If any Zips fan tells you he knows what will happen this year, he's either a liar, a psychic, a Pollyanna, or a persistent pessimist.
Heading into camp, I wasn't optimistic. I'm still not. But now I recognize the potential the Zips have to make a run at a bowl game.
Aside from beating Gardner-Webb and losing at Temple, the entire schedule is uncertain to me. Can you say for sure that Akron will beat Miami in the last game of the season? Can you rule out a win at Indiana or Kentucky? No and no. It's a middling schedule that will provide an opportunity for Rob Ianello to surpass his dirt-low expectations for Year One.
Let's take a look at each position heading into Saturday's opener:
Quarterback STARTER -- Patrick Nicely looks like a stronger player than when we last watched him. At best, he's the MAC's best passer. At worst, he's average. DEPTH -- You can't ask for a better backup than Matt Rodgers.
Running back STARTERS -- Alex Allen and Nate Burney will share carries. Allen is running at his best, and Ianello is impressed with how Allen has improved his running between the tackles. Burney is a coaches' favorite, although I can't say I've seen so much from him personally. DEPTH -- Allen better stay healthy. That is one of the keys to the season. I haven't seen much from Dale Martin or Larry Dawson this month, so you'll probably see Giorgio Bowers lose his redshirt if an injury occurs.
Wide receiver STARTERS -- Jeremy LaFrance is a steady No. 1 option. Jalil Carter, from all accounts, has All-MAC ability. DEPTH -- Receiver looked like a weakness after Akron lost its top two from last year. I would say this is now a strength. Anthony Meriwether has raw skill. Gary Pride is ready to get his chance. True freshmen Keith Sconiers and Antoine Russell are going to be really good players. The question is whether they are needed this season.
Offensive line STARTERS -- Like the last few years, Akron will have a dependable starting line. Jake Anderson will start at right tackle; Zac Kasparek at right guard; Mike Ward at center; Mitch Straight at left guard; Corey Woods at left tackle. DEPTH -- Here is where the problem lies. Keeping the line healthy is the second key to this season. Akron needs to stay completely healthy. There are only a few guys beyond the starters who I can envision playing this year. Paul Simkovich is one, and the coaches won't say when he'll be back.
Defensive line STARTERS -- You have to like Shawn Lemon and Hasan Hazime on the ends rushing the passer, with Almondo Sewell and Dan Marcoux inside clogging the running game. This is a strong line, for sure. It will get stronger when Sean Fobbs returns from injury, too. DEPTH -- But this is the most exciting part... Akron can easily establish a third string at each position. The second string ends are probably Fobbs/Lemon and Deni Odofin. You are likely to see Joe Rash, Cowles Stewart and James Harvey at tackle. Ianello intends to have the second string rotate in and out, giving the starting linemen an extra dose of energy.
Linebacker STARTERS -- Few linebacking corps in the midwest can compare to the unit of Brian Wagner, Mike Thomas and Troy Gilmer. They're smart, athletic and make huge plays. DEPTH -- But they must stay healthy. The second string is quite thin. Ianello will call upon sophomore Matt Little and true freshman Jamar Williams. Redshirt freshman Blake Fraley might also be pressed into service. Along with offensive line, this is the other position that Ianello wishes he had more depth.
Safety STARTERS -- Josh Richmond and Doug Richardson have combined for 15 career tackles. Ianello says he's comfortable with his starters. These guys have a lot to prove before I'll be at ease. DEPTH -- Akron has Jared Province and Kevin Davis in case the starters don't produce. Province is a sophomore who sat out most of last year with an injury. Davis, a juco transfer, had a quiet junior season in 2009.
Cornerback STARTERS -- Manley Waller and Diamond Weaver have been the clear starters since the spring. Waller will be responsible to cover the opponent's top receiver. I trust he will do a good job. I need to see a lot more out of Weaver before I have faith in his coverage ability. DEPTH -- Akron has a slew of young corners to jump in, but they have little experience. The list includes sophomore Marvase Byrd and freshmen Emmanuel Lartey and Randy Greenwood.
