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NCAA Football Preview: Akron Zips

9:44 AM, Aug 20, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA -- 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: It was a tough season to stomach for Akron fans in 2011, as the Zips finished the year with a 1-11 overall record and a 0-8 mark in conference action.

Coach Rob Ianello hoped his second season at Akron would go better than his first in which his team also went 1-11. The brutal non-conference schedule did not agree with Ianello's wishes. The Zips were blown out by Ohio State (42-0), Temple (41-3), and Cincinnati (59-14) in their first three appearances of 2011.

Akron picked up its only victory of the season next time out as it downed VMI (36-13) at home. The Zips went on to lose eight in a row however, to duplicate Ianello's record from the previous year.

Akron averaged just 14.2 points per game over the course of the season. Defensively, UA was just as poor, with an allowed average of 38.5 points per game.

Following the season, Ianello was fired and former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden was inked to a five-year contract. Bowden also hired former NC State head coach Chuck Amato to be UA's new defensive coordinator.

2012 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Bowden has made it clear he intends to run a fast-paced offense to pump some life into Akron's weak attack. The Zips managed just 277.8 yards per game last season. The program has not had depth at the skill positions in quite some time, but tailback Jawon Chisholm was a bright spot last season, as he dashed for 961 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman.

"Not only do you have to be in shape, you have to be smart to run this offense," said Chisholm on Bowden's new system. "It's different seeing more room instead of seeing people loading the box. If you are gonna load the box we are going to make you pay for it."

Junior quarterback Clayton Moore returns after starting all of last season as a sophomore, but his starting spot is not going to be handed to him. Stephen F. Austin transfer Dalton Williams and Moore are still battling for the starting spot as Bowden failed to name a starter after the spring practice.

Whichever quarterback gets the starting nod, he will be looking junior wideout Keith Sconiers' way. The speedy wideout led the team with 639 yards on 47 catches. Marquelo Suel and A.J. Price should see their production go up in the new offensive system.

DEFENSE: Amato has his work cut out for him on the defensive side of the ball. The Zips allowed 427.2 yards per game and recorded just 11 sacks and two interceptions last year. Akron took a big hit when its star middle linebacker Brian Wagner decided to transfer to Arizona.

Sophomore free safety Devonte Morgan and senior linebacker Troy Gilmer are going to have to step up and will hopefully fill the void left by Wagner's departure. Akron's defensive ends, John Griggs and Nico Caponi, could flourish under Amato's aggressive strategy.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A.J. Fox was perfect last season as a freshman. He made all eight of his field goal attempts and all nine of his extra points tries. Akron was often down by so many points that Fox's kicking accuracy was irrelevant. Freshman Zach Paul is the frontrunner to start at punter.

OUTLOOK: Bowden inherits an Akron program that hasn't had a winning record since 2005 and has lost 31 of its last 36 games. The Zips last played in a bowl game in 2005, when they finished 7-6 under former coach J.D. Brookhart. The new coaching staff is clearly aiming to restore the program.

"We've gone through some tough times. They've hired me to replace another coach and so they've hired me here to move the program up. We've gotta work our way up," said Bowden. "And I think the players are excited about that. The strength of this football team is the team, their will, and their commitment that I've seen to move from where they were."

Akron will start its season on August 30 with a home game versus UCF. The Zips then go on the road to play FIU before returning home to square off with Morgan State. Akron will end its non-conference season with Tennessee at Rocky Top. The conference replaced the Big East-bound and former MAC East Division rival Temple Owls with the Massachusetts Minutemen, who the Zips will play in their final regular season home game on November 10. Akron will travel to Toledo to take on the Rockets and conclude its regular season on November 20.

The Zips have a great deal of kinks to work out before they are challenging for the MAC Championship. The offensive and defensive lines are both undersized, the quarterback position is still open, and the team's style of play is being changed on both sides of the ball.

A turnaround won't happen overnight, as Bowden may need more time and talent before Akron's struggles are eradicated.

 

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