Kareem Hunt

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Cal’s Davis Webb shines in Senior Bowl victory

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It can be difficult to make too much out of one performance in the Senior Bowl as far as draft prospects go, but there is no denying you would much rather have a good performance to take away from Mobile, Alabama than a shaky one. Cal quarterback Davis Webb will return home with reason to feel good about what eh showed on the field in the nation’s top college football all-star game leading into the NFL Draft preparation season.

Webb orchestrated all three scoring drives for the South team in a 16-15 victory in the Senior Bowl on Saturday. Webb completed 11 of 16 of his passing attempts for 165 yards and a touchdown, a 39-yard scoring pass to Texas A&M wide receiver Josh Reynolds, who also had a good showing. The Cal quarterback led the South to two scores in the final three minutes of the first half. Webb was named MVP of the Senior Bowl.

For the North, Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman also played well with a six-yard touchdown pass to East Carolina’s Zay Jones late in the game. A failed two-point conversion attempt prevented the North from taking the lead on the South, however. Toledo running back Kareem Hunt was named the North’s Most Outstanding Player after rushing for 118 yards on 15 rushing attempts. Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis received the South’s Most Outstanding Player award after forcing a pair of fumbles and recording a pair of sacks.

Toledo’s Tuesday night big MAC challenge: Northern Illinois

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When it comes to the Group of Five conversation this season, the American Athletic Conference has continued to take the lead with three teams currently ranked in the top 25 (Memphis, Houston, Temple) and another suffering just one loss (Navy). With the Mountain West Conference slipping this fall, the American has taken advantage and pushed to the front of the line. There is one potential obstacle beyond the control of the AAC though; Toledo.

The MAC frontrunners are off to a solid 7-0 start this season, which includes a victory on the road at Arkansas and a home win against Iowa State. For a while the win against the Razorbacks was the top Group of Five performance of the season, but Memphis has since taken that title with a win against Ole Miss. Still, Toledo has a chance to run the table this season and add a MAC championship that would see a 13-0 program be up for strong consideration for the New Years Six bowl reservation awarded to the top-ranked Group of Five conference champion. If that ends up being the case, Toledo head coach Matt Campbell will have some interesting job offers come his way this coaching carousel cycle (he has already been a trendy name for some coaching stories this season). There is still business to attend to for Toledo before we can dive head first into those debates and discussions about where the Rockets stand against other contenders like Memphis, Houston or perhaps still Temple and Navy. First up is Northern Illinois.

Toledo takes on Northern Illinois tonight in a Tuesday night MACtion special. This may not be a dominant NIU team, but it is still a scary one when it is rolling. The Huskies have scored at least 45 points in each of their last three games to rebound from a three-game losing streak that included a good scare for the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. No team should be aware of how dangerous NIU can be than Toledo though. The Huskies have been a bit of a nemesis for the Rockets lately, with NIU claiming victory in each of the past five meetings. The Huskies took last year’s game, 27-24. In 2011 these two combined for 123 points in a 63-60 shootout. If Toledo is going to make a run at the MAC, shaking off the ghosts of Northern Illinois is a huge step forward in that pursuit. That may not be easy.

NIU will bring the MAC’s top running game to Toledo, averaging 217.5 rushing yards per game and a conference-leading 24 rushing touchdowns, 14 by junior running back Joel Bouagnon. Toledo is no slouch running he football with Kareem Hunt warming up and Terry Swanson and Damion Jones-Moore leading the charge for the MAC’s second-leading rushing offense. Toledo has allowed just five rushing touchdowns all season, so they will be put to the test tonight. For Toledo, the key will be to force fumbles, which NIU has been prone to do this season despite the big running numbers. NIU has lost nine fumbles this year, more than any other MAC program.

A win by Toledo will keep them in the thick of the Group of Five discussion, but the more important goal for the Rockets right now is simply winning the MAC. Toledo has not played in the MAC Championship Game since 2004, so it has been a long time coming. Northern Illinois and Central Michigan have dominated the appearances from the MAC West since Toledo’s last appearance in the game. After NIU tonight, Toledo will get a crack at CMU on the road next Tuesday night before playing in what could be a MAC Championship Game Preview against Bowling Green on November 17.

Toledo has some land mines to tiptoe by. If they manage to do so, the Rockets will have a decent argument at the end of the year.