Special teams KICKER -- Igor Iveljic, T.J. Marchese and Branko Rogovic are all candidates. Ianello said he might follow his predecessor's lead and have one guy kickoff and one guy placekick. Placekicking is the third key to this season. Akron must have a dependable field goal option. PUNTER -- This is Zack Campbell's job. Who can forget his 76-yard blast at Syracuse last year? RETURNER -- LaFrance will do most of the returning, but I'd like to see Weaver back there, too. LONG SNAPPER -- Sophomore Adam Steiner will play the Brian Flaherty position for the rest of his career.
Akron has never beaten a BCS school when it is favored to win.
It's true that oddsmakers have only picked the Zips once (vs. Indiana), but that is one way to positively spin the line against Syracuse. The spread is Orange minus 8 or 8.5.
Akron easily beat Virginia Commonwealth in an exhibition match last night, 3-1.
It was the men's debut for the renovated Lee Jackson Field. The most interesting part of the match occurred 1:28 into the game. Per GoZips.com:
As I've been writing since the spring, Rob Ianello's offense is ideal for sophomore quarterback Patrick Nicely.
Combine that fact with Nicely's strong camp and it wasn't a difficult decision for the coaches, who named Nicely the starter today over junior Matt Rodgers.
"As we evaluated the body of work, (Nicely) got far ahead of Matt," Ianello said. "We believe in both of them, but the team needs one quarterback."
Ianello has been silent about his passers until today, when he repeatedly stressed the ability of Nicely to make all of the throws in the Zips' new pro-style offense.
"I think the offense really fits Patrick very well," Ianello said.
Nicely responded by telling reporters that he is thrilled to be one of only 120 starting quarterbacks in Division I football. Ianello said he also noticed Nicely picking up a better comfort level.
"Obviously, he feels more comfortable now that he's been named the starter," the coach said. "He can say it's his huddle."
Rodgers is a solid player. Akron is lucky to have a backup with game experience, present ability and upside.
Still, this isn't really "news" to Zips fans. Nicely's selection was such a foregone conclusion that a joker on ZipsNation.org posted a headline stating that Rodgers won the job -- a practical joke.
The greater question might be: Who is blocking for them?
Tonight, Ianello listed his starting offensive line. Jake Anderson will start at right tackle; Zac Kasparek at right guard; Mike Ward at center; Mitch Straight at left guard; Corey Woods at left tackle.
So are you comfortable, coach?
"Comfortable with the depth? No. Comfortable with the guys who will play? Yes."
Fortunately, offensive line injuries are relatively rare. Akron will get Paul Simkovich back from his injury soon. Pat McCloskey is a junior who can contribute.
The cornerstones of the line are Woods and Ward. They have been best friends since freshman year -- when the two roomed together at the Brown Street Dormitory. That building, since demolished, sat on the current site of the FirstMerit Press Tower at InfoCision Stadium.
Their bond is likely to strengthen the line as a whole.
"It's the culture of the offensive line," Ward said. "They're always a tightly knit group. We rely on each other. If one guy screws up, the whole play gets blown up."
Woods and Ward have played every single game after sitting out their true freshman year -- 36 games in all. Kris Kasparek -- brother of Zac -- currently holds Akron's record for games played in a career with 50. Woods and Ward could tie that mark by taking Akron to the MAC Championship and a bowl game.
While today was all about the quarterback, it is the five guys in front of him who need to be at their best for Akron to have a chance at putting Woods and Ward in the Zips' history books.
I watched about an hour of practice today. A bulk of it was dedicated to special teams. One thing I found unusual was that two true freshman quarterbacks -- Dylan Potts and Adam Charles -- were on the kick return teams.
Diamond Weaver looked explosive returning kicks. I couldn't really get a feel for Jeremy LaFrance because the senior didn't seem to exert his best motor. Ironically, LaFrance put a lick on Weaver once the team moved into 11-on-11 drills. LaFrance caught a pass and trucked over Weaver, a cornerback.
Nicely found freshman receiver Keith Sconiers for a couple long gains. They seem to have nice chemistry. I'll bet you'll see at least 2000 passing yards from Nicely to Sconiers before their careers are over.
On the post-practice sprints, freshman receiver Antoine Russell again made an effort to be the fastest player. Akron lacks proven talent at receiver, but the future looks bright.
The No. 1 ranked University of Akron men's soccer team will host VCU at 7:30 tonight in an exhibition match at newly renovated Lee Jackson Field.
