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MAC Football Previews: Akron Zips

The fourth year of Bowden Ball at Akron kicks off Saturday September 5 in Norman, Oklahoma.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Terry Bowden has taken a team coming off of two of the worst seasons in program history, and made them into winners. Well, almost winners. After a 1-11 (0-8) season to start his stint at Akron, Bowden's Zips have finished 5-7 overall in each of the past two seasons.

In 2013, the Zips started 1-6 and almost won at Michigan before going .500 in MAC play. In 2014, the Zips were able to pull off a dominating 11-point upset win at Pittsburgh and finish 4-2 in the first half of the season. The second half, however, saw a banged up Zips team go 1-5 to finish 3-5 in MAC play.

With a new offensive philosophy and a plethora of Power Five transfers, Bowden's Zips are looking to go to a bowl game for the first time since 2005

Schedule

Date Team Time (ET)
Sept. 5 @ Oklahoma 7 pm
Sept. 12 vs. Pittsburgh 6 pm
Sept. 19 vs. Savannah St. Noon
Sept. 26 @ UL-Lafayette TBA
Oct. 3 vs. Ohio 2 pm
Oct. 10 @ Eastern Michigan 3 pm
Oct. 17 @ Bowling Green 3 pm

BYE
Oct. 31 vs. Central Michigan TBA
Nov. 7 @ UMass TBA
Nov. 14 @ Miami TBA
Nov. 21 vs. Buffalo TBA
Nov. 27 (Fri.) vs. Kent St. TBA

After a trip to Norman to visit Bob Stoops on the first Saturday of the season, the Zips return home for a rematch against the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Zips stuffed star running back James Conner in the 2014 matchup in the steel city, but new head coach Pat Narduzzi looks to build on Paul Chryst's mistakes and it will be no easy task for Akron.

After two stright games against a couple of the nation's finest, Akron hosts the Savannah State Tigers, a team that finished 0-12 (0-8 MEAC) in 2014.

A trip to Lafayette, Louisiana to take on one of the Sun Belt's top teams will close out non-conference play.

MAC play begins on homecoming against the Ohio Bobcats, who have not lost to the Zips since 2007. Akron then will play on gray turf for the first time before going to Bowling Green to take on the two-time defending MAC East champion Falcons.

After a bye week, the Zips finish off the regular season with a home game against Central Michigan, trips to Massachusetts and Miami, and a couple of home games against Buffalo and arch rival Kent State.

Head Coach

Terry Bowden deserves a ton of credit for rescuing Zips football. Previous head coach and current Buffalo staff member Rob Ianello left Akron football fans forgetting what it felt like to win. The son of college football coaching legend Bobby Bowden returned to Akron for the first time since his assistant coaching days in 1986 after three seasons as the head coach at D-II North Alabama. Before that, he was a most famously the head coach at Auburn from 1993-1998.

He then became a color commentator and radio host before taking the head coach position at North Alabama in 2008. Terry's brother Jeff is the special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach for the Zips.

Five Key Players

LB- Jatavis Brown- The outside linebacker from the football-rich land of Belle Glade, Florida was the highlight of Terry Bowden's first recruiting class at Akron. Coming off of two consecutive All-MAC first team honors, Brown enters 2015 with 229 career tackles. He was named a preseason All-MAC first teamer by Phil Steele.

RB- Conor Hundley- Akron's pass-first offense is likely a thing of the past. In fact, this season, Bowden wants to implement a "read one, then run" system for his quarterbacks. This branches from the idea that the Zips need to run the ball well to be successful. Senior Conor Hundley is the type of back that rarely loses yards. He probably won't beat teams with his speed, but he can wear down defenses with his strength. At Pittsburgh in 2014, Hundley carried 19 times for 148 yards. He will now be a key in Akron's offense that has apparently shifted its focus to running the ball.

Wide Receivers- Akron's receivers in 2014 killed a lot of momentum with multiple bad dropped passes. The receiving corps in 2015 will feature Louisville transfer Michaelee Harris, JUCO transfer Michael Means, and Tyrell Goodman, who was redshirted in 2014 due to injury. Consistent wide receiver play hasn't been seen in Akron since 2012, and it will be a key to improving the offense.

QB- Kyle Pohl- Kyle Pohl could be the first Akron quarterback since Charlie Frye to start three years in a row. However, due to a lack of improvement from 2013-2014, he will have to earn his job during fall. He was playing well before suffering a head injury at the end of the first half of the sixth game last year against Miami. Akron was 0-2 without him, and 1-3 with him in the second half, and he was not the same after the injury. His TD/INT ratio for his career is 28-20 with 4,993 career passing yards.

QB- Tra'Von Chapman- The former 4-star quarterback from Roosevelt high school in Kent, Ohio is Pohl's biggest threat during fall camp. Chapman, one of the nation's top dual threat quarterback recruits in 2013, signed with Pittsburgh, but was dismissed following a domestic incident. He ended up at D-II Ashland where he played the final 6 games of 2013 before transferring to Akron. Experience will be tough to beat, but Chapman's abilities to run the ball and throw the ball at a high level seem to fit more into Bowden's new offensive plan than Pohl's passing and limited ability to run the ball.

Zips' Strong Suit

Defense wins championships: at least, that's what would be ideal for Akron. With a front seven consisting of three Power Five transfers in Se'Von Pittman, Rodney Coe, and Jamal Marcus along with first team All-MAC nose tackle Cody Grice and two time first team All-MAC linebacker Jatavis Brown, it's easy to say that Chuck Amato's defense is Akron's strong suit.

There are multiple question marks in the secondary, however. Losses of Bre' Ford and Johnny Robinson will need to be replaced. Miami (FL) transfer Larry Hope joins DeAndre Scott and Jerome Lane Jr. as key members of the secondary. However, George Thomas of the Akron Beacon Journal tweeted on the first day of fall camp that Lane would make the switch to wide receiver, but could situationally play some defense.

Unknowns

The entire offense is unknown right now. The receiving corps is almost completely new and there is a competition at quarterback. There is also the element of a different offensive philosophy that is foreign to many of the returning players. Akron's offensive line is experienced, but has almost no depth if someone were to get hurt. The only certain thing about the offense is the fact that it was not doing the job in 2014.

Another unknown is the defensive secondary for the second straight season. DeAndre Scott returns and Jerome Lane played much closer to the line in 2014.

The success of these units could determine if Akron can make it back to a bowl game in 2015.

TL;DR: Season Overview

The outcome of Terry Bowden's fourth season at Akron will probably be determined by the level of success on the offensive side of the ball. Whether it's Pohl or Chapman, there needs to be improvement on that side of the ball, as a great defense can only get you so far. There are, once again, some big expectations to live up to, as the MAC media poll has Akron tied for a second place finish in the MAC East.