In case you missed it…

Toledo is the big headline in the MAC right now, deservingly so, but Toledo is currently tied for first place in the MAC West with Western Michigan. The Broncos have somewhat quietly played their way into a good spot in the division race. P.J. Fleck‘s program got off to a rough 1-3 start with losses against the top two programs in the Big Ten (Michigan State and Ohio State) and a road loss at Georgia Southern (a blowout 43-17 setback). Things did not look great for Western Michigan, but in conference play the Broncos appear to have flipped a switch.

After clipping Central Michigan 41-39 in their MAC opener, Western Michigan has won each of the next three games on its schedule by a minimum of 22 points. Two of those wins have come against Miami-Ohio and Eastern Michigan, who are a combined 2-16 this season, but Western Michigan should not have to apologize for that. Western Michigan’s challenging schedule in MAC play is about to commence. On Thursday, they host Ball State, but after that they host MAC East-leading Bowling Green on a Wednesday night next week (a short week), and then visit Northern Illinois the following Wednesday.

If you are looking ahead, Western Michigan wraps up the regular season on the road against Toledo on November 27.

Ex-‘Bama QB (again) named as Toledo’s starter

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An injury derailed Phillip Ely‘s first season in Toledo. Fortunately, he’s going to get another go at it.

The Rockets confirmed Monday that Ely will start the program’s opener this Thursday against Stony Brook. The move comes a handful of days after Ely was named as one of four UT captains for the 2015 season.  Ely beat out Logan Woodside, who went 8-2 as a starter for the Rockets last season.

Woodside took over as the starter because of the injury to Ely, a torn ACL sustained in the second game of the season. Ely had been named as the starter ahead of Woodside a couple of weeks prior to the start of the 2014 season.

He passed for 337 yards in his first UT start, then threw for 204 yards against Missouri the following week before to sustaining the knee injury in the third quarter.

Ely began his collegiate career at Alabama in 2011 as a three-star recruit. After redshirting as a true freshman, Ely played in six games in 2012, completing three-of-four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown in very limited duty. Ely was listed as the No. 2 QB the first three weeks of the 2012 season, but after that was listed as the co-backup to AJ McCarron along with redshirt sophomore Blake Sims.

In January of 2013 it was reported Ely was looking to transfer from the Tide. The summer of that year he transferred into the Rockets football program.  He sat out the 2013 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

Ely’s official return to the starting spot came the same day it was announced that two Rockets had been suspended for the first two games of the season, including 2014 MAC rushing leader Kareem Hunt.

Leading rusher one of two Toledo starters suspended for two games

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The season has yet to kick off and Toledo has already a suffered a pair of significant blows, one on each side of the ball.

The football program announced Monday morning that senior defensive end Allen Covington and junior running back Kareem Hunt have been suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season. Other than “violating team policy,” no reason for the twin punitive measures was given.

The players will miss Thursday’s opener against Stony Brook, as well as the following week’s home game against No. 18 Arkansas. Both will be eligible to return for the Iowa State game Sept. 19.

Of the two, the loss of Hunt will be the most damaging.

Last season, Hunt’s total of 1,631 yards rushing was tops in the MAC and good for 10th nationally. His 16 rushing touchdowns were tied for 14th in the country.

Covington’s four tackles for loss were tied for sixth on the Rockets last season. He was expected to start at one of the end spots on UT’s defensive line.

Ezekiel Elliott one of 69 on Doak Walker watch list

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Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott was the hottest running back exiting the 2014 season, and that momentum carried into the offseason as he’s one of the wagering favorites for the 2015 Heisman Trophy and claimed a prestigious amateur honor for good measure.  Not surprisingly, he’s landed on a watch lost that specifically honors the position he plays.

As part of the annual watch list dump in mid-July, the Doak Walker Award announced a group of 69 backs added to its preseason listing.  Included in that number are six backs who finished in the Top 10 in rushing yards in 2014: Elliott (No. 3), along with San Diego State’s Donnell Pumphrey (No. 4), Marshall’s Devon Johnson (No. 6), Pittsburgh’s James Connor (No. 7), Oklahoma Samaje Perine (No. 8) and Toledo’s Kareem Hunt (No. 10).

Connor and Johnson were semifinalists last year for the award won by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, as was 2015 watch lister Matt Breida of Georgia Southern.

Conference-wise, the Pac-12 led all leagues with 12 players on the list.  The other Power Five conferences has the SEC with 10, the Big Ten with eight, and the ACC and Big 12 with five each.  Amongst the Group of Five, Conference USA and the Sun Belt are tops with six apiece.

Arkansas, Oregon and USC were the only schools with two backs each listed.

2015 Doak walker Award Watch List