to near-perfection (16-19) in five brief mop-up appearances, yet threw up a relatively pedestrian 163 yards and his only interception en route to producing a season-low 14 points in his only start at Fresno State - the Rockets' toughest game of last year.
WHICH MATTERS BECAUSE... Improvement against the better teams on the schedule should be a point of emphasis, because Toledo is about to start playing more of them, and more of them in the inhospitable den of the painful-sounding Glass Bowl, where it's 34-2 since 1999.
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How do opponents play when they visit the Glass Bowl? Very carefully...
Amstutz's teams are 5-2 against ranked teams, but that's mostly been wins over Marshall and Bowling Green; against BCS-conference teams, the Rockets have been rocked, consistently, by Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Syracuse, Boston College and Pittsburgh, all by three touchdowns or more. There were wins over disappointing Minnesota in 2001 and Pitt in 2003, which should not be discounted, but if UT's going to hype upcoming home dates over the next four years with Kansas, Purdue, Iowa State, Fresno State and Boise State - not exactly the cream of the upper echelon, but more prominent programs the Rockets appear to equal - that winning percentage should go up.
UH, AHEM? WE'RE GOOD TOO... For all the attention the offense usually gets here, it was Toledo's defense that stepped up in '05, giving up ten fewer points than the often porous '04 unit and leading the MAC in pass efficiency, total and scoring defense; the Rockets were second against the run. The four starters lost were good ones, but linebacker Mike Alston might be the MAC's best defensive player in the fall; safety Tyrrell Herbert and fellow 'backer Michael Chamberlain might join him.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: When one's leading rusher graduates and one's other top option is down with a knee injury, what does one do? Why, of course, one releases the felon:
It beats the prison yard team, SMQ supposes...but is beating any of Toledo's opponents as satisfying as whuppin' the one run by your sadistic prison guard?
REASON FOR HOPE: Amstutz is running a system here, folks, and it's flourished so far with two very different quarterbacks pulling the trigger.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: The new guy pulling the trigger's not all that familiar with the gun in uncontrolled conditions, and might start firing all over the place.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... A chicken quesadilla from Taco Bell - will never be considered among the elite or glitzy, usually only an afterthought late at night during the middle of the week, when the nicer options have all closed, virtually never recalled after the fact, but gets the job done in satisfying fashion just fine pretty much every time, thank you very much.
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Taco Bell answers Tom Amstutz's eternal post-practice query
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING: At least eight wins, new quarterback be damned. Somebody's got to slow this bunch down before SMQ forecasts anything less than a token anonymous bowl appearance in which at least two offensive records in the game's three-year history are shattered.
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa
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