I'm driving out to Detroit for a couple nights of gambling and a Paul Rodgers concert.
Since Rodgers is the most debated topic ever on this blog, I'll toss out this fun fact: He has the best voice of any musician, ever.
Feel free to discuss.
When I get back in town, I should have the $2 million stadium plan for your anxious eyes.
Akron got its quarterback which, despite the roster's depth, is an annual challenge for every team.
Jordan Miller, a pro-style passer from New Philadelphia, verbally committed Thursday to Akron, his only scholarship offer.
Miller is sort of inexperienced, only having started two games his sophomore year and 10 his junior year. His accuracy (101 of 216 passing) is a concern, but Miller possesses a strong arm.
Iowa, Michigan, Boston College and Kansas had been in contact with Miller, but understandably, they wanted to see if he could improve his accuracy before offering a scholarship. Miller is only 6-foot-2, but can run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds.
A new offer...
James Harvey, defensive end, Cochranton, Pa. Offers: Akron, Ohio, Buffalo and New Hampshire Height: 6-foot-4 Weight: 262 Speed: 4.95 Notes: Harvey appears to be the perfect size to play end in the 3-3-5 defense. He also plays offensive line in high school, which is where Scout.com projects him in college. Likelihood: West Virginia and Pitt told Harvey they could offer if they like what they see in the first two weeks of next season. Harvey said he wants to attend an up-and-coming program that has his intended major -- sports medicine. To the best of my knowledge, Akron only has Sport and Exercise Science.
The NBA Draft is tonight. And for the umpteenth straight June, no Zips player will get a sniff.
The MAC has been a good basketball conference, yet it's lucky to have one prospect hear his name called.
Why? To my calculation there are three main inhibitors for mid-major talent.
Head coach: Joe Novak
Last season: The Huskies were solid on both sides of the ball. They gained national attention with the strong start of running back Garrett Wolfe, whom some considered an early Heisman candidate. But then Wolfe had some very puzzling performances. He rushed for just 25 yards against Western Michigan after averaging about 225 for the previous six games. Then Temple, who trotted out the worst rushing defense in the nation by a large margin, kept Wolfe to only 45 yards. It truly was one of the oddest, yet least reported, stories in the nation. ESPN didn't bother to touch it. My presumption is they were embarassed after hyping a mid-major player so much. With a subpar game from Wolfe, TCU blew out NIU in the Poinsettia bowl.
Best returning player: Junior defensive end Larry English
Offense: Dan Nicholson has always been solid when filling in for now-departed quarterback Phil Horvath. The Huskies shouldn't lose much there, especially since the top wide receivers are coming back. The running game will suffer without Wolfe and stud tackle Doug Free. It will be up to junior Montell Clanton to take over for Wolfe. Clanton has carried 33 times for 204 yards in his career.
Defense: English was a terrific pass rusher in 2006 with 12 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Novak is confident about the secondary. Overall, the Huskies should be just as good, if not better, than the fourth-rated scoring defense of last season.
Season outlook: In playing Central and Western Michigan -- the top two MAC teams in 2006 -- Akron got a pretty lousy draw for crossover games. But this is the MAC, where teams can rise and sink each season with ease. (That might be what I love most about the conference.) Anyhow, NIU has a moderate nonconference schedule. They'll beat Southern Illinois and Idaho and probably lose to Navy, Wisconsin and Iowa, with the latter being played at Soldier Field.
Crucial game: @ Toledo ... Both teams want to re-enter the MAC West hunt, but there's probably only room for one.
Predicted record: 6-6 (including a loss at Toledo)
Head coach: Butch Jones
Last season: It was quite a season for the Chippewas. They lost their first two games to national powerhouses, but it was OK because they were breaking in a new quarterback, an unheralded recruit from Illinois. Dan LeFevour turned out to be a polished gem. He led the MAC's best offense with 26 touchdowns, 3,031 yards and only 10 interceptions. He was not only the conference's best freshman, but its best quarterback. CMU, springboarded perhaps by a 24-21 win over Akron, won 10 of its last 12 games, including the MAC Championship and Motor City Bowl. After the season, head coach Brian Kelly moved on to Cincinnati.
Best returning player: Sophomore quarterback Dan LeFevour
Offense: Quarterback is not a question. Nor is running back, where Ontario Sneed returns after averaging 5.7 yards per carry in 2006. Justin Hoskins, a transfer from Notre Dame should get the ball, too. Two of LeFevour's favorite targets are gone, but two remain. The biggest question is how the offensive line will perform without NFL first rounder Joe Staley and solid center Drew Mormino. Was it their blocking that propelled CMU to achieve the MAC's best offensive stats? Probably a little, but this offensive would be adequate even if I suited up at left tackle (5-foot-10, 155 pounds).
Defense: Defensive end Dan Bazuin made an impact on almost every play. CMU's other end was decent, too. They're both gone. And those holes are crucial to the Chips' defense, which tallied the second-most sacks in the MAC last season. The linebackers should be very good, led by Red Keith, who paced the Chips in tackles the past three seasons. Three members of the secondary also return, but the key to their effectiveness will be the line's ability to hurry the passer.
How the Zips match up: The real problem about LeFevour for Akron is that he can run, too. He looks like the next great MAC quarterback. For Akron to win these late-season games, a defensive lineman or two will need to emerge from these recent recruiting classes. Despite this being a home game for the Zips on Nov. 23 -- an 11 a.m. start on Friday -- with a bowl berth possibly on the line, CMU has too many offensive weapons.
Way-too-early prediction: Central Michigan 31, Akron 21
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Head coach: Shane Montgomery
Last season: In 2006, Miami couldn't run, couldn't stop the run and definitely couldn't protect junior quarterback Mike Kokal. That concoction translated to a 2-10 record, the only wins coming at Bowling Green and Buffalo. Only one of the 119 bowl division teams allowed more sacks than Miami's 49 (Stanford, 50). Despite constantly fearing for his livelihood, Kokal was an OK quarterback. He threw for 14 touchdowns, averaged the MAC's second-highest yards per game (behind only Luke Getsy) and minimized turnovers (eight interceptions and no fumbles). Brandon Murphy, a second-team All-MAC runner two seasons ago, missed about half the season with injuries. A bright point was wide receiver Ryne Robinson, perhaps the best in school history. The Carolina Panthers drafted him in the fourth round this spring.
Senior safety Joey Card was the defense's playmaker. He broke up 11 passes, intercepted two and logged 90 tackles in 2006. The defensive line wasn't bad at reaching the quarterback, but it also allowed the MAC's fourth-most rushing yards.
Best returning player: Junior linebacker Joey Hudson
Offense: Kokal probably won't need witness protection in 2007 as his line should be a little better. Of course, now he has no one to throw the ball to. Robinson and five other receivers from 2006 are gone, and the No. 2 receiver Dustin Woods missed the spring with an injury. Like with Akron, the tight ends will play a more prominent role in the offense. Murphy should be back to his 2005 form. MACReportOnline.com calls him a second-team preseason All-MAC player.
Defense: If you thought the defensive line struggled against the run in 2005, wait until this season. Montgomery will rely on three first-time starters up front. His linebackers, beginning with Hudson, should be pretty good. The secondary won't be bad either, despite the loss of Card.
