Dave Ruthenberg from MACReportOnline.com wrote a fascinating column that breaks down the national bowl outlook.
I don't want to steal his thunder, but he basically talks about the conferences and teams that need to fail in order for MAC teams to have a chance at one of the 68 bowl slots. The column also calls J.D. Brookhart one of the conference's best coaches this season.
On that topic, I wholeheartedly agree. Brookhart has transformed a lot of raw talent into good players. Like I have said several times, Akron has usually shown its thuggish underbelly at inopportune times since I started covering the team. This season, the team appears to have better character. And it is probably no coincidence that it is Brookhart's first year of having his own recruits as seniors.
Indians president Paul Dolan visited our Sports Law class on Wednesday.
He facilitated a fascinating, candid discussion. One Zips-related point: His network, Sports Time Ohio, is looking for sports teams to cover. Considering that STO is as widespread in Ohio as any other cable network, wouldn't it be great for Akron to link up with STO for maybe five games per year?
I haven't talked to Mack Rhoades in a while, but someone should suggest that he gives Dolan a call about that.
The MAC's media has little faith that Keith Dambrot can win with one of the youngest teams in the nation.
They picked the Zips fourth in the MAC East, behind Kent State, Miami and Bowling Green, respectively.
My opinion is that Kent State should be No. 1. Miami and Akron are a toss-up. Then it's a big step down to Ohio, Bowling Green and Buffalo. Some members of the media, however, prefer to look at experience over talent.
Western Michigan is picked to win the MAC West.
Buffalo evened the MAC East standings with a win over Ohio.
The Zips and Bulls both have 2-2 conference records, thanks to James Starks' 186 rushing yards and seven Bobcat fumbles (four lost) in Buffalo's 32-19 win.
The great thing about conference games is, even when a contender wins, it usually means a contender loses. The game essentially knocks Ohio (1-4) out of the running.
Another example of this phenomenon will occur Saturday, when Kent State travels to Bowling Green. The loser of that game picks up its fourth MAC loss, and that team is also essentially eliminated. On Tuesday, Miami will travel to Buffalo. The result of that game will either basically eliminate Miami (by giving the RedHawks their fourth loss) or put Akron back in first place by itself.
I say that four losses "basically eliminates" a team, but that does not mean four losses cannot win this division. Four losses at this point in the season, however, means a team has to win the rest of its games, which is unlikely for a team that has only won 20-25 percent of its MAC games so far.
In beating a pair of Michigan schools last week, Akron jumped to second in the nation.
The Zips have won 10 consecutive games. No. 1 Wake Forest received all 23 first-place votes.
Akron will finish the regular season on the road, with games against Penn State, Hartwick and Ohio State. Then the team will host the MAC Championship Nov. 13-16.
Akron didn't play this week, but it might as well have won by 60.
Three MAC East rivals lost, each falling one game behind Akron in the loss column. The results left the Zips to control their own destiny. The only other MAC East team with only two losses is Buffalo, who will play Akron in the Rubber Bowl's finale. The Bulls play Ohio on Tuesday (tomorrow).
Kent State thumped Miami 54-21 thanks to six RedHawks turnovers. Northern Illinois came back to beat Bowling Green 16-13 because of a late blocked punt that set up a go-ahead field goal. Let's not forget that Ohio lost on Tuesday to Temple.
The other side of the coin is that Toledo played admirably against Central Michigan and a beaten up Dan LeFevour. Although the Rockets lost 24-23, the game showed me that Toledo will be a challenge on Nov. 5.
I wanted to write about these events sooner, but my blog has been down and I was in Chicago. You should visit ZipsNation.org for some fan discussion on the topic.
The Zips clinched the MAC regular season title by beating Western Michigan on Saturday.
Akron is ranked No. 5, but that is likely to improve after two teams ahead of the Zips failed to win last week. Rankings are crucial in getting a good seed in the NCAA Tournament.
I feel awful about not covering this team more thoroughly. I have two legitimate excuses: 1) I hate to write about teams when I cannot cover them in person. 2) I don't have time to attend soccer games.
Paul Rodgers' new album with Queen is pretty good. "The Cosmos Rocks" comes out tomorrow. I have heard the album already.
