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