The Akron Zips come into 2014 with a term they haven't been too familiar with: expectations. The Zips ended 2013 with a three game winning streak to finish the season at 5-7 (4-4 in the MAC). This was a considerable success for a team that hasn't won six games since 2005 and the fans are rallying behind the team expecting even bigger and better in 2014. Could a bowl game be within the team's grasps for the first time since 2005?
Akron opens the season against the Howard Bison of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and FCS. The Zips cannot get ahead of themselves and need to take things week by week, as cliche it is. They haven't always taken care of business when they face their FCS foes. They lost in overtime to Gardner-Webb in 2010 and had to rely on a failed 2-point conversion to defeat James Madison in 2013. If the Zips are going to be a true contender in the MAC, games against FCS opponents have to be more of the tune-up variety and less of the down to the wire variety.
Howard finished 6-6 in the 2013 season while going 4-4 in the MEAC. They ended the season on a three game winning streak of their own. The Bison return their best player and 2013 MEAC Offensive Player of the Year Greg McGhee. He is a dual threat quarterback who compiled 2,379 passing yards and 896 rushing yards last season with 19 total touchdowns. McGhee enters his fourth year as starter and was unsurprisingly selected as the MEAC preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
Joining McGhee on the preseason first-team MEAC offense is running back Anthony Philyaw. As a freshman, Philyaw rushed for 721 yards and added 188 receiving yards on the season. Philyaw was also a touchdown machine finding the end zone 16 total times in 2013.
The Zips offense begins and ends with quarterback Kyle Pohl. We ranked him at 44 in our MAC Top 50 list and he is expected to take some major strides in his second year as starter. He will need to come out strong against Howard to keep his confidence up, setting the tone for the rest of the season, and proving his doubters wrong.
The defense is anchored by two linebackers that also made our top 50 list in Jatavis Brown and Justin March. They'll be relied upon heavily to contain Howard's two playmakers in Greg McGhee and Anthony Philyaw. The defensive backfield is slightly depleted with the departure of Malachi Freeman and in the wake of some disciplinary action. Week one will be our first look at who will be given the opportunities to make an impact as a defensive back.
Well the time is finally here and the preseason chatter has come to an end. Instead of the speculating we've loved doing for the past nine months, we will have actual games! Some of us will be proven right and some will be proven wrong when we find out if Akron is a contender or a pretender.