How the Zips match up: The RedHawks and Zips will meet on a Wednesday night in November at the Rubber Bowl. Don't you love mid-major college football? Akron has a glut of teams on its schedule who will excel in the running game. That works against J.D. Brookhart's 3-3-5 defense and Akron's lack of defensive line depth. Miami basically is in the same position, however. The RedHawks will be much improved from their 2-10 record a year ago, but the Zips will be a little better for the ESPN2 audience and crowd at Oxford. Edit: The game is on the road, not home. My fault.
Way-too-early prediction: Akron 23, Miami 21
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Head coach: Frank Solich
Last season: Despite getting destroyed in the MAC Championship and the GMAC Bowl, the Bobcats won the MAC East and logged some impressive victories, including one at Illinois. They did it with a terrific all-around defense and steady running game. Kalvin McRae remained one of the MAC's best ball carriers by averaging almost five yards per carry as a junior. Quarterback Austin Everson, meanwhile, was one of the nation's least effective passers, throwing for only about 100 yards per game with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Linebacker Matt Muncy led the defense as a senior. Linemen Jameson Hartke and Landon Cohen chipped in with seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, respectively. Those totals put them among the MAC leaders. MACReportOnline.com also calls them preseason all-conference players.
Ohio will travel to the Rubber Bowl for a Nov. 7 game on ESPN2. This game easily could decide the MAC East champion.
Best returning player: Senior running back Kalvin McRae
Offense: It's usually not a cause for celebration when your senior quarterback leaves the team, but I can envision Solich secretly pumping his fist. Everson did his best with limited talent. Now there will be a three-way competition. Two of the candidates saw time in the MAC Championship as Solich ran a quarterback merry-go-round. Brad Bower, an Illinois transfer who was recovering from a bone bruise during the spring, seems to be the frontrunner because he has played in 13 games.
In the end, it shouldn't matter that much. This is McRae's team, and Solich will feed him. They will pray he stays healthy because only one other tailback is on the roster. The Bobcats will struggle to find serviceable players at fullback, tight end and wide receiver. Experience is missing at each position. Two players from a pretty good line are gone, but Matt Miller will return as the senior anchor. He led the team with 61 pancake blocks in 2006. Another offensive weapon is Chris Garrett, a Freshman All-American at punt returner last year.
Defense: Three of the starting four defensive linemen will return, including Hartke and Cohen. They should be successful in penetrating the line again this season. Linebacker is much, much more uncertain. Muncy and two others graduated. They have a mediocre junior college transfer, a guy who broke his leg last year and a converted cornerback among the first-string candidates. The Bobcats lost All-MAC cornerback T.J. Wright, but bring back his tag-team partner Mark Parson. Ohio should be deep at safety.
The Bobcats will have a darned good kicker because of the stupid $#$%# rule that allows players to transfer after completing their undergraduate degree without sitting out a year, as long as they have eligibility remaining. Michael Braunstein was honorable mention All-Pac-10 last season after making 10 of 12 field goal attempts for Washington. Now he's a Bobcat. Solich will, however, have to break in a new punter.
How the Zips match up: Last year's matchup was difficult to watch. At that point, the Zips still had a good shot at a bowl game. OU's defense made Akron's pee-wee quality offense struggle mightily. The Bobcat linebackers had a big night. Akron certainly will have an advantage with two-tight end sets now that those linebackers are gone. Ohio's advantage comes from McRae, who could run for 200 yards this late in the season, when the Zips' defensive line depth becomes even more sparce. Expect a low-scoring, ugly game. I can picture the Bobcats' ill-gotten kicker winning it for them.
Way-too-early prediction: Ohio 10, Akron 7
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Head coach: Gregg Brandon
Last season: Here's a real anomaly: With an offense that averaged almost 30 more yards than the defense allowed, how did Bowling Green win only four games? Also, the Falcons tied for 15th in the nation in fewest turnovers lost. They even converted a respectable percentage of touchdowns in the red zone.
Special teams was a huge problem, as the Falcons allowed five touchdowns off punts and kicks and did not score one themselves. They were eighth-to-last in the nation at kick coverage and sixth-to-last at punt coverage. BG also missed five of nine field goal attempts.
Chris Bullock was good yet inconsistent as a freshman running back. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, but had very poor performances against Miami and Toledo to end the season. Overall, the defense wasn't bad. It tallied a fair number of sacks and tackles for loss. Unfortunately for BG, often the special teams got the team in a hole, and they lacked the passing firepower to get back in the game.
Best returning player: Junior linebacker Erique Dozier
Offense: Despite a solid running game, Bowling Green needs better quarterback play to win games in the MAC. Junior Anthony Turner has been more of a scrambler than a passer. That works against bad defenses (Akron allowed Turner to rush for 105 yards), but the better teams are too fast and smart. Perhaps the real skill of the offense comes from the line, which allowed the third-fewest sacks in the conference last season. The receivers are just so-so.
Defense: Dozier is one of the MAC's best linebackers. The backs and defensive ends are pretty good, too. The question will be whether they can find a couple defensive tackles to improve a subpar rush defense.
How the Zips match up: These teams are quite similar in talent. Both could be pretty good or just average. Both teams will have difficulty tackling running backs. The tiebreaker is that BG will be coming off tough MAC games against Miami, Kent State and Ohio. Before that is a matchup with Boston College. Akron will be relaxed after laying whoopings on the cellar dwellars and enjoying a bye week. Dennis Kennedy ran for 178 yards in Akron's win last season. I can see a repeat.
Way-too-early prediction: Akron 31, Bowling Green 27
The departure of coach Tom Porten to Kent State is still a mystery, even to some of his closest friends.
I spoke with a few people in the know, and nobody knows anything. They could only speculate why the man who turned around Akron's program would bolt to be the assistant of a cross-town rival.
A similar thing happened last season when Donnie Darr went to be an assistant at Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys are a national powerhouse. Akron actually finished higher than the Golden Flashes in the MAC Tournament.
Porten, from what I hear, is an introvert. He enjoys teaching the game, but some of the tasks that go along with being a head coach are cumbersome. But that wouldn't make sense as being the reason, considering he led Cleveland State's program for 14 years and even successfully lobbied for the Vikings' home course to host an NCAA Regional tournament.
Another line of thought is that Porten really wanted to work with Kent State's coach Herb Page, and perhaps he even has inside information Page is nearing retirement. From what I hear, the retirement talk also is false. And if it were true, current KSU women's coach Mike Morrow probably has the leg-up on Porten.
Now that the mystery is swirling in golf circles, rumors are popping up that possibly Akron is not adequately funding its golf team. Take one look at the golf facilities (including the Stile Field House and Firestone Country Club) and tell me that isn't adequate.
The guessing will end on Monday when Porten addresses his players and future recruits. From what I understand, the recruits are all staying but not very pleased. The players have to feel betrayed.
Knowing Mack Rhoades, I'm sure he's diligently finding a replacement. From what I hear, Rhoades is just as perplexed as you and me. One name that has surfaced is Darr, who might be coaxed to return.
