Much ado had been made this offseason about how much of a contender the Akron Zips will be in the MAC title race. Some see a bowl game in the cards, others saw last season as a fluke with only wins over really bad teams.
No matter what side you fall on, one thing you can't argue is that Kyle Pohl holds the keys to a successful season. Pohl's numbers were pretty average last year: 2,500 yards, 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 56% completion rate. Those statistics translated into a mediocre 5-7 season. This year, Pohl's improvement will be very telling when evaluating the Zips' campaign.
If the 6-foot-3, 210-pound quarterback's inaugural performance of 2014 is any indication, Akron may have a special season. Pohl's 300-yard and four touchdown performance on Saturday was a showcase in precision passing. He completed four of his first five passes with three of them being touchdowns. You can't do much better than that.
Pohl showed that he can also get it done on the ground, rushing for fifty yards on seven attempts. Those weren't all planned runs though, as some were the result of semi-broken plays. Most of the scrambles happened when he wasn't under that much pressure, which is a little alarming.
Getting out of the pocket is something that Pohl doesn't really want to do as he told Cleveland.com "Not all of [the scrambles] were needed...I need to learn how to stand in the pocket." If Pohl can get comfortable in the pocket and learn to take an extra second before a big hit is coming he can put up even better numbers.
For comparison, Buffalo's Joe Licata put up similar numbers against opposition akin to Howard. Kent State's Collin Reardon was okay and Central Michigan's Cooper Rush was meh. Those three were rated better than Pohl last year according to the link in the first paragraph. In a fantasy draft of MAC players, Pohl would probably be the second quarterback taken behind Bowling Green's Matt Johnson.
While Pohl was an average quarterback for much of last season, his last four games (all Akron wins) have been better than the norm. He had nearly 900 yards passing in those four games. While Toledo was the only decent team they have beaten, Pohl has done everything necessary to win the games Akron needs to. Everything is looking up for Pohl and he has a three-game stretch now where he can further separate himself from the marginal quarterbacks of the conference.
Yes, the caveat that Howard is a mediocre FCS team is in play. Certainly Pohl will need to be better next week against a Penn State defense that held UCF to just 250 total yards and eleven first downs. The best thing that Pohl has going for him is that he's been in this situation before. The last time he set foot in a Big Ten stadium with a hostile crowd, he was one completion from beating Michigan in Ann Arbor.
With more experience and a better team, things may turn out differently this go around. If Pohl can put up stats like he did against Michigan, the rest of the MAC better watch out.