A couple of the songs are little kooky, but so is Queen. It certainly confirms that the best singer on earth is 58 years old.
Akron received $1 million for the naming rights to the press tower.
The FirstMerit Foundation's gift coincided with the final steel beam's attachment to the seventh story of the structure.
Picture this: Akron will play at a brand new stadium in 11 months. It still seems surreal to me. But let me share one concern -- Will someone provide a cheap, grassy place to tailgate?
We are eight games into the season, and it's difficult to rule out anyone from the MAC East.
Akron leads the division at 2-2, but four teams are ready to tie the standings at 1-2. Even Kent State (0-3) and Temple (1-3) are alive because a 5-3 conference record is probably good enough to earn a tiebreaker in the East.
A wild game like this can propel a team in the right direction (see Browns @ Bengals, 2007), or it can be another meaningless happening on the path to a lackluster season (see Zips @ Western Michigan, 2007).
With 17 days off, Akron has plenty of time to heal, study film and prepare for the stretch run. In the summer, I predicted that these last four games would truly determine the Zips' fate. When you have four winnable games to finish a MAC season, you have a shot at Detroit.
As the holder and backup punter, Andy Hildreth is probably the least-heralded player on the team.
Eastern Michigan blocked a go-ahead field goal attempt with under a minute to play. Hildreth snatched the ball and dashed for a first down, saving hopes for the postseason which a 1-3 MAC record would have erased.
"It was amazing," J.D. Brookhart told Joe Dunn on the postgame radio show. "Andy is a great kid. I'm always pulling for him."
Hildreth explained: "I just picked the ball up and ran."
Dennis Kennedy then plowed into the endzone after Hildreth's amazing play, and Akron won 42-35. If not for Hildreth, Kennedy would be the star. He ran for 277 yards and three touchdowns.
"This is two great games he has played back to back," Brookhart said. "Those guys up front have taken great pride in the running game."
Akron now sits at 4-4 and 2-2 in the MAC, which is prime position for a late-season surge heading into a 17-day hiatus.
Once again, Akron held a sizable lead in the fourth quarter, but succumbed to the opposition's surge. If not for Hildreth, it would have been the third such game that the Zips dropped.
Once again, Chris Jacquemain committed a turnover to set up a touchdown. Jacquemain passed for 208 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. The quarterback fumbled, however, when an Eagles defender tackled him from behind.
"He had some drops early in the game, but I thought he executed well -- except for that play," Brookhart said. "He has to be a good enough football player to throw that away. It's not a smart play."
I will have grades tomorrow.
Akron must win today.
I don't care how many turnovers there are. I don't care who the running back is. The Zips have to win if they have desires of playing in Detroit.
Eastern Michigan has a spread offense, but the quarterback isn't good enough to run it. The Eagles' defense is good against the pass, but Andrew Johnson and Dennis Kennedy should not have a problem gaining 100 yards each.
I think it will be a close game only because Akron never blows anyone out.
Akron 24, Eastern Michigan 10
Andrew Johnson should be ready for Saturday's game against Eastern Michigan. The Zips took him off the injured list this week.
The burden on Johnson should not be so great this week because Dennis Kennedy is coming off the best game of his career. Still, Kennedy struggled mightily against Kent State, and there is no telling which running back will show up.
Eastern Michigan is similar to that bumble bee that appears 98 percent dead.
You can brush it off your car seat, but there's always that remote chance that the little stinker will bite you. Bowling Green suffered a sting to its MAC hopes two weeks ago.
For the most part, however, Eastern Michigan is a paralytic insect, suffering four blow-out losses and a letdown against Army. The only reason the Eagles' stats aren't so putrid is they beat D-IAA Indiana State 52-0. (413 rushing yards is a nice numerical elixir.)
So as we go into an analysis of Eastern Michigan, keep that grain of salt in your pocket. Anyhow, the Eagles are third in the MAC in rushing offense with 175.4 yards per game. Terrence Blevins is the leading rusher, but he hasn't done much since the slaughter on the Sycamores. Dwayne Priest has earned more of the playing time as the season progressed. He had a big game against Army, running for 118 yards.