The Zips are the top-ranked team in the country according to polls conducted by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and College Soccer News. UA posted a 23-1-1 record last season and finished national runner-up to Virginia.
UA returns eight of 11 starters – including Hermann Trophy candidates Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Darlington Nagbe and Kofi Sarkodie. Ampaipitakwong is senior midfielder, Nagbe is a junior forward and Sarkodie is a junior defender.
Ampaipitakwong, Sarkodie and junior midfielder Michael Nanchoff are tri-captains this season for coach Caleb Porter.
Nagbe is the team's top returning goal scorer from a year ago after netting 10 in 2009. Ampaipitakwong, contributed eight goals and five assists last season. Sarkodie, senior Chris Korb and sophomores Zarek Valentin and Chad Barson are also back for a defense that played in front of sophomore goalkeeper David Meves and recorded 19 shutouts in 25 matches, the second-highest, single-season total in NCAA history. The unit’s goals-against-average (0.27) and shutout percentage (.760) were third all-time.
Sophomore midfielders Ben Speas and Scott Caldwell, and junior defender Matt Dagilis should also see playing time.
The Zips 2010 recruiting class is ranked No. 2 in the country, according to College Soccer News. The recruits are junior Michael Balogun and freshmen Reinaldo Brenes, Richard Diaz, Gabe Genovesi, Perry Kitchen, Darren Mattocks, Andrian McAdams, Martin Ontiveros and McKauly Tulloch.
Former Zips now Rams
VCU is located in Richmond, Vga. The Rams are led by first-year head coach Dave Giffard, who spent the previous four seasons as an assistant on Porter’s staff.
The Rams’ roster features two former Zips, junior goalkeeper Josh Pantazelos and sophomore forward Yoram Mwila.
University of Akron women's soccer player Katie Wise has been named the Mid-American Conference Offensive Co-Player of the Week.
Wise, a sophomore, scored three goals in the Zips season-opening 3-0 win over Illinois State this past Friday before a crowd of around 1,000 in the inaugural game at the newly renovated Lee Jackson Field.
It is the second hat trick in the history of the UA women's soccer program.
Senior Leigh Cullen and freshmen Kelly DeNiro and Paige Foughty assisted on Wise's goals. Junior goalkeeper Jeny Wolbert recorded the shutout.
‘‘It feels great to be recognized individually, but it was my team that put me in such great situations,’’ Wise said.
The Zips host Morehead State at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The team elected three captains today, coach Rob Ianello announced on Twitter.
Linebacker Mike Thomas is the defensive captain. Lineman Mike Ward and running back Alex Allen are co-captains on offense. Each player is a senior.
Akron opens the season in 11 days at home against Syracuse at 6 p.m.
Akron wrapped up training camp with a 60-play scrimmage in which the defense was sturdy.
Camp concludes without Rob Ianello having chosen a starting quarterback. Here is Tom Gaffney's story, and here is the GoZips.com recap.
I plan to attend another practice next week, as the Zips will soon begin preparing for the Syracuse game. One recent storyline I need to address is how the offensive line will look early in the season.
As camp draws to a close, Akron players experienced more of a gameday atmosphere today. Some spectators sat in the stands. The blimp flew overhead. The band attended and played the fight song.
I dropped by for the tail end. Here are my notes:
The offensive line is a position that a lot of us, me included, took for granted. With several returning starters, it was a given that the Zips line would be solid. Injuries have complicated the situation. Mike Ward was injured for part of camp. Paul Simkovich is still out. Coach Rob Ianello has not been able to properly assess the unit as a result. The coach has been happy to tell me his starters at every position, but on the line, he is very uncertain. "The one thing we haven't had with the line is continuity," Ianello said.
During spring, the line had a problem with the snap to Patrick Nicely. The centers seemed to have corrected that issue, so that's one positive. But the coaching staff has concerns about the depth here. The Zips will need to get some production out of freshmen Joe Pachuta and Joe Vidovic and sophomores Mitch Straight and Adam Bice.
The only other position that is troubling Ianello regarding depth is linebacker. Although he has plenty of quality with Brian Wagner, Mike Thomas and Troy Gilmer, he is quite low on quantity.