It's a real shame the program will take a step back after progressing in one season under Porten. If they can bring back Darr, however, it could be a good thing. I hope to have more about this in the coming week.
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Head coach: Turner Gill
Last season: Buffalo allowed more points than all but three Division IA teams. Surrendering 35.9 points per outing, the Bulls were a full touchdown worse than the nearest MAC team. In five of the 12 games, they gave up more than 40 points.
The offense wasn't quite as bad. Drew Willy cut his interception total from 12 to six in his sophomore year before going down with a thumb injury. In fact, he was the last starting quarterback in the nation to throw a pick. James Starks, a second-team All-MAC running back, is another reason for optimism. He averaged four yards a carry, scored six touchdowns and did not fumble in his freshman year.
Even though they finished at 2-10, the Bulls made a large impact on the MAC East when they dealt a dehabilitating beatdown on Kent State, a team that appeared to be on cruise control for a division title. Akron will travel to Buffalo for a game on October 27.
Best returning player: Sophomore running back James Starks
Offense: Willy returns, but he better stay healthy this time. His backup is a converted wide receiver. Starks is a solid runner and will have four offensive linemen returning to work for him. Buffalo will bring back a lot of receivers, too. Problem is, none of them are any good. They also must replace tight end Chad Upshaw, who was Willy's favorite target. Luckily for Gill, serviceable tight ends grow on trees in the MAC. Buffalo also needs to find a kicker, but that's not too uncommon these days in the MAC.
Defense: Nine starters are coming back to the defense. However, Gill must replace linebacker Jeff Bublavi, one of the MAC's leading tacklers in 2006. The unit will become stronger with another year of experience, but it still appears destined to be the one of the nation's worst in stopping the run.
How the Zips match up: The middle of Akron's schedule is quite favorable. The Zips should be prime for a late-season surge after pummeling Temple, enjoying a bye week, then kicking the Bulls' teeth in. Anyhow, the Zips will need to stack the box and force Willy to pass. He's not a bad quarterback, but he's definitely not one of the MAC's best. As long as Akron keeps Starks contained for fewer than 150 yards, it should be a stress-free Zips triumph.
Way-too-early prediction: Akron 38, Buffalo 13
Zips golfers must feel betrayed.
Their coach, who spoke of turning around the program and actually appeared to be doing so, took an associate coaching job at rival Kent State.
Tom Porten understandably has great respect for KSU's Herb Page, but enough to make a downward career move? That's bizarre.
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Head coach: Al Golden
Last season: Temple was next-to-last in the nation with 53.7 rushing yards per game. They only picked up 1.87 yards per carry. That kind of anemic run production puts a lot of stress on a quarterback in third-down situations. Quarterback Adam DiMichele forced a lot of passes. He finished the season with 12 interceptions and 10 touchdowns. The passing offense was 98th in the nation.
The defense was just as bad. The Owls allowed almost 20 more rushing yards per game than any other team in the nation. So yeah, they were the infamous No. 119, but by a wide margin. The pass defense was adequate, being only the 71st best. But why the heck would you throw the ball when a blind osteoporosis patient can stroll a wheelchair past the Owls' line?
Most teams figured that out last season as Temple finished the nation's third-toughest schedule at 1-11. The one win came at home against Bowling Green. And that's a good sign for the program, because it enters the MAC as a football-only member in 2007. Golden believes his team can win the MAC East.
Best returning player: Junior defensive tackle Terrance Knighton
Offense: The good news: The Owls will bring back nine players on this side of the ball. The bad news: So what? Those guys stunk. There's not much more to say about this group. They couldn't pass. They certainly couldn't run. And they plan to make an encore in 2007. Coming to a Rubber Bowl near you.
Defense: After reading the team's spring prospectus, which typically is an overly optimistic outlook, I still can't see one position where the team has an advantage over any other Division I team. Knighton has the most impressive stats on defense, but apparently he will split time at tackle.
Almost every position is up for grabs. There are a lot of "auditions" and "battles" for positions. Is there one guy Golden can count on? Well, sophomore Jake Brownell looks decent at punting and kicking -- although Golden only sent out his field goal team six times in 2006. If anything, this reminds me of the Browns early expansion years. They had a few players that could be serviceable. Almost everyone was too young or too unskilled. Coach Golden, let me save you a giant headache when I urge your players to keep their helmets on after a missed field goal to end the game.
How the Zips match up: Who cares? This is a blowout ... OK, OK ... I'll provide some serious analysis. Week seven is a great time to play Temple. First, it could be the point in the season to try a new quarterback. If J.D. Brookhart's original choice is a dud, the backup can get an opportunity against a young defense. Also, it should give the backup running backs an opportunity to get some carries. Dennis Kennedy could be banged up. Now would be a terrific time to see if Bryan Williams or Alex Allen can live up to their potential.
All cockiness aside, Temple will be a solid MAC team in the near future. Their recruiting classes have stacked up nicely with Akron's. Golden came up with a great farm system for developing walk-ons. The first two years, however, the Owls will be lucky to beat Buffalo.
Way-too-early prediction: Akron 42, Temple 12
Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce both plan to continue their basketball careers, the ABJ's Tom Gaffney reports.
Travis sounds confident he will have a spot on the Cavs' summer league team. Joyce wants to play in Europe, possibly Germany.
I've always thought Travis could be a poor man's Carlos Boozer. He just needs to turn his motor up a few notches. Joyce is a solid game manager, but he can't create his own shot or guard quicker players. He will be a better coach than player.
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Head coach: Bill Cubit
Last season: The Broncos were 1-10 in 2004. Then Cubit took over. His teams have gone 7-4 and 8-5. While J.D. Brookhart has outrecruited his counterpart at Western Michigan, Cubit has done much more with his predecessor's recruits. Credit their stingy ... naw, downright scary defense. The Broncos allowed just 76.1 rushing yards per game, good for best in the MAC (almost 50 yards fewer than second-best Northern Illinois) and sixth-best in the nation. Ameer Ismael led the way, and the nation, with 17 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss. Those are not typos. Somehow the second-team All-American wasn't drafted. He landed with New Orleans as non-draftee.
Ryan Cubit effectively ran the offense for his dad, taking the team to the International Bowl, which the Broncos lost to Cincinnati. Mark Bonds was a 1,000-yard rusher, but perhaps the more talented player was behind him. Brandon West averaged 4.8 yards per carry in his freshman year.
Best returning player: Junior cornerback Londen Fryar
Offense: The Broncos lost a lot from the 2006 team. Thomas Peregrin and Tim Hiller will duel for the quarterback job. Peregrin started twice last season, and he started in wins against Toledo and Virginia. He's a junior college transfer who will be a senior this season. Hiller, on the other hand, was 2005 MAC Freshman of the Year. He threw 20 touchdowns that year before injuring his knee and sitting out an entire season. Most of a solid receiving corps returns, including Branden Ledbetter, who scored six touchdowns as the tight end. The offensive line also brings back four of five starters, including Robbie Krutilla -- a preseason All-MAC selection and possibly the highest draftee next spring. Even without a returning starter at quarterback, the Broncos offense should be very strong and multi-faceted.