EMU quarterback Andy Schmitt has been an inaccurate passer this season. The upside is that he's not passing to the other team either, throwing only two interceptions this season. His primary target is 6-foot Jacory Stone, who averages 62.1 yards per game but has only caught one touchdown pass. As a unit, EMU is 11th in the MAC in pass efficiency.
The Eagles' defense also used the Indiana State game as a stat padder. Regardless, EMU is fourth in the MAC in total defense. Giving up only 143.9 yards per game in the air, the Eagles are best in the MAC in pass defense. The rush defense, however, is 12th in the MAC. EMU gives up more than 200 rushing yards per game. (Only Akron is worse.)
Linebacker Daniel Holtzclaw has fulfilled predictions for All-MAC status, leading the Eagles in tackles (by a lot). Defensive back Ryan Downard has been an asset in pass protect, logging two pass breakups and two interceptions.
On special teams, EMU has putrid punting game with a net average of 29.6, which is worst in the MAC. The team's field goal kicking is more reliable. The punt and kick returners are among the MAC's least effective.
Akron allowed 23 points in the fourth quarter and lost 37-33 to Bowling Green.
Despite a resurrection of Dennis Kennedy, Akron was unable to contain the Falcons when they needed to most. Kennedy rushed for 182 yards on 29 carries, but BG's Anthony Turner was equally effective.
Both teams made mistakes. It appeared as if the last team with the ball would win, but the Zips' final drive ended in a turnover on downs.
I will have grades tomorrow.
Like last week, Andrew Johnson is doubtful to play Saturday against Bowling Green.
The Zips absolutely need their best running back against Bowling Green to move the chains against an improved defense and to keep up with a potent Falcons offense.
There are six games to play. To me, this is the last chance to give DeVoe Torrence a chance. Playing half the season is good experience for a freshman year. Next week is Eastern Michigan. Then Buffalo, Toledo, Temple and Ohio.
Those games are not nearly as important as Saturday. I guarantee both teams will look back on Oct. 11 and say, "Man, that game was huge for determining the MAC East champ." If Johnson cannot play (and it doesn't look promising for the immediate future either), refusing to play Torrence is tantamount to waving a white flag at this season. That whole "faith in Dennis Kennedy" thing is getting really old.
Like I have said, it is far too speculative to look four years into the future and say, "We will be happy DeVoe didn't play in 2008. Now he has an extra season to play." He could suffer an injury. He could leave the university (for grades or otherwise). Akron could have a better running back at that point. You can think of all sorts of reasons why the 2012 Zips might not need Torrence.
But they absolutely need him now.
For weeks, you have seen Ryan Bain's name on the injured list.
Multiple sources have confirmed to me that it is not an injured foot that is keeping him out. Rather, he failed an illegal-substance test provided by the National Center for Drug Free Sport. Bain also lost the appeal.
This was nothing sinister on Bain's part. Apparently, it was just a careless act of consuming a product he bought over the counter at GNC, not knowing the substance was banned.
Bowling Green's season has been an enigma.
The Falcons knocked off a top-25 team on the road (Pitt, who recently beat No. 10 South Florida). On the other end of the spectrum, they lost to perennial MAC loser Eastern Michigan.
Bowling Green beat Pitt 27-17 at Heinz Field mostly thanks to four Panther turnovers, as compared to one from the Falcons. In Bowling Green's defense, the Falcons held Pitt running back LeSean McCoy to only 3.1 yards per carry.
Compare that to Saturday's loss at home to Eastern Michigan, where neither team committed a turnover. It appears the Falcons took the Eagles lightly. Rest assured, however, Bowling Green is better than that. And they will be mad on Saturday.
As you might expect from a Bowling Green team, the Falcons pass more than they run. Quarterback Tyler Sheehan has been efficient, completing 66 percent of his passes and throwing six touchdowns opposed to three interceptions. He has spread the ball well, with only one receiver averaging more than four catches per game. Five-foot-11 Corey Partridge has averaged 50.8 yards per game with only one touchdown all season.
Bowling Green's rushing game is similar to Akron's before the injuries to Alex Allen and Andrew Johnson. The Falcons rely most heavily on Chris Bullock, a power rusher. BG coach Gregg Brandon also calls on Anthony Turner and Willie Geter about five times a game each. They serve as a change of pace from the bruising Bullock.
