On Sept. 5, Akron will commence the most important season in the program's history against Penn State in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions finished the 2008 season ranked eighth in the national polls. USC gave them a 38-24 beating in the Rose Bowl. On the whole, it was a season of redemption for the Joe Paterno's team.
What they lost: The defense lost eight defensive players to the NFL, either through the draft or free agency. The most prominent, of course, is defensive end Aaron Maybin, who shot up draft boards and landed 11th overall to the Buffalo Bills. One of the most talented returners on defense is Navorro Bowman, but the first-team all-conference linebacker flunked a drug test, and Paterno is uncertain of his future. On offense, Penn State returns the Big Ten's best quarterback in Daryll Clark and the Second-Team All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster. That's the good news. The bad news is that Penn State lost the best trio of receivers the school has ever seen. Led by third-round pick Derrick Williams, the three receivers will each play on Sundays next season.
Spring season recap: PSU set a school record with 76,500 fans attending the Blue-White game. Despite losing three receivers, the Nittany Lions secondary got "torched" by the newcomers and Clark. Junior receiver Graham Zug, a former walk-on, earned an award for being the spring's most-improved offensive player.
How they will test the Zips: Akron's secondary is young, and Clark is a veteran quarterback. If PSU's receivers are actually as good as they looked in the spring game, it will be ugly. Akron's run defense should be much improved with a new 3-4 scheme and an stable of talented linemen, but it will get the strongest test of the year in Week One against Royster, an elusive back who averaged 95.1 yards per game last season.
How the Zips will test them: Akron's passing game should be a real strength. It should be able to put up points on the Nittany Lions' weak secondary. It will take a strong game from the running backs to sustain drives, however.
Way, way too early prediction: If the Zips running backs are healthy and charging, the game could be close. I wouldn't count on it, but I also don't see a complete blowout. Akron 24, Penn State 44