Defense: And yeah, their defense will still be good. They lost four of the front seven, but return impact players such as defensive lineman Zach Davidson, who logged eight sacks his sophomore season, and Dustin Duclo, whom the team named its defensive player of the year. The secondary, however, might take over as the defense's signature cog. Each starter returns from last year, when the team gave up a fair amount of yardage, but also led the conference with 24 interceptions. Londen Fryar is an outstanding cornerback and, being only a junior, has "first-day draftee" tagged on his shoulder pads. He grabbed four interceptions (two for touchdowns), broke up five passes and forced a fumble last year.
How the Zips match up: With all due respect given to the defending Big Ten champions, the Broncos are a dynamite team and possibly the more difficult game. Every aspect of the team is water-tight. The only question mark is kicker, but the Zips shouldn't be close enough to make that matter.
Way-too-early prediction: Western Michigan 31, Akron 7
Previously it had been reported some homes between Vine and Exchange streets could be vulnerable to the university's stadium plans -- and eminent domain would be used as a last resort.
The same is true of businesses on Exchange, said Ted Curtis, UA's vice president of capital planning.
"I mentioned to them that these properties are in our target area," Curtis said specifically of those businesses owned by Manuel Nemer, who protested the university's effort on the news last week.
I made a public records request on the $2 million stadium plan. I should have that for you once the university realizes its attorneys can't legally keep it from me.
Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner, who battled brain cancer the past two years, succumbed to the illness today. He was 59.
"Hep" as he was called, was an enthusiastic and optimistic leader who appeared to be moving the Hoosiers forward. Last week, IU announced Hoeppner would not coach in 2007 and his offensive coordinator Bill Lynch would step in.
Akron will play Indiana the third week of the season in Bloomington.
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Head coach: Randy Edsall
Last season: UConn ran the ball well, but they couldn't stop the run. They defended the pass well, but they couldn't throw the ball themselves. A 46-45 win over Pittsburgh was nice, but it's not enough to quell whispers that Edsall better return the team to 2004 form or the Huskies will have a new coach.
Best returning player: Sophomore running back Donald Brown
Offense: The Huskies lost both guards, but that doesn't mean the running game has to suffer. Brown was UConn's only All-Big East performer in 2006. He'll only get better. The two returning tackles, however, must do a better job protecting quarterback D.J. Hernandez, assuming it's Hernandez who is taking the snaps. It could be junior Tyler Lorenzen or Iowa State transfer Dennis Brown. Hernandez, whom the spring roster lists as a wide receiver, played so-so in 2006, his sophomore season. All in all, this is a running team so it's basically a moot point.
Defense: The 105th-best run defense in Division I won't improve with the loss of two tackles. Cornerback Darius Butler and linebacker Danny Lansanah do well to stop the passing attack. The juniors grabbed four interceptions each last season.
How the Zips match up: The Huskies were pretty bad last year and don't look a lot better in 2007. The same could be said of Akron, I suppose. Although UConn's talent level isn't all that great, they should be bowl-eligible thanks to a cake nonconference schedule. The Zips will have a good chance in this game despite UConn's strong running game. Both teams will move the ball effectively while chewing up clock. The team with the fewest mistakes wins.
Way-too-early prediction: UConn 31, Akron 24
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Head coach: Doug Martin
Last season: The Flashes began the season with a home blowout loss to Minnesota and a disheartening defeat at Army. Give Martin credit for resurrecting the team and preventing another disgraceful season. Kent State ran off five straight victories after that, including a 37-15 thumping of the Zips (see above). Then somebody whispered, "Hey, you know you're Kent State, right?" Buffalo laid a 41-14 beatdown on the Flashes in Week 9. They couldn't recover to win the MAC East or become bowl eligible, both of which seemed inevitable early in the season.
It's hard to put a finger on only one reason Kent State's season disintegrated. It was a moving target. But the reason for its success is clear: They moved the ball exceptionally well on the ground. Eugene Jarvis and the KSU backs rushed for 270 yards in their pounding of Toledo. Akron could not stop quarterback Julian Edelman's scrambling, particularly on crucial third downs. In the end, it was a 6-6 season that ended in a choke job to Ball State that, if the score had flopped, would've landed Kent State in its first bowl game since 1972.
Best returning player: Senior cornerback Jack Williams
Offense: Edelman and Jarvis will be a powerful combination the next two years, but the team looks pretty thin at wide receiver. The top two for 2007, Shawn Bayes and Phil Garner, combined for 12 catches and zero touchdowns last season. The team should be fairly experienced at offensive line and tight end, however. When Edelman can play a non-flashy (no pun intended) yet smart game, the defense will put Kent State in a position to win each MAC game.
Defense: Kent State lost lineman Danny Muir and cornerback Usama Young. Those were very talented players. Martin's system has found a way to produce playmakers on defense. Williams certainly is one of them. He led the nation in forced fumbles last season and will captain what could be a top-three defense in the MAC. Special teams also is a concern since KSU was 2-10 on field goals in 2006.
How the Zips match up: It's incredibly hard to say which Kent State team we will see in 2007. In 2005, some predicted the Flashes to surprise the MAC. Instead, they laid an oh-fer on the season. Last year, they were two different teams. Akron should be able to quell the Flashes' running game by pushing John Mackey closer to the line until Kent State proves it has receivers worth double covering. Akron's quarterback won't need to be a hero; he just needs to avoid losing the game for his team.
At this point, it's way too early for even a way-too-early prediction. But oh well, I can't be a coward...
Way-too-early prediction: Akron 17, Kent State 13
Head coach: Bill Lynch, the team's offensive coordinator, will step in for at least the 2007 season while Terry Hoeppner recovers from brain surgery.
Last season: A week-three loss to Division-IAA Southern Illinois nearly wrecked the season, to which some analysts gave hope. They recovered to knock off No. 15 Iowa at home in week seven. Overall, it was the Hoosiers' inability to stop the run that made their record 5-7. They allowed 174.1 yards per game on the ground, good for 102nd in the country. They also tied for 111th in sacks with a season total of 14. The bright points of the season were James Hardy, who emerged as an outstanding receiver, and Kellen Lewis, who played quarterback admirably as a freshman.
Akron will play Indiana on Sept. 15 in Bloomington, Ind. The game originally was set for the Rubber Bowl, but the teams swapped home dates and Akron's home game will come in 2009 when a new stadium is up.
Best returning player: Junior receiver James Hardy
Offense: The Hoosiers will play the easiest schedule imaginable for a Big Ten team. Nonconference games include Western Michigan, Indiana State (I-AA), Ball State and Akron. Then they dodge Michigan and Ohio State. With Lewis and his receivers returning, the passing game should dominate Indiana's offense. Marcus Thigpen was very mediocre at running back. They need him to be better in 2007 to open the passing game.
Defense: Two new safeties will have the burden of repairing an awful pass and run defense, Dan Kadar said a couple weeks ago. The team's top two tacklers and its sacks leader also are gone. This defense is going to be awful. There's no other way to put it.
How the Zips match up: Although pass defense is a strength for Akron, it will be a real challenge for the Zips' diminutive secondary to cover the 6-foot-7 Hardy. Dennis Kennedy should be able to run quite successfully against the Hoosiers, however. And it helps that Indiana can't take advantage of the Zips' deficiency in stopping the run. A win over a Big Ten team would look great to bowl selection committees, especially since the Hoosiers' cake schedule might allow them to win six games as well. I can't really decide on this prediction. For now, I'll go with IU.