Linebacker Erique Dozier from Garfield High School leads Bowling Green in tackles with 43. Defensive end Diyral Briggs, a first-team All-MAC selection, has five sacks as a pass-rushing defensive end. Defensive back P.J. Mahone was a second-team All-MAC selection last year after leading the conference with seven interceptions.
One weakness is Bowling Green's redzone defense, on which offenses have scored 14 touchdowns and two field goals in 16 trips inside the 20-yard line.
Another weakness is field goal kicking. The Falcons have made two of seven attempts, although they have converted 15 of 16 extra-point attempts. However, Bowling Green's punter is third in the MAC with an average of 41.3 yards. (Akron's John Stec is seventh with an average of 39 yards.)
If Akron intends to abide by its updated depth chart, expect a Homecoming loss.
Dennis Kennedy, who has notoriously broken down as the season progresses, is still the starting running back. Joe Tuzze and Andrew Johnson follow him.
The other major change is that Andre Jones and Alphonso Owen share a wide receiver job. That boggles my mind. Jones has been one of the league's best receivers. Owen is good for one catch a game, maybe.
One positive: Jalil Carter has moved into a tie for the free safety position with Tyler Campbell. Campbell might be a serviceable MAC starter, but Carter has more upside.
The more I think about it, the better that game was. Even Kent fans have to admit that the fans got a great show. For me, it was certainly the most exciting football game since the MAC Championship in 2005.
Akron fans were great. I sat with the giant AK-Rowdies crowd. They were surprisingly educated about the team (at least 20 of them were putting five fingers in the air to signify the need for Matt Rodgers, who wears No. 5). There was a beach ball, but my key put an end to it. When they patched the ball, Kiel Fleming grabbed it and I went Joe Pesci from Goodfellas on it. (Although we were in Kent, it's not a hippie concert. No beach balls at the Akron-Kent game. That's my policy. I will reimburse the owner if he so pleases.)
I was also impressed with Kent's renovations to Dix Stadium. It looks like a legitimate place to watch college football. Good for KSU.
Kent State coach Doug Martin just can't help himself.
Following Saturday's game, the kook added to my quote collection...
Date: Today Topic: Today's game Quote: ”I’m very proud of our team that they played with class and they showed class after the game, which can’t be said about everybody and I am just really proud of them.” ... "Done with it." Comment: Well, if you can't win the game, you can always claim a sportsmanship victory. Martin didn't back up his wild allegation with any support. He was just "done with it." If Akron's players were jerks, then that's sad. Patrick McManamon's column suggests otherwise. Doug, it is a waste of everyone's time to throw childish barbs out to the media. You sound like a sorer loser than Chuck Amato.
Date: Today Topic: Today's game Quote: ''Statistically, we dominated that football game in every phase.'' Comment: Every phase except that one that actually matters (the score). This guy talks like a total loser. It is a RIVALRY GAME. Have you ever heard a losing coach defend his stats after a rivalry game? Me either. Maybe this is why Martin is 1-4 against Akron. If he uses stats as a crutch, there's no reason for his players to do any different.
Like I said, this guy has an excuse or exaggeration for every situation. If I was a Kent State fan, I would have called for his head months ago. Being a fan of Kent State's rival, I hope he keeps his job for another five years.
If you want to wash the sour taste of Martin's hogwash off your pallet, check out Phil Masturzo's outstanding photos from the game. Wow. That guy is talented.
Akron beat Kent State in double-overtime 30-27 thanks to a fourth-down touchdown that was first ruled incomplete and two clutch field goals by Igor Iveljic.
After three first half interceptions, Kent State took a 21-10 lead into halftime. The Zips clamped down on defense in the second half, allowing only three points the rest of regulation.
The Zips, however, faced their final play with about 1:30 left in the fourth quarter. Akron was losing by four when Deryn Bowser leaped over a Kent State defender to haul in the fade-route pass. The referees called the play incomplete. J.D. Brookhart challenged the play, and it was reversed to give Akron a three-point lead.
The problem was that Julian Edelman still had more than a minute to operate. On fourth-and-9, he scrambled for more than 30 yards and got his team in field goal range. Nate Reed tied the game for KSU, and the game went to overtime.