One reason for the shortage of linebackers is position changes. Sean Fobbs was a productive linebacker last year before being switched to defensive end for his senior season. Fobbs has been injured during camp, so he won't start immediately at his new position. (The status and location of Fobbs' injury is classified information. I asked Ianello and he said it's on a "need to know basis." My best guess is aliens, until the coach corrects me with the truth.)
The defensive line has depth with or without Fobbs. Starting at tackle will be Almondo Sewell and Dan Marcoux. The ends are Shawn Lemon and Hasan Hazime. Joe Rash, Cowles Stewart, James Harvey and several others will easily provide depth. "I think we'll be able to establish a two-deep (rotation) where people don't have to play every down," Ianello said.
I haven't really touched on special teams much. Like his predecessor, Ianello is toying with the idea of using Branko Rogovic for kickoffs and Igor Iveljic for place kicking. That decision is not final. He might just pick one. Zach Campbell is the punter. Jeremy LaFrance will be the primary returner on punts and kicks. He is next in a long line of successful Akron returners (David Harvey, Domenik Hixon, etc.).
I only caught a few plays of practice. Matt Rodgers was manning the quarterback position. He threw three unimpressive balls. Two should have been interceptions. I think Rodgers would make a decent West Coast style quarterback, but he might not have the arm to make some of the throws in a pro-style offense.
I plan to attend another practice sometime next week.
I came out to watch practice today. I spoke with Manley Waller and Alex Allen.
Waller has always been thought of as a natural athlete. His mother, Gwen Torrence, was a world-class track star. His father, Manley Waller Sr., was an All-American track athlete at the University of Georgia.
The junior cornerback learned this summer that that perception might be holding him back. Defensive coordinator Curt Mallory told Waller that his athleticism will only take him so far. He must focus on the fundamentals, such as exerting the proper body motions in going from a backpedal to coverage.
Waller brings these new skills to camp, hoping to earn All-MAC honors and the status of a shut-down cornerback.
"If I can take away a team's primary threat, it makes it a lot easier for the coaches to call plays," he said.
Waller claims he has never been in better physical shape. He believes the entire team is in its best shape ever. Rather than spending the summer in their hometowns like usual, Waller says "everybody" was in Akron working.
Pass protection will be critical for Akron's defense. If the secondary holds up, Akron's talented front seven can be more aggressive.
Coach Rob Ianello has already solidified three of the four starting positions. Waller and fellow junior Diamond Weaver will play cornerback. Sophomore Josh Richmond will start at safety, along with either junior Doug Richardson or sophomore Jared Province.
I asked Ianello if he felt comfortable with his secondary. He paused before saying "yes." But he added a caveat: "They've got to get better. They've given up some big plays."
Ianello also mentioned two true freshman who could see time at safety -- Anthony Holmes and ShelDon Miller. Holmes "has a good nose for the ball," said Waller, who also played as a true freshman. Holmes made a quick impact by pulling down three interceptions in the first two days of camp. Miller, meanwhile, has shown strong fundamentals and a good attitude.
Overall, it's a relatively young unit. As I spoke with Waller, I got the sense he will be a great leader for the group.
"We just have to keep getting 2 percent better every day. That's our motto," Waller said. "Pretty soon, we will be 100 percent."
Alex Allen has an undeniable resume for team captain.
He has been in the program for five (going on six) years. He is the starter in a featured position. He works hard and can speak up when the time is appropriate.
Oh, and he's a college graduate.
Allen graduated after this summer session with a degree in business organizational communications. His sixth year of eligibility will allow him to delve into a master's program in exercise science.
Endurance has been a hurdle to Allen's career. He has suffered two major injuries. A running back with brittle bones or bad knees is like a boxer with a glass jaw. The question is: Has Allen been the victim of horrendous luck, or does his body not hold up to big hits like other running backs?
The NCAA awarded Allen a sixth year of eligibility. The way Allen spent his time waiting for the decision is a great illustration of Allen's character. He kept working.
"I was just out practicing every day, and they never told me to go home," Allen said.
Allen will share carries with a former high school rival. Nate Burney attended Cardinal Mooney High School, which pitted him against Allen's Ursuline High School annually. Burney was a junior when Allen was a senior.
"We didn't like each other in high school," Allen said. "Now we're like best friends."
Burney brings a different running style to the offense. At 5-foot-6 and 170 pounds, Burney is six inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Allen.