Way-too-early prediction: Indiana 17, Akron 14
Head coach: Jim Tressell
Last season: For all of you spelunking with Usama bin Laden, the Buckeyes were darn good last year. They went 12-1, won the Big Ten, finished No. 2 in the polls and boasted the nation's best offensive and defensive players (Troy Smith and James Laurinaitis). Ohio State has to replace 12 starters, however, before their matchup with Akron on Sept. 8.
Best returning player: Junior linebacker James Laurinaitis
Offense: Smith is gone, and so are his top targets Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. One Akron product will replace another at running back as Chris Wells will takeover full time for Antonio Pittman. Wells, from Garfield High School, runs a 4.4 but is not your typical speed back. He can truck you, too. The Buckeyes will introduce their first new quarterback in four years. It appears to be junior Todd Boeckman, who learned from two NFL quarterbacks the past three years. He has good size, a strong arm and knows the system well. Smith was an amazing playmaker, but Boeckman's maturity should make the transition smooth. It wouldn't hurt, however, to have a few receivers. Brian Robiskie is a good player, but does he have the talent to be a No. 1 receiver in the Big Ten? The offensive line lost a guard and center, but returns two of the nation's best tackles, Kirk Barton and Alex Boone, who were named to the Outland Trophy watch list.
Defense: The line will be the Buckeyes' biggest weakness, and in the Big Ten, that's a bad thing. Vernon Gholston is a stud defensive end. The other three linemen have talent (I mean, this is Ohio State) but have never started. Laurinaitis starts at middle linebacker. Weakside backer Marcus Freeman has blazing speed that he uses to track down ball carriers from behind. Larry Grant tops the depth chart at strongside linebacker. He is a transfer from a junior college, where he was an All-American. Malcolm Jenkins, a great cornerback, leads a fairly deep secondary.
How the Zips match up: With new quarterbacks on both teams, it's hard to say for sure how the game will turn out. Like any time a MAC school squares off against the Big Ten, the Zips will need to capitalize on turnovers. Akron's great secondary, combined with Ohio State's inexperience at wide receiver and quarterback, could create some of those. The real problem for the Zips will be Wells. It would be a tremendous overachievement for Akron's shoddy line to keep Wells to fewer than 150 yards. The Zips always seem to play their best at the Horseshoe. After all, it's every Ohio high school player's dream to play in the scarlet and gray. I see this game being awfully similar to last year's loss at Happy Valley.
Way-too-early prediction: Ohio State 38, Akron 17
As the Buchtelite reported in April, Manuel Nemer reaffirmed to WEWS his reluctance to move from Exchange Street.
The owner of Manny's Pub and Aroma Coffee and Tea wants to remain on the Zip Strip, as the property attracts many college students. WEWS insinuated there would be an eminent domain battle for this land.
I have a hunch WEWS's report is a little premature, though, for three reasons. First, the university has not contacted Nemer in two years. Second, the Akron Beacon Journal story said nothing of needing land from business owners, only houses. Third, if you see this picture, there is still a plaza of businesses on Exchange Street.
The University of Akron trustees approved a $22.7 million purchase of the Quaker Square plaza and hotel.
It makes demolition of student housing feasible near East Exchange, where UA will construct an on-campus stadium.
The trustees also approved the naming rights to the Field House, which is now called the Stile Field House in honor of Louis and Freda Stile, successful Akron entrepreneurs who have donated nearly $5.2 million to UA since 1952, including a recent $4.65 million endowment to benefit the men's basketball and football programs.
Head coach: Stan Brock
Last season: Army finished a weak schedule (by Independent team standards) with a 3-9 record. The Black Knights led the nation with 37 turnovers. Carson Williams took over at quarterback midway through his true freshman season and showed he could be effective. He also reminded fans he's just a freshman by throwing four picks in a blowout loss at home to Air Force. Army ran the ball fairly well, but also gave up almost 200 yards per game on the ground. The Zips will play Army in the inaugural Patriot Bowl Sept. 1 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Best player: Junior running back Wesley McMahond
Offense: Twenty-four interceptions is pretty bad. They weren't all Williams fault, and he should come back as a smarter passer. Brock said Williams doesn't quite have the job locked down, but he'll probably start the opener. Just like when Army blew out Akron two years ago, the Black Knights will be a running team. They weren't last year, but they need to rethink that because the entire backfield will return. McMahond averaged 4.4 yards per carry and did not fumble once. He might not be so effective, however, behind an offensive line that Brock said was one of the spring's question marks.
Defense: The top defensive players were seniors in 2006, and the defense still stunk. They surrendered 4.8 yards per carry and only forced four interceptions and 11 sacks. To be blunt, the talent isn't there, CollegeFootballNews.com says. The top returning tackler, strong safety Caleb Campbell, is coming off an injury. Brock thinks his defensive line will be "rock solid."
How the Zips match up: Dennis Kennedy should begin his season with 100-yard day in Cleveland. The new Akron quarterback (whoever that is) will wait until next week for his first test at the Horseshoe. But we will see whether the Zips defensive front can hold up against a solid runner.
Way-too-early prediction: Akron 24, Army 6
The university trustees will meet tomorrow to vote on two measures that could make a new on-campus stadium a certainty, the Akron Beacon Journal reports.
First, they plan to choose to press forward with eminent domain proceedings to usurp land on East Exchange Street necessary for stadium construction. Second, they plan to purchase Quaker Square with intentions to make the Crowne Plaza Hotel a residence hall to replace the ones in the stadium's path.
It should be neat to see some real progress begin on the stadium, rather than J.D. Brookhart and Mack Rhoades talk reservedly about 2009. It certainly can't hurt recruiting, which will get cooking in the next couple months.
I hold personal reservations any time a public entity takes away a private landowner's property, as certainly will be the case here. Those scruples will go away once August 2009 rolls around, I'm sure.
To read more or comment...
Coaches talk a lot about how hard it is to recruit defensive linemen.
But at least put some effort into it.
The position is assuredly a weakness with the program -- and at many mid-major schools as well. If you don't throw scholarship offers out there, it is possible to get stuck without any depth for a second-straight season, as is the case with the Zips.
The newest offer looks like a good one...
As the Zips cruised through the most successful season in the program's history, one name was absent: Vaughn Snyder.
And he was initially the reason for hope.
Snyder's inconsistent play knocked him out of coach Tom Porten's rotation. The ABJ's Tom Gaffney writes, however, that the sophomore has changed his approach and found success.
Several MAC teams have inquired about Notre Dame quarterback Zach Frazer, who will transfer now that Charlie Weis seems ready to give the starting job to true freshman Jimmy Clausen.
Frazer was a four-star recruit coming out of Mechanicsburg, Pa. He will make visits and take phone calls as if he's a recruit again, ESPN reports. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Here is your sure-fire bet of the season: Akron's kicking game will be the most improved of any in the nation.
Unfortunately, I could be right, and the kicking game conceivably could remain the worst in the conference.
