Earlier this summer, my first offseason managing the Belt, I decided to look for my sleeper team for the fall. Sure, I could have went chalk and picked another NIU/BG matchup in the MAC Championship. Maybe followed some in the media and cast my lot with Western Michigan or Toledo. I could have went full-on homer and picked the Ball State Cardinals. But I am nothing if not objective.
So when I cast my ballot for the MAC preseason festivities with the home office, I decided I was all in on the Akron Zips, picking them to win the MAC East and upset Northern Illinois for the MAC Championship. Darkhorse? Perhaps. But the skill on the roster is there, thanks to a healthy dose of P5 transfers, like our #13 MAC Player Countdown selection and former Ohio State Buckeye, Jamal Marcus.
Akron’s offense has some significant questions on the offensive line, and your returning skill players won’t matter if there’s no protection or time to throw. That means (especially early in the season) that Akron’s defense is going to be the litmus test on the season’s success. and defenisve coordinator Chuck Amato has to figure out how to replace last year’s conference defensive player of the year with a unit that returns only four starters. One of them is Marcus, though, and as long as he’s suiting up for the Zips, I’ll take my chances with my bold prediction.
MAC Player Countdown #13: Jamal Marcus, DL, Akron
Terry Bowden has turned Akron into Transfer U, and Jamal Marcus may be one of the most critical ever, as the Akron defense may hinge on his production with the departure of Jatavius Brown. After sitting out 2014 because of the transfer, Marcus came into 2015 and immediately let his presence be known. He’s a wrecking ball for opposing offenses and will likely hear his name called on Sundays at some point.
Akron’s defense last season was one of the best in the country against the rush, holding opponents to under 100 yards per game. Every year Amato has been there the defensive has steadily improved. This season may see an uptick because of the lack of experience, but this is still the premier unit in the MAC and should give the offensive line time to gel.
Why a Top 25 MACthlete?
Is having a 6’2” 240-pound defensive lineman who put up 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks while sharing the field with the 2015 MAC Defensive Player of the Year something you might be interested in? Marcus combines size and speed and does so at the expense of the offenses he’s playing against. This season my be a different feeling for Marcus, as he’ll get the majority of attention from the offensive line, but that will free up his defensive peers for one-on-ones across the board.
Let’s not forget that out of high school, he was first team All-State in the football hotbed of North Carolina on his way to being the 32nd ranked linebacker in the country. There’s a reason why he got an offer to a B1G program, and it was his immense amount of physical skill and football talents. Marcus is the kind of athlete that doesn’t end up in the MAC very often, and is the kind of defensive lineman that forces gameplan changes from the offense. In a league dominated by high power potent attacks, that kind of impact from a down lineman is a major bonus for the Zips.
Marcus made his first career college start against Clemson in the Orange Bowl his sophomore year. He certainly didn’t waste the moment, tallying six tackles and a pass break up.
Video Proof of Awesomeness:
Akron opens their season September 3rd against VMI at 6:30pm, streaming on ESPN3.