TEAM: AKRON ZIPS
2015 RECORD: 8-5, 5-3 MAC East (tied for 2nd)
POSTSEASON: Defeated Utah State 23-21 in Idaho Potato Bowl
HEAD COACH: Terry Bowden (5th year)
MAC MEDIA PRESEASON POLL RANK: 3rd in MAC East
Akron’s defense played a key role in getting the Zips to a bowl game (which UA won) last year. UA was second in scoring defense and first in total defense. Another huge plus, especially for a team that sometimes struggled with scoring, was turnover margin. Only Bowling Green had a better margin.
Speaking of turnovers, the defending MAC champion Falcons had some significant personnel turnover between seasons. Akron is , , ,
BIG PICTURE STAT OVERVIEW
Scoring offense: 9th (23.9 ppg)
Scoring defense: 2nd (21.5 ppg)
Total offense: 11th (357.1 ypg)
Total defense: 1st (331 ypg)
Turnover margin: 2nd +10/0.77 per game)
Quarterback Thomas Woodson is one of a couple returnees on the offensive side. The junior completed 162 of 307 attempts (52.8%) with 16 TDs and 11 interceptions last year. He was 10th among MAC quarterbacks in pass efficiency. Jerome Lane, a 6-3, 220-pound junior, led the Zips in receiving yardage, grabbing 39 balls for 782 yards (20.1 ypc) and eight touchdowns. Imani Davis, who had a team-high 46 receptions, is gone. However, senior JoJo Natson (5-8, 165) joins UA after transferring from Utah State. In addition to his receiving contributions, he could also provide a spark for the return units.
Newcomers and underclassmen will also be called upon up front as Akron revamps its offensive line.
Leading rusher Conor Hundley (911 yards on 202 carries and 10 touchdowns) has departed. Ohio State transfer Warren Ball (5-1, 223) would likely give UA a power back, while sophomore Van Edwards (5-9, 200) should see an increased role after limited action in 2015.
As with the offense, there is work to be done along the defensive front. Former Ohio State players Jamal Marcus (Third Team All-MAC) and Se’Von Pittman are back to hold down the defensive end positions. The pair combined for seven sacks in their 65 tackles.
There is a complete reset at linebacker. John Rachel is a senior likely to be joined by underclassmen. Between the line and linebacking changes, it will be a challenge for UA to match the kind of defense it showed last year when it was No. 3 nationally against the run. But the Zips have been laying a pretty good defensive foundation, so there shouldn’t be a massive dropoff.
DeAndre Scott returns at one corner and Larry Hope gives the backfield a pair of seniors. Junior safety Zach Guiser is the top returning tackler.
Akron is replacing both its punter and placekicker.
Coming off a season that included eight wins and a bowl victory, Akron would like to keep its success rolling. An infusion of transfers should certainly help matters.
Woodson was second on the team in rushing (591 yards) last year, but the Zips need to get some more out of their passing game.
One big question is how will UA fare on turnovers. It was second in turnover margin last year. A significant dropoff there could spell trouble for a team likely to be in some close games. The second half of the season should be particularly challenging – and important. It will be tough to match the four regular season wins of 2015 down the stretch. However, the Zips do get Western Michigan, Toledo and Bowling Green at home.