Toledo football season could be determined by quarterback play

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    Toledo quarterbacks Eli Peters, left, and Mitch Guadagni will be tasked with replacing the production of two-year starter and school record holder Logan Woodside during 2018.

    Blade/Jetta Fraser

  • In defending its Mid-American Conference title, this year’s University of Toledo football team has an opportunity to do something that has happened during only one other stretch in the program’s 100-year history.

    After snapping a 13-year conference title drought last season, Toledo begins its quest for its first back-to-back MAC titles since the Rockets won three straight championships from 1969-71 during their 35-game win streak.

    Toledo, picked to finish second in the MAC West behind Northern Illinois, is not backing down from accomplishing the rare feat.

    “There is a good sense of urgency to uphold the standard,” UT coach Jason Candle said. “I don’t feel like there is any intimidation there. If we’re scared or intimidated by doing something really cool and something that hasn’t been done for a really long time, then I think we’re in the wrong business. That’s what we are chasing.”

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    The first step in that process and the biggest question mark heading into this season is who will lead the talented offense as the starting quarterback.

    The main options are junior Mitch Guadagni and sophomore Eli Peters, but true freshmen Carter Bradley and Cross Wilkinson are also competing for the job this preseason.

    After Logan Woodside left Toledo as the all-time leading passer in school history, Candle and his staff are not setting the bar any lower for quarterback play this season.

    “For me I am looking for the same things I would be looking for if it was day one and Logan Woodside was coming back,” Candle said. “One year later from last year at the same time, my mind-set hasn’t changed. I’m looking for guys that continually make good decisions with the football and are accurate when they have a chance to throw it. At the end of the day they have to make everyone around them better.”

    So what is the role of the quarterback in Toledo’s offense?

    “You just have to do your one-eleventh,” Guadagni said. “You have to do exactly what the read says and make the right reads and the right plays. You can’t try to get out of your comfort zone. You have to do whatever you can with your abilities.”

    Peters views the quarterback as the conductor and field general of what should be another skilled Rockets offense.

    “There are a lot of tools in this offense,” Peters said. “You just want to take command and get everyone on the same page honestly. You don’t want to do too much, but the offense does run off of you and how you approach everything.”

    No quarterback in the competition has much in the way of experience. Guadagni is the only one to see the field in his Toledo career, rushing eight times for 76 yards a year ago and going 1-for-6 passing.

    With a deep group of receivers and running backs, Candle is confident that whoever is named the quarterback will be able to lean on the playmakers around him. That list includes running backs Art Thompkins and Shakif Seymour, who each ran for more than six yards per carry last season, and receivers Cody Thompson, Diontae Johnson, and Jon’Vea Johnson. That trio has combined for 5,774 career receiving yards and 51 touchdowns.

    “The supporting cast around whoever that guy is going to be, that’s a big deal,” Candle said. “You have four or five running backs that can go in and function very well. You have six or seven wide receivers that I think can do a great job. We have to do a good job of putting a plan around him to get the ball to these guys and let the playmakers do what they can do with it. It’s about putting together a good plan so that guy can be successful.”

    With the addition of the two highly rated freshmen, Toledo offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Wright is excited about the present and future at the quarterback position.

    “The freshmen are doing a really good job,” Wright said. “We’ve recruited two really good young kids into the program that have a really bright future that I am really excited about. Both guys are very talented and both are coming along with the offense.

    “We have a lot of depth at the position. Some of those guys are young guys and maybe not quite ready yet today, but are certainly getting there. I’m excited about the effort and attitude [the quarterbacks] bring every day and I’m looking forward to those guys all continuing to compete.”

    Wright said there is a different feel this off-season with the uncertainty at quarterback compared to the last couple of years with an established starter at position in Woodside, who is now with the Cincinnati Bengals.

    “When you are returning a guy that has played that many snaps, it’s certainly is a little bit of a different feeling,” Wright said. “But this is an exciting feeling and it’s something new. It’s a new challenge and we are excited to see how it plays out.”

    No MAC team has repeated as champions since Northern Illinois did so in 2011 and 2012. As the reigning MAC winner, Toledo is ready to begin its quest for a repeat.

    “It puts a target on your back and I think we are all ready to go out and get some games under our belt and start playing again,” Guadagni said. “I think everyone is very excited for the season.”

    Contact Brian Buckey at bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110, or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.