Philadelphia, PA -- 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Although the overall record wasn't a strong indication, Terry Bowden made an impact at Akron in his first season as the team's head coach. Bowden came to the Mid American Conference after leading North Alabama to three consecutive Division II playoff appearances and Auburn to a 47-17-1 from 1993-98. He inherited a program that had gone 1-11 in back-to-back seasons under Rob Ianello, so the team making its first bowl appearance since 2005 was not expected.
Akron once again finished 1-11 despite the presence of Bowden, but it was much more competitive than the year before with four of the losses being decided by eight points or less. The Zips took a pounding in Bowden's debut, falling to UCF, 56-14. They lost a heartbreaker in overtime the following week as FIU's field goal in the extra session gave the Golden Panthers a 41-38 decision. Akron coasted to its only win of the year when it returned to InfoCision Stadium and completed a 66-6 rout of Morgan State. It suffered nine consecutive setbacks to close out the season, including a 22-14 loss to Massachusetts, which was in its first season as an FBS program.
Akron ended 2012 averaging 9.6 less points per game than its opposition, still a huge improvement from the 24.3 point per game average margin it produced in 2011.
The spread offense was coordinated by Bowden in 2012, but he will hand over those duties to the 2012 quarterbacks coach A.J. Wilwee, who was a superstar signal caller at North Alabama from 2006-08. Wilwee was a two-time finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded annually to the nations top player at the NCAA Division-II level.
OFFENSE: Wilwee will need to pass on his knowledge of the quarterback position in his first season as the offensive coordinator. Dalton Williams, who had one of the best offensive performances in school history with 3,387 yards and 25 touchdowns, graduated and left Akron without a proven passer. Sophomore Kyle Pohl saw some action as a rookie, completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 366 yards with five TDs to two interceptions.
Williams's favorite target was Marquelo Suel, who tallied 820 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 12 games to lead the team. Suel also exhausted his eligibility, which means Zach D'Orazio, Keith Sconiers, L.T. Smith, and Dee Frieson are all expected to take on more vital roles in Akron's spread attack. Senior wideout Jerrod Dillard was the most reliable option in the red zone in 2012, reeling in a team-high total of nine touchdown catches.
The Zips ran the ball on just 38.5 percent of their offensive plays last season. Junior tailback Jawon Chisholm still came up 47 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark. He showed solid improvement in terms of efficiency as his yards per carry average rose from 4.4 to 5.3.
"Jawon is a tough, hard-nosed back with good speed and is due for a 1,000-yard season after coming close the last two seasons," said Bowden on his starting tailback. "He allows us to really spread the field and find holes in the opponent's defense."
Akron is planning on having a more balanced gameplan so Chisholm can make even more of an impact. If given enough touches, he has a great chance of finally surpassing the 1,000-yard plateau in 2013, especially because of the strength of the Zips' offensive line. Senior tackle Jarrod Pughsley (6-5, 319) is going to be the anchor for the front five, which also returns more seasoned versions of Travis Switzer (6-2, 292) and Dylan Brumbaugh (6-5, 303).
DEFENSE: Although former NC State head coach Chuck Amato took over the defensive coordinator responsibilities prior to last season, the Zips were not an intimidating team defensively. UMass and Bowling Green were the only two FBS programs that they managed to hold under 30 points. Akron ranked 99th out of 120 FBS programs in total defense with an allowed average of 450 yards per game.
Akron was much better suited to stop aerial attacks than solid ground games, finishing seventh in the MAC in pass defense (238.9 ypg). The defensive backfield should be even better this season with seniors Malachi Freeman and Anthony Holmes back to man the corners. Junior strong safety Johnny Robinson also returns after registering 61 total stops in 2012, good for fourth best on the team. Freeman took some time to settle into his starting role, but began to make strides late in the season.
"We are getting deeper at all four positions," said Freeman on the secondary. "We continue to work on defending as a unit and we are making progress. We need to build on last year and play better as a group for four quarters."
Junior linebacker Justin March is the leading tackler among returners. He also stepped up his play late in his sophomore campaign, registering 20 of his 62 total stops in the final two games. He will need to continue to progress to help Akron survive against top tier running backs.
Graduated nose tackle J.D. Griggs was responsible for six of the team's 16 total sacks last year. The Zips could dramatically improve up front if Nico Caponi and Albert Presley come back healthy. The development of sophomore end Alfonso Horner could factor in as well.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Although Bowden will have to rebuild several aspects of the offense and defense over the next couple years, special teams is covered. Sophomore kicker Robert Stein connected on 9-of-12 field goal attempts and 38- of-39 extra point tries as a rookie. Stein has a streak of eight consecutive made field goals entering his second season. Sophomore punter Zach Paul downed 18 of his 65 punts inside the opponent's 20 yard line. Although he averaged only 40.9 yards per punt, he showed his leg power when he recorded a season- long 67-yard boot.
Sophomore speedster Imani Davis (5-9, 172) led the team in both kick return yards (251) and punt return yards (168) last year. He may have to compete with some incoming freshmen like Wade Edwards and Manny Morgan to retain his role as the return specialist.
OUTLOOK: Akron's return to the postseason does not appear to be imminent. It has another difficult schedule to trek through and enters 2013 on a 16-game losing streak in MAC games.
The Zips have not won an away game since Oct. 18, 2008. Their current 26-game road losing slide is likely to grow when they open up their season at UCF. Akron's only win in 2012 came over an FCS opponent and it will host James Madison for its home opener hoping for similar results. It then has a pair of difficult non-conference bouts at Michigan and versus Louisiana.
Akron's MAC schedule will be a little more challenging also as it will take on Ball State instead of Central Michigan. Bowden's team faces five of the MAC schools that made it to the postseason in 2012 in Bowling Green, Ohio, Northern Illinois, Kent State and Toledo.
"We have to improve to meet the level of a conference with 7 bowl teams," said Bowden at the annual MAC media day. "We have to go through the process but everything is there for us to be successful."
The Zips have a ways to go before they are going to be competitive every Saturday. Bowden has found a way to win at every job he has taken since his career started in 1983. Akron doesn't need to play in a bowl game this season for it to be a success. Ending its conference, road and FBS losing streaks are all steps in the right direction.
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