Nowhere in the nation will you find a more highly anticipated game between a Division I-A and Division I-AA team.
On Sept. 12, Akron unlocks the turnstiles at InfoCision Stadium. The first opponent is Morgan State, a Division I-AA team from Baltimore.
The Bears are coming off a 6-6 season in which they boasted the best defense in Division I-AA. (I refuse to call it Football Championship Series, because it's misleading, cumbersome and nobody knows what you're referring to.) Anyhow, Morgan State held every 2008 opponent, including Rutgers, to fewer than 350 yards. The Bears ran the ball well, but only averaged 105 passing yards per game behind former Zip Carlton Jackson.
What they lost: Six Bears earned First-Team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference honors, including the MEAC's Defensive Player of the Year, Jarrell Guyton. Of those six players, Morgan State lost Guyton, an offensive lineman and a defensive back. The Bears also lost their place kicker, punter and two of the top three receivers.
2009 outlook: Morgan State returns two Preseason All-Americans in linebacker Justin Lawrence and offensive lineman Robert Norris. Lawrence logged 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2008. The Bears also retain their 1,000-yard running back Devan James and Jackson, who split snaps with two other quarterbacks last season. Another former Zip, Rodney Etienne, plays defensive back for Morgan State. He played in seven games last season and returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown.
How Morgan State will test the Zips: Morgan State is an above-average Division I-AA team. Understandably, Akron's emotions will be flying high with opening the new stadium. The Bears will get some first downs behind James. If the Bears add collect a few turnovers and steadily put up points, the Zips' emotions will go from "Let's pound these guys to open The Info" to "Holy crap. We might lose this game and taint a $60 million investment."
How Akron will test the Bears: The Zips know Jackson and his tendencies. They know each of his screen passes are a "pick six" waiting to happen. James is a good running back, but Akron should be able to hold him under 100 yards. (If not, then it's a gruesome harbinger of things to come.) Lawrence is a strong pass rusher, but the offensive line should be a fortress.
Way-too-early prediction: At best, it's a storybook opening for a beautiful new stadium. At worst, it's a grind-it-out win. Akron 33, Morgan State 6