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Can Rockets crash New Year’s party?

08/27/2017, 1:02am EDT
By By DAVID BRIGGS BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Toledo has talent to make history, but should be careful not to repeat it


The return of quarterback Logan Woodside is one of the many reasons the University of Toledo's football team is overwhelming favorite to win the MAC this season. BLADE/KURT STEISS

Rarely is a sport shaded in gray so black and white, but this is no ordinary year for the University of Toledo. 

The 100th season of Rockets football will end either in anguish or storm-the-field delirium, with the hometown team repeating history or making it. 

Can UT at last slake its championship drought?

Fair or not, if there was a season with only one correct answer, it is this one. 

The Rockets are the open-and-shut favorite to capture their first Mid-American Conference title since 2004 — and just maybe a whole lot more. 

In other words, it is the kind of season to let the imagination run wild. As The Blade kicks off its college football preview coverage Sunday, we’re going through the best and worst-case scenarios for our four bread-and-butter programs, starting with a Rockets team looking to become the toast of town. 

Best case: 12-0, 8-0 MAC

With a brand new beat, the Rockets not only revel in the streets of the Motor City after winning the MAC championship. 

That’s just the start of it. 

The mountains of hype — UT is the biggest conference favorite in the country — are justified, the ballistic Rockets replacing the newly folded Ringling Bros. Circus as the greatest show on turf. 

With the graduation of all-time leading rusher Kareem Hunt, the passing game only cranks up.

Logan Woodside impossibly surpasses his national-best 45 touchdown passes from a year ago, whipping the ball to a deep cast of receivers that includes best friend Cody Thompson (first-team All-MAC last season), Jon’Vea Johnson (second-team All-MAC), and the gifted Diontae Johnson. 

Woodside joins the fringe of the Heisman Trophy discussion and becomes a midround pick in the NFL draft. 

Add in a better than average defense, and the Rockets roll. 

Toledo polishes off a nonconference sweep with an upset at 18th-ranked Miami — a sneaky winnable matchup at the right time and place, the Hurricanes hosting the Rockets in their sleepy confines the week after the high of a prime-time showdown at third-ranked Florida State. (See you at the game? Try, see you at the beach.)

The win vaults the Rockets into the top 25 for the third time in six years, and this time they stay awhile. The team becomes a national darling, landing a big story in Sports Illustrated and consideration to become the third MAC school — following Bowling Green in 2003 and Western Michigan last year — to host College GameDay. That is, until ESPN remembers it forgot to schedule Toledo for any Saturday games later than Oct. 21. 

Regardless, Toledo keeps winning. The Rockets complete their first perfect regular season since 1971, then vanquish East champion Ohio in the MAC title game in Detroit. 

The Rockets enter the postseason ranked 14th by the playoff committee, just ahead of one-loss Group of Five challengers South Florida and Boise State. As the highest-rated team from outside the power conferences, UT nabs the automatic berth to a marquee New Year’s Six game — either the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or Peach Bowl.

The destination is too perfect. Atlanta for the Peach Bowl and a near-decade-in-the-making rematch against ... Michigan. 

If anything can temper the hysteria in Toledo — and nothing can — it is that everyone takes notice of its rising young coach. Jason Candle stays with Toledo through the bowl game, but leaves afterward to become the coach at Boston College. 

Worst case: 8-4, 6-2 MAC

Here ... we ... go ... again. 

The sun rises in the east, Opal Covey runs for mayor, and November heartbreak visits the Glass Bowl. 

Turns out, life without Hunt and tight end Michael Roberts — two of the top offensive players in school history who were drafted in the top four rounds — is harder than imagined. The red flags begin flying in a Week 3 home loss to Tulsa — a 10-win team last year — and keep coming. 

A Rockets team freighted with enormous expectations again fades when the lights burn brightest. After opening MAC play 5-0, they unexplainably tighten and lose two of their final three games in a closing stretch that includes trips to Ohio and Bowling Green and a year-end visit from Western Michigan. 

Say it ain’t so. The league’s enduring bridesmaid finishes second in the MAC West for the sixth time in seven years. 

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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Tag(s): College  Toledo  David Briggs