The Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football previews rolls on today with the Akron Zips who come in at No. 88.
Heading into the second season under head coach Terry Bowden things can only get better for the Zips. After finishing just 1-11 last year optimism is high in the Akron camp that they can take that next step after becoming more familiar with Bowden’s coaching style. The second year of a new coaching tenure always tends to be more successful with the new coaches system in place, the Zips are hoping that trend continues in 2013.
A positive sign for Bowden is that he has seven returning starters on both sides of the ball to work with in 2013. Having those returning players, who have already had a full season learning the playbook, will only benefit the Zips heading into the new season.
Key Player: For a team that was ranked No. 16 in the entire country in passing yards per game last season it’s safe to say that QB Kyle Pohl will be their key player heading into 2013. Pohl played some last season, filling in for now departed Dalton Williams, but now it is Pohl’s show and he’s looking to make the most of it. He’s had an entire season and now an entire spring to learn Bowden’s schemes so he should be rearing to go as the summer commences with fall camp looming.
Offense: As mentioned above the Zips lost their top passer from last season but they should be fine in that department with Pohl. Akron does not run the football a whole bunch but they do have their starting RB returning in the form of Jawon Chisholm. They like to target him out of the backfield and he’s more than capable of being an effective receiver in that regard. Speaking of receivers, the Zips lost their top wideout, Marquelo Suel, to graduation but they have a fine replacement in L.T. Smith seeing as he was their second leading receiver in 2012. If their spring game was any indication, L.J. Chambers will also receive plenty of passes thrown his way in 2013 as he led all receivers with 5 catches in the Blue/White game this past spring. The offensive line will have to replace two starters and they will be relatively young next season with the three returners only starting a combined 27 games last year.
Defense: The defense was very poor last season, giving up over 35 points per game, and it is hard to see them improving much. However, a good sign coming out of spring camp and the spring game is the fact that Bowden would continuously praise the defense for being further along than the offense. Take that for what it’s worth but the Zips still have a large task at hand and it won’t be very easy especially after losing their top two tacklers from a last season in LB Kurt Mangum and LB Troy Gilmer.
Fortunately they are returning seven starters: three on the defensive line, one linebacker and three in the secondary. Cody Grice is their top returning big man on the line and he had a solid 2012 campaign leading the DL in tackles with 47, including 7.5 tackles for loss. Justin March is the lone LB holdover from last season but he was also their third leading tackler so he will be the unequivocal leader on the defensive side of the ball. Look for him to be joined by Jatavis Brown and Dylan Brown among the starters at LB with both players having solid spring game performances. The secondary seems to be the strongest unit for the Zips on defense, mostly because they are well seasoned and were tested often last season. Malachi Williams, Johnny Robinson and Anthony Holmes all return with Bre Ford likely joining them as the other starting safety.
Schedule: Their lone win in 2012 was over Morgan State, a team that is unfortunately not on their schedule this season. Their “big game” in 2013 is their trip to the Big House on Sept. 14 to play Michigan. In conference play they almost beat both Miami (OH) and Ohio last season and this year they get Ohio at home for their homecoming game, which will be one of their best chances to secure a win. It’s hard to see the Zips winning more than two games in 2013 but if they can pull out a few surprises early in their schedule they could make it a successful second season for Bowden.