This is the most important season in Zips history.
1) The coach's job relies on it. Those of us who know J.D. Brookhart personally, we like him. He's a good guy, a better motivator and an outstanding recruiter who has a flash of bravado and flair for the unconventional. There is no question he's a tremendous position coach. He transformed a horrific special teams unit into one of the nation's best.
The problem: He isn't winning with his own recruits. Some people just aren't destined to lead a college football program. Heck, there's only 119 of these people. This season will determine whether the bulk of Brookhart's career will be as a college head coach or an NFL position coach.
Seven wins saves Brookhart's job. Six makes him pretty secure. Five, and it's 50-50. Four, and sayonara. Of course, there are intangibles to factor, such as whether the team improved over the season or regressed and whether the players stayed out of trouble (and eligible).
If you ask me, he'd be fine if he took a more active approach with his offense and got rid of that gimmicky 3-3-5 defense.
2) The "fear" is fading. Akron won the MAC Championship in 2005. This is 2008, and nobody really fears the Roo. That monumental year is fading into the past. Few of the contributing championship players are on the roster. Fans are beginning to forget the Zips once mattered. A winning season could get the program back on track and help advance the national perception that Akron is a successful mid-major.
3) InfoCision Stadium ticket sales. A perfect storm is possible. Can you imagine another bowl game, coupled with the knowledge that this up-and-coming team will have a shiny new home? The buzz surrounding the program would double that in December 2005. You saw how that combination helped the Indians in the mid-90s. Akron could similarly establish a tradition of sell-outs, and it could start in 2008.
Quarterback -- I want to believe, Chris Jacquemain. I really do. Until you prove to me otherwise, you will just be a low-ceiling, inconsistent player who makes bad decisions. Despite my predisposition, I cannot say Matt Rodgers looked much better this month. My only hope is that Brookhart will play the best passer, and that passer can move the offense, which will be dangerous if only it finds an above-average quarterback.
Wide receiver -- People around the team seem satisfied with the depth at receiver. To me, it's just a bunch of guys who have never impressed me in a meaningful game (but maybe could). I liked Dashan Miller and Jeremy Bruce, a lot. Alphonso Owen might be a good third receiver, but hopefully Deryn Bowser takes over that role. Andre Jones needs to play more defense -- at least until the secondary shows it floats. Look out for Gary Pride and Curtis Brown, too. Those two have a real future with Akron.
Tight end -- Merce Poindexter is the offensive captain. Hopefully he will bring some consistent pass-catching, as well as leadership, to the position. Brian Flaherty should get his nose in the action and grab some important first downs.
Offensive line -- With its youth and talent, Brookhart stocked the line for the next few seasons. The foundation is Chris Kemme, who should plow holes for the Zips running backs.
Running backs -- The coaching staff tried to figure out how to distribute snaps between Dennis Kennedy, Alex Allen and Andrew Johnson. You can be certain that the position is in good hands. (Watch out for DeVoe Torrence surging into the rotation, too -- sort of like Bryan Williams last year.)
Special teams -- All of the positions seem solidified, even down to the backups. The Zips could win two games solely from special teams supremacy.
Defensive line -- The depth of the d-line makes me even angrier about the 3-3-5. This way, however, the Zips are insulated from injury, like the setback to Eric Lively. The other problem with a 3-3-5 is that it won't allow Ryan Bain and Almondo Sewell to shine as much as they otherwise would. It's like having Rembrandt smothering beige paint in the projects. OK, not quite that, but you see what I mean.
Linebackers -- The team needs more playmakers here. Besides the steady Kevin Grant and Doug Williams, Akron needs someone to force turnovers and sacks like Brion Stokes did. Sean Fobbs and Aaron Williams are candidates for that.
Secondary -- Cross your fingers. Hope you play a lot of teams like Wisconsin, who prefer to run (but perhaps aren't as good at it as the Badgers). Pray for health. Rub your rabbit's ear for a few break-out athletes. What the team lacks in coverage, it must overcompensate in pressure on the quarterback.
Why I'm excited: The offensive and defensive lines are a strength, for once. In football, that's a formula for success. At the least, it gives you a chance to stay in the game.
Why I'm concerned: An experienced quarterback will pick apart our secondary like a week-old scab. Touchdown after touchdown; I can see it coming. Combine that with the fact that Jacquemain can't match that -- or at least he hasn't yet. That sounds like a lot of blowouts.
Why I'm excited: Depth at running back!
Why I'm concerned: No running game can survive when the defense stacks the box because it doesn't have to worry about a passing game.
Why I'm excited: Opposing secondaries will have to do more than double-team Jabari Arthur to contain the Zips' passing game.
Why I'm concerned: Arthur isn't even here anymore. That leaves the Zips with ZERO proven receivers and potentially no one who can find them open.
Why I'm excited: The media's gloomy predictions have lit a fire under the team.
Why I'm concerned: Every bad team says that. Early season motivation wears off like a cheap temporary tattoo anyhow.
Why I'm excited: The Zips have a favorable MAC schedule, dodging Miami and playing Bowling Green at home. They also have a two-week break to heal up before the home stretch.
Why I'm concerned: The MAC has as much parity as ever. Heck, Buffalo or Temple could play in Detroit. There are no cheap wins this year.
Why I'm excited: One last season of booze, burgers, brats and blistering cold at the Rubber Bowl.
Rodgers takes over before MAC season starts and slowly becomes one of the conference's better passers. The secondary is bad, but the Zips get a good draw against MAC teams that can't pass (Kent State, Toledo, Buffalo and Ohio). The team gets an extraordinary boost from the return games. The Zips go 7-5, play in a bowl game and head to InfoCision Stadium after regaining the excitement from 2005. (Yeah, I'm a homer. So sue me.)
@ Wisconsin: L @ Syracuse: W vs. Ball State: L @ Army: W vs. Cincinnati: L @ Kent State: W vs. Bowling Green: L @ Eastern Michigan: W vs. Toledo: W vs. Buffalo: W @ Ohio: W @ Temple: L