I don't really want to reminisce about how the Zips missed six of 36 extra point attempts in 2006. Don't remind me of their eight missed field goals on 14 attempts.
Igor Iveljic was recruited to assume the kicking responsibilities. He was top-10 in the nation coming out of Mentor High School. Everything looked great for the Zips' kicking game... Until he injured his back. Until he beat the daylights out of a fellow student.
These events made some cynical fans think: "Ohhhh. Now I see why a top-10 kicker came to Akron."
Meanwhile, Matt Domonkos, a transfer from Minnesota, battled a platoon of demons in his head. Coach J.D. Brookhart went scrambling to the soccer team to find Jon McClain, who performed less terribly.
Akron's punting was in the lowest third in the MAC, but any concern about punting in 2006 was akin to swatting a house fly from your face while a cobra is wrapping is fangs around your calf. Kick coverage also was just so-so.
But don't you worry, Brookhart has a plan for each facet of special teams. He brought in a few more place kickers to spring practice. Jamie Ortiz comes from Woodridge High School in Cuyahoga Falls. Branko Rogovic is a transfer from Toledo. Andy Hildreth is a converted punter. Of course, Iveljic (redshirt freshman) and Domonkos (senior) will return as well. The latter two are listed as a tie atop the depth chart.
During the spring, Domonkos looked a lot stronger. There is no better evidence of that than when Brookhart trotted him out to attempt a 56-yarder in the second spring game. Iveljic looked a little shaky, but he also was still coming off his back injury. I'm pretty sure the job is Iveljic's, but he just need to earn it.
John Stec wasn't an awful punter his first year, but coaches certainly should expect some improvement. I didn't get to see much punting during the spring, but I'm confident Stec will only get stronger the next three years.
Kick coverage, on the other hand, became a little more challenging. A new NCAA rule dictates kickoffs will come from the 30-yard line, rather than the 35. That means almost every kick will be playable. Credit Brookhart for spending the final 15 minutes of almost every spring practice to hone the skills necessary for kick coverage.
Indeed, Brookhart realizes special teams cost Akron a lot last season. He took on the responsibility of coaching them himself. And the Zips should be very much improved because of it.
Even a ton of improvement, however, doesn't guarantee the Zips a top-notch kicking game.
The Zips might have lost their ace for 2008.
Tom Farmer, who scorched the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer, has a chance to be a Brave after Atlanta drafted him in the 20th round today.
The righthander struggled through his sophomore season, then sat out 2007 with a shoulder injury.
With two years of eligibility remaining, Farmer still may return to the Zips. From a scout I spoke with, he could improve himself to second-round status by proving his shoulder is fine and the Cape Cod performance was no fluke.
The scout also said some pitchers are just better facing hitters with wooden bats, like they use in most summer leagues. The sweet spot on an aluminum bat is much higher. Some metal bat homers are broken-bat dinkers with wood.
I heard Kurt Davidson, Akron's first baseman and career home run leader, also was a likely draftee. Him being a junior probably scared some teams away. You have a stronger hand in negotiating a signing bonus when you can tell the team you will just return to school, meaning the organization wasted a pick.
Last year, Kent State snuck up on the MAC East and nearly made it to Detroit.
This year, some people think they can win it.
Some people includes Athlon and Lindy's college football magazines. The Flashes return 16 starters.
I'm really starting to believe the MAC East is anyone's this year. Anyone except Buffalo, that is.
Davanzo Tate and Reggie Corner are two guys you'd swear have been on the team for five years.
Actually, they have.
They will start at the Zips' two cornerback positions in 2007. They have talent, speed and oodles of experience.
Last season, Tate was third in the MAC with 13 pass breakups. Corner intercepted four passes, second-highest total in the conference. He also added eight pass breakups, sixth-best in the MAC.
Both took untraditional routes to their fifth year of college football. Tate, the nation's 62nd best cornerback prospect out of Austintown Fitch High School in Youngstown, originally signed with West Virginia. He redshirted as a true freshman, then transferred to Akron, which forced him to sit out his redshirt freshman season.
Corner signed with Akron but did not qualify academically his first year. In order to regain his fifth year of eligibility, the former Canton McKinley Bulldog got on track to graduate in that many years.
At the backup spots are Miguel Graham and Rodney Etienne. Graham is a transfer from Coffeyville Junior College in Kansas. The 5-foot-9 junior runs a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash. Etienne, a sophomore, looks like a future defensive captain. Recruited as a safety, he might be playing out of position at cornerback, but I'm guessing the coaches just want to get him on the field.
I wouldn't go so far as to say either starter is a "shut-down corner." Dwight Smith was a shut-down corner because he could control an entire side of the field, a former teammate of Smith's told me last night. Corner and Tate, however, are good players and could be All-MAC selections this season.
After an unprecedented finish at the MAC Championships, Dennis Mitchell thought his Zips were ready for uncharted waters at regionals and nationals.
A month later, he is empty-handed.
"This was a tough one for us," the coach said. "We are very disappointed. In the past we have always done well at nationals. However, we were not able to achieve the same intensity, focus and execution of technique at the next levels."
Natalie Sako, a four-time All-American, finished her career with a 17th place finish in the high jump. She was able to get the height necessary, but her injured back prevented her from executing the contortion necessary to avoid banging the bar.
"She competed smart and like a good veteran of national and international competition," Mitchell said. "It will be hard to see her go."
Stevi Large, only a sophomore, perhaps became too nervous before the hammer throw preliminaries. She finished 14th.
"She was affected by the preliminary jitters where she was very tight in the throwing ring." Mitchell said. "She is still very young. She has a great two years still ahead of her."
Auston Papay didn't throw his best in either the shot put or discus, but he'll be back for his senior year.
Akron's last hope for an All-American failed today as Auston Papay took 24th in the shot put, missing the finals.
It ended a ho-hum NCAA Championship for the Zips that included finishes of 15th, 14th, 17th and 24th.
This season has been great for team performance. The women won the MAC. The men finished an eyelash out of first. Unfortunately, the individual showings were disappointing.
Sometimes I wish you could trade players in college football.
It really would make every team a lot better.
For example, Akron should ship three of its six excellent safeties over to Ohio State for two backup defensive linemen and a receiver. Of course, you can't search through other teams' rosters for pieces you might want to improve your club (unless you are OU basketball assistant Brian Townsend).
What were we talking about? Oh yeah, safeties. Akron boasts a ton of experience and talent at its three safety positions...
You probably know about team captain John Mackey, who played last season with a chipped shoulder socket. The senior from Jackson Township also managed to lead the team in tackles with 88. As good as he is, it's Mackey's leadership that could make the difference for the Zips. He may only be 6-foot on his tippy toes, but he's got a lumberjack's beard, fiery attitude and you can never quite tell when he's going to snap.
Mackey plays the "rover" position, which is a hybrid between safety and linebacker sort of like the "bandit" spot. However, rover is closer to being a defensive back. At second string is the talented Wayne Cobham, who played in every game as a freshman and appears to be ready for more responsibility.
