Zips fans will anticipate the Indiana game as a potential landmark victory over a Big Ten team in InfoCision Stadium -- a victory that could pique the interest of lukewarm fans in Northeast Ohio.
No. It's not Ohio State. Or even Michigan State. But it's a midwestern BCS team with name recognition. A win likely will give Akron a winning record, which is rare in the nonconference portion of the schedule. Indiana suffered two defeats at the hands of MAC teams in 2008, so fans' optimism for this game is legitimate.
2008 recap: After starting the season 2-0, the Hoosiers underwent losing streaks of four and five games to finish 3-9. Sandwiched between the skids was the bright point of the season: a 22-19 upset over No. 22 Northwestern. Some other disappointing facts: The Hoosiers first two wins came over Division I-AA teams. Only one player earned All-Big Ten honors -- Jammie Kirlew, a coaches' pick at second-team defensive end. The defense had serious problems stopping the pass. The Hoosiers gave up almost a touchdown more per game than the second-worst Big Ten team. On Nov. 22, Purdue kindly asked Bill Lynch's boys to bite the curb. The Hoosiers obliged, losing 62-10 to end the season.
What they lost: Quarterback Kellen Lewis has another year of eligibility, but he won't play. Lynch kicked Lewis off the team for violating team rules. Lewis' big-play ability was one of Indiana's only weapons. Akron felt Lewis' impact in 2007, when the quarterback scored five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing), and Indiana won, 41-24. Indiana's offense also lost running back Marcus Thigpen, the Big Ten's 10th leading rusher, and receiver Ray Fisher, who caught the 10th most passes per game in the conference. Fisher is still on the team, but he will move to cornerback. Lynch also must replace kicker Austin Starr.
2009 outlook: The good news for Indiana fans is that 18 starters will return. Kirlew was second in the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks last season. He is one of two defensive ends who will anchor the experienced defense. Indiana's situation raises the age-old question, however: Is it really a good thing to have everyone back -- when "everyone" failed so miserably last season? ... With Lewis gone, the job belongs to Ben Chappell, who started three games in 2008, throwing four touchdowns and three interceptions. The entire offensive line returns, so it is likely Indiana will find a running back to replace Thigpen. But the Hoosiers have no chance to break .500 if they don't find some receivers.
How the Hoosiers will test the Zips: Kirlew will be matched up against Akron's only inexperienced lineman, left tackle Jake Anderson. If Kirlew is consistently meddling in Chris Jacquemain's affairs, the Hoosiers' mediocre defense will look stalwart. The Hoosiers offense will move the chains behind its experienced offensive line unless Jim Fleming stacks the box with an extra defensive back.
How the Zips will test the Hoosiers: Indiana struggled mightily to stop the pass in 2008. Its secondary doesn't look much better this season. The Zips' passing game is a strength, so with a few quick strikes, Akron could bury Indiana early. Without experience at receiver, Indiana probably won't challenge the Zips' thin secondary.
Way-too-early prediction: Akron will trade touchdowns for Indiana field goals. Eventually, the game gets out of reach for the Hoosiers. Akron 38, Indiana 20
Also this... Here is a directory of head coaches using Twitter. In the MAC, Toledo and Eastern Michigan's coaches are using Twitter, apparently as a way to communicate with recruits and fans.