Second-year Rockets coach Jason Candle said the team won’t shy from lofty expectations going into this season. BLADE/JETTA FRASER
CANTON — High expectations are nothing new to the University of Toledo football team.
But for a program that has been consistently picked to finish near the top of the Mid-American Conference West division, a MAC title has eluded the Rockets since 2004.
So here we go again.
In a MAC media preseason poll, Toledo emerged as the clear favorite to win the conference championship game and end its recent title drought. The Rockets earned 22 out of 24 votes to lead the MAC West, while they gained 21 of 24 votes to win the MAC championship game.
“Now it’s time to take that next step and break that door down,” UT senior quarterback Logan Woodside said.
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UT coach Jason Candle, in his second full season as head coach, said the team won’t shy from the preseason accolades.
“Any time you get any attention to your program, it’s a positive thing,” Candle said.
“Our team has worked really hard to have expectations to be really good, and now it’s a matter of going out and performing and playing at a high level, and being consistent, and trying to accomplish what we set out to do. I think you come to Toledo to compete for championships. It’s something we are certainly not going to hide from.”
The Rockets return 15 starters from last year’s team, which finished second in the MAC West behind Western Michigan, but also saw three players (Kareem Hunt, Michael Roberts, and Treyvon Hester) selected in the NFL Draft.
The offense is led by Woodside, who threw for 4,129 yards last season and led the nation with 45 touchdown passes.
A strong receiving corps returns, led by all-conference performer and senior Cody Thompson, who racked up 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Seven defensive starters return, including seniors Ja’Wuan Woodley, Marquise Moore, and Trevon Mathis.
“It’s a close-knit group,” Candle said of this year’s senior class.
“It’s a fairly large senior class. We did lose eight guys to NFL camps last year and three guys to the NFL draft. Some tremendous players moved on.
“It depends on how you look at it. We did lose a lot of talent, but we do have a good group of guys coming back.”
Thompson said he and the other Rockets players hold themselves to a high standard, regardless of what others may think of the team.
“We welcome those expectations, and it’s nice to get recognition for our hard work,” Thompson said.
“No matter what media outlet or anybody else says about us, I think we hold ourselves to higher expectations than anybody does — because we know how good we can be. We have to hold the highest expectations for ourselves.”
The biggest challengers to Toledo in the MAC West are predicted to be recent conference powers Western Michigan and Northern Illinois.
“You can’t win the West without going through Toledo,” first-year Western Michigan coach Tim Lester said.
“It’s been that way forever. Other teams have come and gone, but there is a lot to be said for a team that can be that consistently competitive.
“Any time you have a quarterback back like [Woodside] that has had as much success as he has had, I’m picking the quarterback every time. I would assume they would be the favorite.”
After an early spring practice and a grueling summer of workouts, the Rockets are ready to hit the field again and begin fall camp.
“The winter went by so slow, and the summer goes by so fast, and now that fall camp is here, I have five months left at Toledo for the rest of my life,” Woodside said. “That’s kind of a hard pill to swallow, but I definitely want to make the most of it.
“I’m definitely not going to take anything for granted, that’s for sure.”
Candle said he would like to see his team continue to build chemistry and come together during fall camp, but he is pleased with the leadership he has seen so far from the senior class in the offseason.
“It’s upon that senior class,” Candle said.
“It’s their turn to write the script of what they want their team for their senior season to be. They know there hasn’t been a championship banner hung here since 2004.
“They have big goals, and when you have big goals and big dreams, you need a big-time work ethic, and I think our team has that.”