Brandon Anderson, a junior, won the strong safety job from senior Chevin Pace this spring. Anderson had played a little safety in the spring, but I thought it was just an experiment. Apparently, J.D. Brookhart liked what he saw. Anderson was recruited as a cornerback. He has put on 15 pounds since arriving on campus, so that could be a reason the coaches think he'll be better as a safety. Pace is a capable starter, for sure. But his stats were subpar last season. Coming off a knee injury, Pace only broke up one pass in 11 games.
Andre Jones, a junior, is the starter at free safety, but he had to hold off a surging senior in Yamari Dixon this spring. Dixon laid some serious pops on his teammates two months ago. Despite being 5-9, it's almost as if Dixon lights a fuse and fires the crown of his helmet at the ball. Jones had a good spring, too, though. And his stats last season (77 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception) rightfully reserved his starting job.
Last season, two of the Zips top-four tacklers were safeties. I don't know everything about football, but that probably isn't a good thing. It means either 1) a lot of running backs are reaching the secondary or 2) a lot of receivers are beating their cornerbacks.
Regardless, the safeties look prepared to do their job again this season. Even Isiah Thomas could make a trade with that depth to improve the team.
Auston Papay threw consistently in Wednesday's discus preliminary round at the NCAA Championships.
Unfortunately, one good throw is what gets you to the finals. And the Zips' junior never got it.
He finished 15th with his best toss being 55.56 meters. The top 12 advanced to the finals. No. 12 finisher Jason Rider of UCLA threw 56.26 meters.
He will compete in the shot put preliminaries today. You can check the meet's results at this site.
Papay's shot put bid is Akron's last chance at an All-American this season.
Stevi Large and Natalie Sako missed their goals of All-American status, but still logged adequate performances at the NCAA Track and Field Championships.
Large missed out on the hammer throw finals by two spots, placing 14th. Sako took 17th in the high jump. A top-eight performance is neccessary to be an All-American -- a goal coach Dennis Mitchell set out.
Auston Papay, who qualified for the discus and shot put, is yet to compete.
Kiki Gonzalez today became the third Zip to latch on with an NFL team this season, signing a two-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.
He still could wind up on the practice squad, but this is great news for a guy who only made 31 tackles his senior year. If you remember, Chase Blackburn signed a similar contract two years ago and worked his way to a starting linebacker job with the New York Giants.
Luke Getsy will try to win a backup position to San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith. Andy Alleman, a third-round pick of the New Orleans Saints, has a good chance for playing time at guard.
Step one in learning about the Zips' linebacking scheme: Figure out what the heck J.D. Brookhart is talking about when he says "sam," "mike" and "bandit."
Sam is the strong-side linebacker. Mike plays in the middle. Bandit is a safety/linebacker hybrid who is typically your fastest linebacker because he chases the play from the weak side.
OK. Now let's get to the starters...
Kevin Grant, a freshman All-American honorable mention two seasons ago, had a quiet season in that he did not record a sack. In 2005, he had 4.5 of them. Still, the middle linebacker was second on the team with 87 tackles (John Mackey, 88).
Doug Williams, the bandit or weak-side linebacker, possibly had the best spring season of anyone on the team. If that translates to the regular season, the junior from Tampa will be one of the MAC's best defensive players the next two years.
Then we have Brion Stokes, the senior who plays on the strong side, who will be crucial to the Zips' pass rush. As the team's best blitzer, according to Brookhart, he led the team with 5.5 sacks last season. CollegeFootballNews.com calls Stokes the Zips' best player, period.
Now it's time to pull out the wild card: Al-Teric Balaam whose talent probably makes Brookhart wish he could go to a 3-4 defense for this season. The sophomore is talented enough to play any linebacker position today if needed. Both Balaam and backup bandit Amin Kabir will give the Zips a solid linebacking corps for the next three years.
There is no doubt Akron's linebackers are among the MAC's best. The question will be whether the defensive line can consume enough blockers to allow them to make plays on the ball carrier.
Cross your fingers. Stroke your rabbit's feet. Say your prayers.
Akron's defensive line has the potential to blow the whole season.
It's not that the linemen are that bad. There just aren't enough of them.
From what I have seen of Eric Lively and Jared Cecchetti, the two ends are serviceable, but probably not any better than that. Wallace Pendleton will start at nose tackle. The sophomore from Illinois took that job from Nate Robinson this spring.
OK. So the Zips' starters aren't half bad. In fact, including Robinson, four of them are fairly solid. But then what? Then we pray no one gets hurt or quits.
Shawn Lemon will backup Cecchetti. He's a freshman who uses bursts of speed to rush the quarterback. I would stop short of saying Lemon did not earn the backup job in spring. He had some nice sacks, but certainly you want a more seasoned player logging serious minutes like Lemon likely will.
After the spring, the coaches moved Tevlin Petit-Frere from linebacker to defensive line. That makes sense, given the depth at one position and the anemic state of the other. What doesn't make sense is Petit-Frere's 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame -- a size more common for a wide receiver than defensive lineman in a 3-3-5 scheme. Perhaps he will be used solely on third-and-long situations, but still...
Mitchell Magloire is another converted linebacker. He will backup Lively. Craig Truax also is in the mix. He was Lively's backup before suffering a foot/ankle injury that kept him out of spring practice. My guess is that Truax will work his way back into the two-deep before the season begins. The lack of experience is too high for a player who actually knows the position to be third-string.
If you're hoping for a true freshman to ride into the Rubber Bowl on a white horse, don't. Akron is waiting on six defensive line recruits to join the team this fall. None achieved higher than two stars from Rivals.com. I'd say there's still a possibility one of them works into the rotation.
So now I hope you understand how badly equipped the defensive line will be this season. I'm not saying it will be horrible for sure. There's always a possibility that Pendleton and Robinson fulfill their potential, that Lemon earns a starting job and becomes the Zips' sackmaster, that some of these linebackers bulk up to play admirably or that a true freshman joins the team and contributes immediately. It's just not looking all that likely.
As a Zips fan, that should concern you. Run stuffing will be very important to the defense. It will allow the Zips to effectively use all their secondary firepower to stop the pass. The linebackers, for example, can be more comfortable dropping into coverage on a play-action fake without being concerned of a 20-yard run. In the J.D. Brookhart era, Akron has shown the propensity to allow big running games.
The first major test will come in week two, when the Zips visit the Shoe and stud running back Chris Wells. Bring your rabbit's feet.
Here are three new offers...
Rumors have swirled that Rydell Brooks, formerly of Buchtel High, is interested in transferring home from Niagara.
The local newspaper reports that Brooks has left the team for personal reasons, but that Akron does not have a scholarship open for him.
In the spring of 2006, Brooks' decision came down to Niagara and Akron, the only schools that offered him a scholarship.
During the Purple Eagles' late season surge, Brooks started quite frequently, but he never played much more than the first few minutes of the half, the paper reports. He averaged 4.7 points in 18 minutes last year.
After taking over at Akron, Mack Rhoades alluded to possibly adding a new women's sport.
Today, he came through.
Akron's first women's golf team will hit the linx in 2008-2009. Playing a large role in the choice is the field house, which has been a major reason for the men's emergence.
UA will begin with a nationwide search for a coach to begin the program. The most recent UA sport born, women's soccer, found a gem in Catherine Byrne, who has worked incessantly to improve the team's talent.