"I think he's a great back," Allen said of Burney. "He's shifty. He's hard to find in the hole."
Regardless, most fans understand that the offense will rely heavily on Allen returning to the form he showed in 2008, when Allen trampled Syracuse for 103 yards. Allen's leadership is also a big plus.
After his graduation ceremony, Ianello allowed Allen a chance to address his teammates. The running back pulled out his Bible and quoted Ecclesiastes 9:11, which reads:
The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all
Allen provided that scripture in order to preach endurance to his teammates. "It's going to be a long season," he said. "You're not going to win the MAC Championship -- which is our goal -- in the first game."
Choosing that passage shows wisdom. There are dozens of motivational quotes in the Bible. No doubt Allen has those memorized, too. But he has been around for a long time. He knows that every team leaves camp energized. He recognizes that every team experiences hardship.
Only the team that endures that plays in December.
Ianello ended tonight's practice early. It concluded immediately after Patrick Nicely beat the defense deep with a perfect strike to Jeremy LaFrance for a touchdown. The coach was happy with today's "good productive work."
As camp winds up, Ianello wants to do more 11-on-11 practicing. The team ran 85 plays yesterday. Fans will get a chance to see a scrimmage on Saturday at 10 a.m. at InfoCision Stadium.
A Temple blogger interviewed me on my thoughts of the upcoming season. Scroll down a little to see my answers.
I plan to attend another practice on Thursday. After Saturday, the team will begin preparing for Syracuse.
I attended practice today -- or at least the last 15 minutes of it. (I fell asleep watching the PGA Tournament. As big of a golfer as I am, I acknowledge that TV golf's best attribute is a cure for insomnia.) Watching practice wasn't why I showed up, though. I wanted to talk with a couple of important young players.
Wagner intrigues me as a guy who isn't really a physical specimen. As the featured defender in Jim Fleming's defense, he stepped in and provided stats unseen since John Mackey -- as a freshman. "Going in, I really never had a plan," Wagner explained. "I tried to show the older guys I can play."
And he did. He earned a spot on the All-MAC Second Team and logged the second-most tackles in the conference, averaging 11 per game. "I just tried to hustle and have a nose for the ball," Wagner said.
An optimist, and perhaps a realist, sees Wagner as a sure-fire stud for the next three years. A pessimist would point to Kevin Grant, another linebacker who starred under Fleming as a freshman and who earned a spot on the Freshman All-American team. Grant had a good career at Akron, but he did not continue to accelerate after his first year, like fans hoped he would.
Coach Rob Ianello probably falls into the latter camp of thinking. He recognizes that Wagner is a great asset, but he is looking to make Wagner into an even better player. After watching tape of Wagner's first season, Ianello saw a player who could improve in pass defense and who needed to add some weight.
Wagner will start at middle linebacker, flanked by Mike Thomas and Troy Gilmer. After position changes by Sean Fobbs (DE) and Will Fleming (TE), Akron's once-ironclad linebacking corps can use a little better depth.
Ianello will call on two young players for some depth. Matt Little, a sophomore, is one. True freshman Jamar Williams also has impressed coaches and players with his great attitude and work ethic. He has made a lot of plays during camp, Wagner said. Ianello listed Williams as one of the true freshmen who is most likely to play.
Wagner, like all the Zips, is hoping for a revival season. Last year was a rollercoaster of great highs (i.e., beating Kent State, which Wagner said was "awesome") and deep lows. Wagner says he doesn't have personal goals for this year.
"We just need to win," he said. "I want to give Akron a team to be proud of."
If there is one constant in the MAC, it's that you have to pass well to win.
Akron has been inconsistent in that department since Luke Getsy graduated. Nicely showed off a strong arm and poise beyond his true freshman status in 2010.
If you're buying stock in players, it's time to empty the account into shares of Nicely. He is getting married this summer. It's a perfect love story. The groom: A 6-foot-4 smart kid with a rocket arm. The bride: The pro-style offense. The two had never consummated their relationship.
For years, people have told Nicely that he would fit best in a pro-style offense. In high school, he ran the spread. As a freshman, he operated J.D. Brookhart's "multiple" look offense that was basically a spread offense, as well.
