GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With less than three months until the season begins, GatorBait.net takes a look ahead and begins its schedule breakdown. Today, we look at Toledo and what the Rockets bring back on offense and defense, as well as what to expect in the season opener in the Swamp.
Toledo should be a team that can compete with BCS-level opponents in 2013 thanks to a strong offense.
Aug. 31 - Florida vs. Toledo - Preview
2012 Record: 9-4 (6-2 MAC)
Returning Starters, Offense: 9
Returning Starters, Defense: 3
Key Losses: RT A.J. Lindeman, ILB Dan Molls, OLB Robert Bell, SS Jermaine Robinson
Key Returnees: QB Terrance Owens, RB David Fluellen, WR Bernard Reedy, WR Alonzo Russell
Top Passer: QB Terrance Owens -- 216-351 (61.5%), 2,714 yards, 14 TDs, 8 INTs
Top Rusher: RB David Fluellen -- 259 yards, 1,498 yards, 13 TDs
Top Receiver: WR Bernard Reedy -- 89 receptions, 1,120 yards, 6 TDs
Top Pass-Rusher: DE Jayrone Elliott -- 18 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks
Top Defensive Back: CB Cheatham Norrils -- 74 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 PBUs
2012 RECAP: Toledo was a hair away from having a significantly better record in 2012. The Rockets lost an overtime game to Arizona to open the season, then ripped off eight straight wins, including a win over No. 21 Cincinnati. The Rockets tripped up in back-to-back weeks in narrow seven-point losses to Ball State and BCS-bound Northern Illinois before wrapping up the season with a win against Akron and a shellacking at the hands of Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
OFFENSIVE OUTLOOK: Toledo will bring a veteran offensive unit to the Swamp that will really test Florida's fledgling young defense in the season opener. There is talent and experience across the board for the Rockets, starting with senior quarterback Terrance Owens.
Owens has 17 starts to his credit and nearly threw for 3,000 yards a year ago. He has his top five targets back in the passing game, including 5-foot-9 playmaker Bernard Reedy, who amassed 1,120 receiving yards a year ago.
Paced on the ground by senior running back David Fluellen, the Rockets are a formidable, well-balanced bunch. Fluellen finished eighth in the country in rushing in 2012, just two yards shy of 1,500.
He should be even better as a senior, running behind an offensive line that returns four starters, including All-MAC center Zac Kerin. The right tackle spot is the only one open, and two 6-foot-8 behemoths are competing for the job there.
The bottom line is that the Rockets will certainly test a young Gators defense early on. Florida will have to play well to keep this game in the 20-point range in the season opener.
DEFENSIVE OUTLOOK: Toledo lost a whole lot of talent on defense, including the nation's leading tackler a year ago in Dan Molls. With nine starters gone, the Rockets will have their hands full slowing down a Florida offense that should once again boast a dominant running game.
The Rockets have a pair of veterans returning at end, where Jayrone Elliott racked up six sacks a year ago. The interior of the line is far less certain, with one veteran senior returning along with a handful of fairly inexperienced sophomores.
Linebacker is where Toledo has its biggest hole on defense after losing a pair of 100-tackle starters. Sophomore Trent Voss is expected to be a star there after racking up 47 tackles as a true freshman, and he'll be flanked by a pair of little-used seniors and a somewhat experienced junior.
In the secondary, the Rockets have to replace both starting safeties and a starting cornerback. Junior Cheatham Norrils returns as the team's third-leading tackler in 2012 as a cornerback. The safety positions are up in the air between some young players, including former Florida player Jordan Haden, now a junior.
All in all, Florida shouldn't have much trouble moving the ball against Toledo. That said, the Rockets do have pretty good size up front, which should provide the Gators with a good test in the running game before heading to Miami a week later.
SPECIAL TEAMS OUTLOOK: Toledo returns everyone on its special teams unit. Starting kicker Jeremiah Detmer hit 82.8 percent of his field goals a year ago with a long of 47. Punter Vince Penza averaged 40.5 yards per punt and dropped 21 of his 58 punts inside the 20. Return man Bernard Reedy had four special teams touchdowns, including three kickoff return touchdowns and one punt return touchdown. He averaged 27.7 yards per kick return and 11.1 yards per punt return.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Toledo boasts a strong offense, but the Rockets will be facing a pass rush they have never seen and a pair of cornerbacks that can lock down some of the nation's best. Simply put, it'll be hard for them to move the ball, even with everything they have coming back.
Still, we'd expect the Rockets to put together at least one or two scoring drives. On the other hand, Florida really should have no trouble carving up a very inexperienced Toledo defense and controlling the line of scrimmage throughout.
This game may stay close, particularly if Florida opts to keep it as vanilla as it did in last year's opener -- Toledo is a pretty good team, likely entering the season as the MAC favorite -- but it should never really be in any doubt.