What a difference a year makes. After only seeing one player on this list in 2013, we've already named three Zips to our top 50 list, with 31 spots still to go. The major difference between 2012 and 2013 was the play of the Zips defense, and one of the leaders of that unit was linebacker Justin March.
March has been a fixture in the Zips defense since his freshman season in 2011 where he played in all 12 games. He started 11 games in his sophomore season and finished with 48.5 tackles. March took another step forward in 2013 and finished the season second on the team behind Jatavis Brown with 60 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He also tied for the team lead in interceptions with Malachi Freeman with three picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
The game March is most remembered for is his performance against Michigan in what the SB Nation mothership called the 17th best game of 2013. The Zips were hanging with the Wolverines, but needed a spark to get back in the game. March intercepted Devin Gardner towards the end of the first half, but the Zips were unable to capitalize and missed a FG on the ensuing drive to end the half at a 7-3 deficit.
Akron came out strong in the second half with a defensive stop and a touchdown for a 10-7 lead. The period of joy did not last long and Michigan scored two touchdowns in quick succession for the 21-10 lead. The Zips' next possession did not last long and they punted the ball back to the Wolverines. It seemed the fun and games were over and the Wolverines would take over. March had other plans though and picked off his second Gardner pass of the day and returned it for a touchdown to bring the Zips within four. That type of big play has been severely lacking from the Zips in previous seasons and it almost led to the biggest college football upset of 2013.
Defense was a strong point for the Zips in 2013 and they will rely on March to keep that unit as a strength in 2014. The Chuck Amato-led defense showed improvement last year and it they can take another step forward with March at the helm, the Zips can make some noise in the MAC and potentially become bowl eligible for the first time in forever. (Do NOT click if you do not enjoy Disney princesses).