The teams traded field goals in the first overtime. Iveljic hit a field goal in the second overtime. Reed was poised to do the same from 23 yards, but he shanked it right, and Akron kept the Wagon Wheel.
Despite the win, the Zips played poorly in several facets. Dennis Kennedy ran for only 16 yards on nine carries. Jacquemain's three interceptions each led to Kent State touchdowns.
On first blush, some of the better performances came from Jalil Carter, who played fantastic coverage and made important plays, and Shawn Lemon, who was consistently cutting down on KSU's running game. Also, Iveljic and Bowser made crucial plays to give Akron the win, too.
I will grade the team tomorrow morning. At this point, however, I can't imagine keeping Matt Rodgers and DeVoe Torrence on the bench.
Andrew Johnson has been upgraded to "doubtful" this week.
Last week, he appeared to be in serious trouble. An ambulance took drove onto the field and took him away on a stretcher.
Diagnosed with dual shoulder stingers, Johnson feasibly could take some of the load off Dennis Kennedy. From what I hear, he has already been cleared to play. It's just a question of whether the coaches feel it's worth the risk to use him.
One source is giving me a thumbs down on the likelihood of DeVoe Torrence playing this season. Athletically, he's ready to go. Playing on the scout team, Torrence is plowing through the Zips defense. However, he needs to learn the offense a little better. Also, it's five games into the season and the Zips still have decent running backs who are healthy.
The following players are "out" against Kent State: Alex Allen, Ryan Bain, Sean Fobbs, Evan Laube, Paul Simkovich, Cowles Stewart and Brandon Williams.
Kent State coach Doug Martin has always struck me as being kind of eccentric.
I have seen several quotes in the paper that make me say, "What?!" Laing Kennedy has assured the media that Martin has job security heading into this season. Still, every time he talks to a reporter, it sounds like he's about to get canned. Excuses and exaggerations abound.
I compiled some of them for your enjoyment. Perhaps he can use my compilation as a scrapbook of sorts...
Date: Sept. 9, 2008 Topic: On the new NCAA play clock rule Quote: "I just hate that the game is being shortened because you want your players to decide the game." Comment: ...Because it's someone else's fault when you can't get lined up in time.
Date: Sept. 6, 2008 Topic: On scheduling Quote: ''I don't mind playing BCS teams at all, but I'd love to start off with a I-AA game to start the season. Just to get a better idea of where we are instead of still going into a game like Iowa [State] with a few questions remaining and some uncertainty.'' Comment: Yeah, those I-AA teams really give you an idea of "where you are," considering your entire season is played against I-A teams.
Date: July 30, 2008 Topic: On last season's 3-9 season Quote: ''I think we are really close. I think we were there last year if we don't have the injuries at quarterback." Comment: Yikes. One position can be the difference between 3-9 and a MAC East title??? I would focus more on the defense giving up almost 30 points per game.
Date: Nov. 28, 2007 Topic: On two KSU players receiving All-MAC awards Quote: "Our talent level has greatly improved and these awards validate that fact even more. The best part is that we'll have 19 starters back next season." Comment: Hellooooo, McFly!? You went 3-9 after winning six games the year before. If the talent level is improving, that means something is regressing.
Date: Sept. 2, 2006 Topic: On the spies within KSU's football program Quote: "We're not going to comment on any injuries, period. I'm not doing that anymore. Too many things have been leaked out." Comment: Martin lamented that someone within his program has been leaking information to MAC rivals for the past two years. Funny, this angry quote came after a 44-0 loss to Minnesota. So what does ole' Martin do? He shuts down practice to the media, who could not possibly have been the internal source of leaks. Also, if you talk about injuries, aren't you limiting the amount of leak-able information? KSU needs 007. I'm surprised Martin, in his fury, did not call up Sean Connery to solve this caper. Here's a funny one-liner from the ABJ's column: "Besides, no photographer wanted to play paparazzi for a team that went 1-10 last season."
If you have other nominations, please post them.
By the way, Kent State fans... Before you start whining that Martin is a swell guy, realize that I'm just as hard on J.D. Brookhart. No football coach should get a free pass in the media. They're paid too much for that.