The fourth edition of Bowden Ball at the University of Akron kicks off on Saturday September 5 in Norman, Oklahoma against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Oklahoma enters the game at number 19 in the preseason AP top 25 poll after a rough ending to the 2014 season. Not only did the Sooners finish in a tie for fourth in the Big XII, but they also lost to rival Oklahoma State and lost the 2014 Russell Athletic bowl to the Clemson Tigers by 34 points in a 40-6 blowout. They ended the season with an 8-5 record that is more than forgettable for fans of the traditional powerhouse.
Things are much different this year, however. Bob Stoops' Sooners aren't coming into this game with Akron as a "has-been" despite the down season last year. They're coming into the game with the biggest goal in college football, an appearance in the College Football Playoff and a national title. Some of the college football experts have the Sooners in the playoff, including ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit.
Oklahoma's hopes of playing 14 games in the upcoming season are riding on the back of the outstanding sophomore running back Samaje Perine. Perine is probably the biggest factor in Herbstreit's pick because Herbstreit tabbed him as an "Ultimate Game Changer" for the upcoming season.
Akron's strong defensive front will have a huge test immediately in Perine. After all, the 5-foot-11, 237 lb. running back carried for 1,713 yards on 263 carries with 21 touchdowns in 2014. The 6.5 yards per carry made for twenty-fourth best in the country last year. Perine exploded down the stretch of 2014 with 925 rushing yards in the final four games. In that stretch, he set the record for most rushing yards in a single game with 427 on just 34 carries for a whopping 12.6 yards per carry in a 44-7 embarrassment of Kansas.
In a defensive line preview video by Akron Athletics, senior nose tackle Cody Grice mentioned that a goal for the unit in 2015 is to set a sack record. Does he mean conference record? School record? NCAA record? Who knows, but their first target will be Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma, who was recently named the starter by Stoops. Mayfield will take over for team captain Trevor Knight after transferring within the conference from Texas Tech.
In his only season with the Red Raiders, Mayfield proved that he can play at this level. Mayfield started the first five games of 2013 before missing the next four with an inury, and finishing the regular season. In eight games, he completed 218 of 340 pass attempts for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns to 9 interceptions.
The Sooner defense is led by Junior linebacker Dominique Alexander, who recorded 107 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble as a sophomore.
Akron is much more of an unknown than Oklahoma right now. It's easy to say that Oklahoma could be really good this year, but it's hard to judge Akron right now.
As a matter of fact, outside of the defensive front and offensive line, there are a lot of question marks for the Zips.
The defensive line consists of three former Power Five players in defensive ends Se'Von Pittman and Jamal Marcus, and defensive tackle Rodney Coe. Two time All-MAC first team honoree Jatavis Brown is joined by Washington State transfer and former PAC-12 honorable mention Darryl Monroe in the linebacking corps.
The offensive line of seniors Tommy Brown, Dylan Brumbaugh, Quaison Osborne, and Isaiah Williams along with sophomore center Stephen Ericksen is one of the most experienced lines that Akron has seen in years. However, it lacks experienced depth, which could become an issue if there is a serious injury.
Head coach Terry Bowden wants to run the ball more in 2015. Senior running backs Conor Hundley and Colorado State transfer Donnell Alexander could be the focus of the offense. Hundley will finally take over the starting position after playing behind Jawon Chisholm for three years. He ran 104 times for 540 yards in 2014, including 148 yards in the win at Pittsburgh. Alexander hasn't played since 2013 when he carried 71 times for 428 yards and two scores.
There is a good chance that Terry Bowden won't name a starting quarterback for this game until after the coin toss. It will be between the incumbent senior Kyle Pohl and sophomore Tra'Von Chapman. Pohl has thrown for 4,993 yards in two years as the starter with 28 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Chapman, a former 4-star Pittsburgh recruit, has never seen game action.
The competition is so tight because Pohl has the experience, but Chapman has the ability to run and throw, as he is a dual threat quarterback. Bowden said after the spring game that fans shouldn't be surprised to see both quarterbacks get time. The only sure thing at this position is that if you turn the ball over too much, you probably won't be the guy.
Saturday September 5 at 7:00p.m. EST, 6:00p.m. CST will be the first time that these two programs meet. However, head coaches Bob Stoops and Terry Bowden are familiar foes dating back to Bowden's days at Auburn.
Since the Bowden era began, Akron is 1-3 against teams from the Power Five conferences, and have yet to be blown out from wire to wire. Oklahoma could be the toughest one yet, though, and the Zips will need to be nearly flawless to top the Sooners on the road.