By the time Akron begins MAC play, it will have competed in three highly anticipated games.
Few fans will circle Central Michigan on their pocket schedules, but this game is probably more consequential to Akron's postseason hopes. A win would put Akron in great early position to win the MAC East.
2008 recap: In any other season, CMU's high-scoring offense would have been enough to carry the team to the division crown. 2008 was different, thanks to Nate Davis and Ball State. The Chips finished the MAC season at 6-2 (8-5 overall), with losses to Ball State and Eastern Michigan. The solid overall record carried the Chips to the Motor City Bowl, where they fell to Florida Atlantic, 24-21. The primary handicap all season was a pass defense that gave up 287 yards per game -- 33 yards more than the nearest MAC team. Despite the weak secondary, CMU notched 10 more sacks than any other MAC team. Just like the previous two seasons, the Chips' bread and butter was quarterback Dan LeFevour, who was responsible for 306 yards of total offense per game.
What they lost: The Chippewas must replace four offensive linemen. The most prominent is first-team All-MAC winner, Andrew Hartline. The Chips' franchise running back Ontario Sneed is also gone. Aside from those players, CMU returns 18 starters, including 10 out of 11 on defense.
2009 outlook: It might sound like CMU's rushing game will suffer because it must replace a running back and four offensive linemen. The truth is, LeFevour was the Chips' best runner, not Sneed. CMU's recruiting classes have been stellar, so there is no doubt the offensive line will reload. LeFevour is a preseason All-American, according to Phil Steele. The senior quarterback will have two first-team All-MAC receivers in Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson. The defense still must shore up the secondary if the Chips hope to make an impact like Ball State in 2008. It will rely on its best defensive playmakers: defensive end Frank Zombo and middle linebacker Nick Bellore.
How the Chips will test the Zips: Central Michigan was 5-1 in games decided by three or fewer points in 2008. By contrast, Akron repeatedly invented new ways to lose games in crunch time. If it's a close game, one team will have a confidence advantage. ... Akron's weakness likely will be pass defense -- at least early in the season. There won't be many offenses in the nation capable of scoring through the air like CMU. In that regard, this game could be as difficult as playing Penn State.
How the Zips will test the Chips: Akron can throw the ball, too. If the Zips limit turnovers, then there is no reason why they can't match CMU touchdown-for-touchdown. ... If CMU's inexperienced offensive line falters, the Zips can bother LeFevour (although chasing the mobile quarterback out of the pocket isn't necessarily the best idea).
Way-too-early prediction: Akron will fall behind early before catching a rhythm on offense. LeFevour and the Chips never look back. Akron 35, CMU 49
Three Zips earned at-large berths to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Stevi Large and Valerie Wert will compete in the women's hammer throw. Wert is an at-large participant. Carrie Kayes and Mike McCall earned the other at-large bids in the women's pole vault and men's high jump, respectively. Daniel Kinsey automatically qualified for the decathlon.