After the much-ballyhooed games to start the year, Akron will host Ohio in its first divisional game.
Last year, the Zips lost a 49-42 shootout at Athens that would have made Akron bowl-eligible. This year, the contest is Akron's homecoming game, but more importantly, it will give one team a chance to position itself in the MAC East standings.
2008 recap: The Bobcats went 4-8 in Frank Solich's fourth year. It's probably not the results they hoped for from the coach they are paying a base salary of $240,000. The problem was turnovers. The Bobcats lost more fumbles and threw more interceptions than any other MAC team. The team was also pretty bad in the red zone. Ohio finished the year with explosive wins over Akron and Miami. Safety Mike Mitchell was a second-round pick to the Oakland Raiders in the NFL Draft (albeit a stunning selection).
What they lost: Mitchell will play on Sundays. Defensive lineman Jameson Hartke leaves an equally gaping hole. He was a second-team All-MAC selection. Tight end Andrew Mooney, another second-team all-conference player, was a good target. Ohio also lost three of its linemen, including second-team All-MAC Josh Leuck.
2009 outlook: The Bobcats lost several blockers, but the skill players return. At quarterback, Solich must decide between Theo Scott, a touted juco transfer who was hurt two games into last season, and Boo Jackson, who lit up the Zips for five touchdowns last fall. The passer will throw to Ohio's top two receivers from 2008, Taylor Price and LaVon Brazill. The running back corps of Chris Garrett and Donte Harden might be among the MAC's best. The defense returns its top three tacklers, including stud linebacker Noah Keller, but it must find a player who can plug the middle like Hartke. Garrett's kick returning will give Ohio an advantage on special teams. The Bobcats open with a home game against Connecticut.
How the Bobcats will test the Zips: If Ohio's offensive line comes together quickly, they are likely to charge down Summa Field on several drives. The defense will be reliable, and it will make Akron work for its touchdowns.
How the Zips will test the Bobcats: Under Solich, Ohio is 1-20 when trailing after three quarters. The Zips' offense has more firepower than Ohio's. If Akron opens an early lead, the Zips' defense won't need to stack the box. Pressuring an inexperienced line might cause some interceptions.
Way-too-early prediction: Ohio moves the ball steadily. Akron is sporadic. The Zips gain momentum after halftime and push ahead for a close victory. Ohio 27, Akron 28