FACTS & STATS: Site: Glass Bowl (26,248) -- Toledo, Ohio. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Arizona 0-0, Toledo 0-0. Away Record: Arizona 0-0, Toledo 0-0. Neutral Record: Arizona 0-0, Toledo 0-0. Conference Record: Arizona 0-0, Toledo 0-0. Series Record: Arizona leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: The 2010 season will kick off for two schools this Friday evening when the Toledo Rockets host the Arizona Wildcats at the Glass Bowl. Arizona's visit to the Glass Bowl marks the first time that a Pac-10 school will travel to a school from the Mid-American Conference. However, this is not the first meeting between the two teams.
The Wildcats have won the previous two matchups against Toledo, including a 41-16 victory in 2008. The Rockets are winless in four tries against schools from the Pac-10.
The Wildcats clawed their way to an eight-win campaign in 2009 and also earned a spot in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska. Even though Arizona was embarrassed by the Cornhuskers (33-0), it was still the first time since 1997-98 that an Arizona squad went to back-to-back bowl contests, proving this program is going in a positive direction. Coach Mike Stoops is hoping the Wildcats are capable of continuing their recent success as he begins his seventh season at the helm in Tucson.
On the home sideline there is Tim Beckman, who is entering his second year as the head man in Toledo. Beckman took over a Toledo squad that tallied just three wins in 2008, but under his tutelage the team showed vast improvement last year. However, down the stretch the Rockets dropped four of its last five matchups, finishing with just five wins on the year.
The Wildcats quietly put together a solid performance offensively last season, and there are plenty of key components back for Arizona to continue its offensive surge. After transferring from Michigan State, Nick Foles made it clear he was the man for the starting job under center in Tucson. The junior will be looking to build off his success from a year ago, but before the season even kicks off he is down a weapon, as DeLashaun Dean was suspended from the team for off-the-field conduct issues. That means Juron Criner will see more action throughout the season. Criner hauled in 45 receptions a year ago, and should open the year with a big showing on the road.
The balance of Arizona's offense is what made this unit dangerous last season, and with the return of RBs Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby the Wildcats should have a solid one-two punch to compliment the passing attack. Grigsby is the team's outside burner that can break free for a long run, while Antolin is more of a between the tackles power back. Both players should see plenty of carries on Friday against a Toledo team that struggled defensively in 2009.
Arizona used speed as a weapon defensively this past season and it is likely the team will do the same in 2010. What makes this squad so quick is the tandem at defensive end in Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed.
Reed led the defense in sacks back in 2008, and Elmore took that honor last season, so both are proven sack artists. Although just a freshman, Sione Tuihalamaka will start the opener for Arizona at tackle, giving the Wildcats even more speed up front.
While the frontline looks primed for a big season, the linebackers for Arizona are a big question mark as the campaign gets set to begin. Derek Earls will man the middle for Arizona, but sophomore Jake Fischer could be the best of the bunch.
The Rockets were sensational with the football this past season, but the team will have to overcome the loss of quarterback Aaron Opelt. Coach Beckman tabbed Austin Dantin as the starter for Friday's contest. The sophomore signal caller saw some time under center last year, but was inconsistent, throwing four touchdowns and four interceptions. However, any experience is good experience for a quarterback, and it also helped him build a rapport with Eric Page, who will likely be his go-to receiver this year.
Page, who led all freshmen in the country with 82 receptions and 1,159 yards, is a dangerous deep threat that will see plenty of opportunities in the opener.
Coach Beckman will also begin the season with a new starter at tailback in Morgan Williams. Williams is replacing DuJuane Collins, who had a solid career at Toledo. Williams saw plenty of time on the field, so he has the experience to be a dangerous back.
While the offense was dangerous all last year, the defense for Toledo was simply bad. Toledo was unable to do much right on defense, so the goal for coach Beckman's squad this season is to improve drastically in all aspects. The strength of this unit will likely be up front where defensive end Alex Johnson returns. Johnson will be on the field Friday and will be joined by a solid tandem at tackle in Johnie Roberts and Malcolm Riley.
The sparkplug for the defense is without question linebacker Archie Donald. Donald, who is an All-MAC senior, has led the Rockets in tackles the last two campaigns, including 116 stops a year ago. There will be plenty of pressure on sophomore linebacker Dan Molls, who will open the year at the Mike position.
Under the microscope Friday will be the play of the defensive backfield, which was a troublesome area in 2009. Byron Best was a liability in his freshman season, but he has proven enough to coach Beckman to remain a starter for the time being. Also Jermaine Robinson will be back at safety, and is looking to improve on his freshman season.
The Rockets might be a tough team at home, but having to replace a quarterback and running back could be too much for the Rockets to overcome against a tough Pac-10 school. Look for Toledo to put up a fight, but the Wildcats should open the year with a victory on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona 38, Toledo 21
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