(Coincidentally, the team will begin play the year of my sister Abby's graduation from Stow, where she has lettered in her first two high school seasons. I would be delighted to report on her recruitment.)
Conventional wisdom has no importance when discussing the offensive line at Akron.
In 2005, a bunch of newcomers was expected to get first-year quarterback Luke Getsy killed. They gelled quickly and protected him well, along with allowing running back Brett Biggs to have a tremendous senior season.
Last season's line was full of experience -- and full of holes apparently. They couldn't pass block, run block or really do much of anything without getting flagged for a false start or holding penalty. And that's odd because two linemen earned postseason accolades: sophomore tackle Chris Kemme (All-MAC Second Team) and senior guard Andy Alleman (third-round NFL draft pick).
See what I mean about conventional wisdom?
Except for Kemme, who will start at left tackle, this year's line is almost completely new. The other tackle is Keith Huebner, whom GoZips.com says has "tremendous upside." I recall J.D. Brookhart praising the sophomore's progress over the spring, too.
At the guard are senior Mike Schepp and freshman Mike Ward. The latter won the job from Garrett Brewster over the spring. Brookhart also spoke highly of Ward, who began spring as the backup center. Schepp, meanwhile, spent last season as the backup left tackle.
Big Jim Holley will start his first season at center as a senior. The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder was Homecoming King in high school. I don't know much else about him.
I do know, however, that shotgun snaps were a pesky problem during spring. About one in three was errant -- not so faulty that it would have led to a turnover, but just bad enough to throw the quarterback out of his rhythm and cost the offense a split second.
Brookhart spent most of the spring emphasizing run blocking. By the end of the 15 practices, I'd say the Zips were pretty proficient at it. The challenge will be to glue these five guys together so they can protect a freshman or sophomore quarterback. My guess is that most early season passing plays will feature two tight ends or two backs to help with pass blocking. That's where depth at running back and tight end really helps the rest of the offense.
Although it would be nice to be optimistic about the inexperienced line, it's way too hard to say with certainty it will be good. Recent history has shown that.
The Akron Beacon Journal previewed the Zips' bid for national championships this week.
Three athletes -- Natalie Sako, Auston Papay and Stevi Large -- will shoot for All-American status (at least) in Sacramento.
In such an exciting time for Cleveland sports, it's been hard to stick with Akron topics.
Alas, here is my opening, with this terrific photo of LeBron James pointing to Romeo Travis after an and-one layup in the fourth quarter last night...
Anyhow, that series still hasn't sunk in with me. I have followed the Cavs religiously since age 6. Going from the Tyrone Hill/Ricky Davis era to this in four years is unbelievable.
Oh, here's a Zips note...
Nick Fruendt, a swingman from Illinois, chose Northwestern over about 10 scholarship offers, including Akron. Rivals.com gives him three stars.
Somehow, J.D. Brookhart (and Lee Owens before him) has been very successful in nabbing solid tight ends.
Whereas defensive linemen can be elusive for mid-majors in recruiting, serviceable Division-I tight ends seem to exist in every high school conference. After stocking up so heavily in 2004 and 2005, the coaches haven't bothered recruiting a tight end the past two years.
Brookhart, knowing this position is a strength, formulated new twists in the offense this offseason to allow more chances for his four tight ends to make plays.
The starter will be Kris Kasparek. Brookhart mentioned that the four-year starter may provide leadership on offense. He also has proven to be a great route runner, adept in finding holes in zones in the defense and achieving first downs. While Kasparek is No. 1, Merce Poindexter is 1A. His above-average speed and athleticism, coupled with a giant frame, make him a matchup problem for every MAC defense.
Brian Flaherty and Jose Cruz, neither of which have seen the field much except in special situations, could step in at a moment's notice as well. Flaherty shares Kasparek's intelligence for finding open spaces on the field. Cruz is a solid run blocker.
So what's the problem? Dropped passes. The tight ends missed many easy passes last year and it seemed completely mental because both Nos. 1 and 1A have good hands. With any luck, that was just a fad and part of the disease of inconsistency that plagued the entire team last season.
For sure, Akron's tight ends will help the team win more than causing it to lose. With two-TE sets, they could even lessen the pain of possibly missing David Harvey.
It appears one of the Zips' 2008 signees isn't actually a scholarship player. Bryan Simpson, a defensive tackle from Xenia, is a preferred walk-on, that town's newspaper reports. Edit: Bryan has brother, Ryan, who IS a scholarship player. Thanks, ZFF.
CollegeFootballNews.com previewed Akron's season, saying the team's schedule should put it in a position to win back the MAC East.
What looked three months ago like a team strength might have become a weakness.
Akron's receiving corps boasted a talented, yet inconsistent senior in Jabari Arthur, two blossoming underclassmen in David Harvey and Jermaine Lindsey and promises of another to join them in Vince Hill.
Then Harvey missed the spring season with a mysterious personal issue. Arthur and Lindsey fell to injuries. Not counting Hill, who will join the team this summer, Akron's number one receiver suddenly became 5-foot-9 senior Marcus Patterson.
Will Harvey return? Will Lindsey be eligible? Will Arthur be at full strength? Can Hill contribute immediately? These are important questions to the offense. In one of the quirks of college football that happens occasionally, the Zips' receivers could be among the MAC's best or the nation's worst.
The spring showed an emphasis on the running game. It's good to start that mentality because -- with a new quarterback, questionable blocking and possibly a skeleton crew at receiver -- J.D. Brookhart might have no other choice.
We should know by the middle of the month whether Harvey and Lindsey will be on the 2007 roster.
A miscellaneous note...
Averaging 2.8 yards per carry is anemic.
Losing 428 yards on bad carries is another terrible statistic.
The Zips' running game really wasn't that bad. Really.
Those stats factor in the 58 carries/sacks of Luke Getsy, whose subpar athleticism was tested way too frequently.
Also consider this: Dennis Kennedy was banged up almost all season. Alex Allen tore his ACL. The coaches dusted off Andre Walker, who performed admirably but had too many carries for a third-string back.
The good news is all three return for 2007. And then factor in newcomers Ryan Brinson and Bryan Williams, whom any MAC team would be thrilled to have. Edit: Brinson is a cornerback. Thanks, GoZips19.
Indeed, the running back corps is deep. The bigger question is, Who will block for them? Four new starters will put their hands down along the Zips line. Coach J.D. Brookhart emphasized run blocking during the spring. He understands the importance of that facet of the game.
The depth chart should be interesting. Up to seven running backs conceivably could take handoffs from possibly three quarterbacks. (I hope you're getting the sense of the uncertainty of Akron's backfield. Although it's not really bad uncertainty.)
Kennedy is the starter, for sure. No question about it. Allen was only about 80 percent healthy during the spring. Meanwhile, Walker showed impressive speed and agility. The second string running back position is definitely one to watch, especially if Brinson or Williams shock the coaching staff during practices.
Talking to Brookhart, I got the sense that Allen is the second-stringer if he shows his pre-injury ability. It really shouldn't matter. Akron will have plenty of talent at running back, and if you haven't noticed, the MAC is becoming more of a running conference.