Akron should think about the rest of the season as a two-round single-elimination tournament, with a bowl game going to the victor.
First up is Ohio, whose 2-8 record overshadows its near victory at Ohio State. The Bobcats' only wins came against Kent State and Division-IAA Virginia Military. Blame a large number of injuries and turnovers for transforming Ohio into the MAC's doormat. Typically, a trip to Athens is unpleasant, but Saturday might be different.
The Bobcats have scored the second-fewest points in the MAC. Their rushing offense is the MAC's second worst, behind Temple. Freshman Donte Harden had been an effective runner until a shoulder injury ended his season. You might remember Chris Garrett as being quite effective last year. This season, he has averaged 3.4 yards per carry (down from 5.8) and has suffered broken ribs and fumble-itis. Ohio will probably give sophomore Vince Davidson some carries on Saturday, although Davidson has battled a turf toe ailment.
The team is coming off a 28-3 stomping by Bowling Green. In that game, Frank Solich replaced struggling quarterback Boo Jackson with Brandon Jones, who has completed only 14-of-32 passes this season. Jackson has a 58.1 completion percentage, throwing 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Solich's original starter was Theo Scott, who hurt his collarbone at Ohio State. Solich will decide between Jones and Jackson for the Akron game. Jackson has played well on three occasions. As a result, Ohio is fourth in the MAC in passing yards. The Bobcats have allowed 22 sacks -- a total that only two MAC teams have exceeded.
Ohio boasts the conference's best pass defense. However, when they faced Tim Hiller of Western Michigan and Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan -- the MAC's elite quarterbacks -- the Bobcats did succumb for more than 300 yards. Led by Jameson Hartke, the defensive line has created some havoc in the backfield. The team has made 17 sacks this season, compared to Akron's nine. Good running backs have been able to run on Ohio's defense, however. Buffalo scampered for 277 rushing yards on Ohio two games ago.
Buffalo and Bowling Green won in Athens by a combined 38 points. Akron is 4-1 on the road this year. Considering the Zips' road success and that similarly talented teams have had an easy time in Athens, Akron should win by at least 10.
Check out this neat time-lapse video of Thursday's game.
The ABJ's Patrick McManamon wrote an entertaining column about the difficult weather conditions under which Akron won the MAC on Sunday.
We will know tonight whether the Zips achieved a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would mean Akron potentially would play three games at home. A top-eight seed is probably more likely for the No. 4- ranked Zips, considering how the selection committee has screwed Akron in the past.
Akron and Winthrop will meet Tuesday. They might as well be looking in the mirror.
They are both successful mid-major teams who have been gutted of experience. Both will rely heavily on youth as they try to maintain their respective levels of achievement.
Winthrop has 10 freshmen and sophomores. Compare that to Akron's 12, six of which figure to be a part of Keith Dambrot's rotation.
Sophomore forward Charles Corbin leads the Eagles in points (11.5) and rebounds (7) per game. Winthrop coach Randy Peele believes his team's strength is the depth. In two games, 10 players have averaged more than 12 minutes per game.
Similar to Akron, Winthrop's young lineup has faced difficulties in ball handling, shooting, rebounding and defense. Watch for a sloppy game. Odds are not out yet, but I suspect the Zips will be a three- to five-point favorite.
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