Quarterback Logan Woodside ready to lead Toledo back atop Mid-American Conference

Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside passes the ball during the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 4, 2015. Woodside returns to the Rockets after throwing 45 touchdown passes to lead all FBS players last season. (AP photo)

By MITCH STACY
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the Mid-American Conference’s marquee quarterback, Toledo might be ready to capture some the magic that earned Western Michigan a piece of the national spotlight last season.
Hunting their first MAC championship since 2004, the Rockets have plenty of returning talent. Fifteen starters are back from last year’s 9-4 team, including 4,000-yard passer Logan Woodside and his top receiver, Cody Thompson. Woodside’s 45 touchdown passes last season was tops in the nation.
Woodside’s road has not been particularly smooth. He played in the shadow of Alabama transfer Phillip Ely and even redshirted his junior season in 2015.
“He’s set himself up to be a fifth year senior and have some real success,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said.
The team expects a championship.
“When I came here in 2013, I had a vision to become the best quarterback in the country,” Woodside said. “I also had a vision to lead my team to a MAC championship. (Former Toledo QB) Bruce Gradkowski always gives me a hard time, (saying) you’re not the best quarterback at Toledo until you win a MAC championship.”
Western Michigan will have something to say about that, despite being without coach P.J. Fleck, now at Minnesota, and last season’s starting quarterback and leading wide receiver.
THE FAVORITES
East: Steady Ohio and Miami, which had a terrific second half last year when quarterback Gus Ragland returned after a knee injury, should again challenge for the divisional title. The Redhawks finished last season by winning six of the last seven games, and they return 17 starters. Ohio won the East last year but was edged by Western Michigan in the MAC Championship Game. The Bobcats’ defense should again be near the top of the conference.
West: Toledo and Western Michigan should lead the way, and the nationally televised season finale between the teams on the day after Thanksgiving should be fun to watch. Northern Illinois, which played in six consecutive MAC Championship Games before last season, should be better than its 5-7 finish. Eastern Michigan enjoyed its first bowl trip since 1987 and also is on the way up.
TOP PLAYERS
Woodside. Senior quarterback threw for 4,129 yards last and his 45 touchdowns were most in Division I. Named to the preseason watch list for Maxwell Award, given to nation’s best college football player.
Jarvion Franklin, RB, WMU. Rushed for 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns last year while sharing the spotlight in the backfield with Jamauri Bogan.
Quentin Poling, LB, Ohio. Versatile first-team All-MAC selection is the Bobcats’ leading returning tackler.
James Gilbert, RB, Ball State. Junior rushed for 1,332 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Named to Maxwell Award watch list.
Heath Harding, DB, Miami. First team All-MAC performer has been named to watch list for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player.
Ulysees Gilbert III, LB, Akron. Junior was first-team All-MAC last year with a team-leading 122 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks and two forced fumbles.