Coming off an incredible 11-2 record in 2012, Florida is ready to get it started here in 2013. It all begins this weekend as the No. 10 ranked Gators take on the Toledo Rockets in the Swamp. Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match-up in this Game Week Breakdown. Guerry Smith breaks down Toledo with his answers to five burning questions as well previewing five Rockets players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.
BURNING QUESTIONS: Guerry Smith provides answers to these
five burning questions
1) Can Toledo be a dangerous opponent for Florida?
Yes and no. Phil Steele picks Toledo 75th out of 126 FBS teams, which means the Rockets should be a pushover, but if the Gators struggle as much offensively as they did a year ago, every opponent with a pulse will have a shot to stay close (see: Green, Bowling and Lafayette, Louisiana). Toledo, which has been to three consecutive bowl games out of the Mid-American Conference, upended then-No. 21 Cincinnati 29-23 at home last year and lost at No. 15 Ohio State 27-22 in 2011. Of course, the 2011 Buckeyes and 2012 Bearcats were average. More telling was Toledo's 57-14 loss to Boise State in 2010 and 40-15 loss to Boise in 2011. Plus, the Rockets haven't played an early-season game in the South in forever. The heat in the second half kills teams from the North.
2) What are Toledo's strengths?
The Rockets are pretty good across the board offensively by MAC standards and have a real shot to challenge bogus BCS buster Northern Illinois for the West Division title, but without any doubt their best assets are their receivers. The sure-handed Bernard Reedy caught 88 passes for 1,113 yards last year, and Alonzo Russell averaged 17.1 yards on his 56 receptions, falling 40 yards short of 1,000. Russell is fast and tall (6-feet-4), giving match-up problems for just about any cornerback. Toledo also has freshman wide out Rodney Adams, a four-star recruit from St. Petersburg Lakewood (the same school Reedy attended) whom Florida offered, received a commitment from, but then cut loose for academic reasons. If inconsistent quarterback Terrance Owens plays well, the Gator secondary will have its hands full.
3) Do the Rockets really believe they can win?
Who knows, but they're talking big, and some of that talk is a wee bit misguided. Check out this gem from Reedy about a Gator weakness: "Late in the game they don't go as hard as they do in the first and second quarters. I feel like if we can just keep the pressure on them we can eventually wear them down." Really now. Last time I checked, Florida outscored opponents 128-32 in the fourth quarter in 2012. He couldn't possibly have said anything more off base. Owens goes with the more reasonable, "Anybody can beat anybody." That's not true, either, but there's nothing wrong with players believing it. And with Matt Jones and Jon Halapio unavailable, Florida may need a good performance from Jeff Driskel to win this one comfortably.
4) Can Toledo match up with Florida defensively?
Again, part of the answer lies with Florida, which can't possibly be as bad offensively this year as last, right? Right? On paper, Toledo is shaky on defense. The Rockets lost seven starters from 2012 and will be without two injured potential starters in tackle Elijah Jones and safety Jordan Haden. This, from a unit that gave up 31 or more points five times in the last eight games. Cornerback Cheatham Norrils is the only one of their top five tacklers returning. Driskel needs a feel-good performance in the worst way, and this is a big opportunity.
5) What is Campbell's background?
He's the coach if you weren't paying attention above, and he is in his second year at Toledo. He led the Rockets to a 9-4 mark last year, matching their record from 2011, and was on the staff as offensive coordinator for three years before taking over from Tim Beckman, who departed for Illinois. At 33, Campbell is the second youngest coach in the FBS, exactly one year older than Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck. Before then, he was an assistant for four years at Bowling Green, with a two-year stint in between at Division II Mount Union. His first stint at Bowling Green did not intersect with Urban Meyer-he arrived a year after Meyer left for Utah.
FIVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Here's a list of five Rockets players Gator fans will want to keep an eye on
1) Bernard Reedy, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior wide receiver
Smith Says: In addition to his receiving exploits, he returned one punt for a TD and three kickoffs for scores. He's dangerous with a capital D.
2) Alonzo Russell, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound sophomore wide receiver
Smith Says: How did the major-conference programs miss out on this guy? Players with his size and athletic ability don't grown on trees. Originally from Washington D.C., he attended a prep school in New York before signing with Toledo as a 3-star recruit.
3) David Fluellen, a 6-foot-0, 215-pound senior running back
Smith Says: He rushed for 1,498 yards (5.8 average) and 13 touchdowns last year, gaining 200 or more yards three times before being a non-factor in the final two games with a sprained ankle. NFLDraftScout.com projects him as a sixth-round pick in 2014.
4) Zac Kerrin, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound senior center
Smith Says: He's the leader of a solid offensive line. Phil Steele ranks him the ninth best draft-eligible center in the country and the third-best center Florida will face behind FSU's Bryan Stork and Arkansas' Travis Swanson.
5) Jayrone Elliot, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior defensive end
Smith Says: If the Rockets have any impact guy on defense, it's Elliot. He did not start a year ago but has the potential to be a very good pass rusher on a unit bereft of proven players.
FIVE FAST FACTS
1) Florida is the first SEC opponent Toledo has faced even though the Rockets have been playing since 1917. The Gators are opening against a MAC team for the third time in four years, playing Miami (Ohio) in 2010 and Bowling Green last season.
2) Phil Steele ranks Toledo's special teams the second best in the country behind FSU. Kicker Jeremiah Detmer converted 24 of 29 field goals, including his last 17. Punter Vince Penza pinned opponents inside the 20 21 times. Reedy's four touchdowns on returns were three more than Florida had as a team. No other team from a non-power conference was ranked in the top five at any position.
3) Toledo has gone 20-4 in the MAC the past three years without a conference title-game appearance to show for it thanks to nemesis Northern Illinois. The Rockets were blown out by Northern Illinois 65-30 for their only blemish in 2010, lost to Northern Illinois 63-60 for their lone league loss in 2011 and fell to Northern Illinois 31-24 last season in the game that decided the West champion. Their last MAC title came in 2004.
4) Reedy and Adams were teammates at St. Pete Lakewood with Florida linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. Reedy said he and Fowler had been trading barbs all week, but would not reveal the content of their trash talk.
5) Toledo has eight players from Florida-in addition to Reedy and Adams, there is senior safety Vladimir Emilien from Lauderhill, senior wide receiver James Green from Miami (and Tallahassee Leon), junior wide receiver Cassius McDowell from Deerfield Beach, junior defensive back Junior Sylvestre from Hollywood, senior defensive lineman Ben Steele from Venice and sophomore defensive end Allen Covington from Tampa. Florida has no one from Ohio.