Now that Ianello has come with the same offense that led Tom Brady and Brady Quinn to success, Nicely should be able to fully exploit his physical gifts.
But there have been growing pains. In the spring, it was excruciating to watch Nicely biff snaps from under center. Before the spring, Nicely had never taken a snap from under center. After months of fine-tuning, Nicely thinks he has nixed his problem.
Nicely is self-aware. He knew he had other attributes to strengthen, too. He worked on his footwork and timing with the receivers. Mechanically, he improved his balance when throwing, which he believes will reduce the balls that sail over their intended targets.
The Zips offense also must overcome the loss of Andre Jones and Deryn Bowser -- two top-tier receivers. Jeremy LaFrance showed his ability to be a No. 1 or 2 receiver last season. Jalil Carter is one player whom Nicely believes can surprise the conference.
Carter "is just plain and simple a freak athlete," Nicely said. "Once he gets his ball skills down . . . You're going to know his number by the end of the year."
Junior Gary Pride will likely play a role at receiver, along with sophomore Anthony Meriwether. If Akron needs depth or perhaps a spark at receiver, Ianello will not be reluctant to call upon true freshmen Keith Sconiers or Antoine Russell. Ianello mentioned Sconiers, Russell and Williams (the linebacker) when I asked him which of the true freshmen were likely to play.
There might be a question as to whether Nicely himself will start in 2010. Ianello said he has assessed both Nicely and fellow competitor Matt Rodgers, but the coach declined to say much more.
Nicely desires to get Akron back to a bowl game in 2010. Cognizant that a winning MAC team needs a sturdy quarterback, Nicely personally desires to earn at least Honorable Mention All-MAC honors.
Predicting the Zips to finish last in the division, the media doesn't share Nicely's confidence.
"They're basing their stuff off last year," Nicely said. "They're not in camp. They don't see how hard we're working. If we don't get to a bowl game with this kind of talent . . ."
-- Today was Akron's eleventh practice out of 30. The team focused on red zone offense today. "Although the offense made some plays, there were too many turnover situations," Ianello said. The coach has been very positive about the team's work ethic during these hot evening practices.
-- There is no question camp has a different feel this season than the prior four that I have covered. But (and this is a big "but") the question is whether this positive motivation can persist through a losing streak or through a string of injuries. New coaches always bring new energy. As I wrote a few months ago, the question is whether Ianello can maintain this level of focus and energy.
-- If you're champing at the bit to see Akron football, your opportunity will come next Saturday (the 21st). The Zips will open up InfoCision Stadium for a scrimmage from 10 a.m. to noon. The ZipsFest inflatables (etc.) will be there. Afterward, there will be a "meet and greet" and autograph session. Kudos to "Coach I" for another positive step in connecting with fans.
Men's soccer Women's soccer
The women's team played an exhibition game on the newly renovated Lee Jackson Field today. The Zips won, 1-0. Beforehand, I snapped some shots of the construction progress.
Showing the west endzone. The scoreboard has been moved from the northwest corner to the location you see.
I wanted to give you a look at the drainage system surrounding the entire field. The turf look immaculate. I can only compare it to the fairways at Firestone Country Club.
This is the east endzone. I think it was a brilliant plan to have the bleachers overlooking the bern, where the AK-Rowdies will dwell. That should be a nice place to sit for fans who want the rowdiest experience, but also want to be seated.
The south sideline is where the most drastic action is taking place. The old bleachers were ripped out (and split up and placed in the end zones). The old press box remains in place, but the field was moved to the northwest to provide room for construction of a brand new press box atop the bleachers. Underneath the bleachers are two team rooms. As you see, there are three big "steps" at the bottom. That is where the chairback seats will be located.
Akron added another forward to the mix with the transfer of Brian Walsh, a 6-foot-4 forward who played five minutes a game in his sophomore year at Xavier.
Playing behind NBA draftee Jordan Crawford, Walsh did not get the playing time he hoped for. He felt comfortable with Keith Dambrot, who recruited him three years earlier.
Walsh had 11 scholarship offers coming out of Moon High School in Coraopolis, Pa., from schools in the MAC, Atlantic-10, ACC and Big Ten. His two finalists were Xavier and Maryland.
Akron still has another scholarship to fill for 2011 because point guard Dylan Ennis reopened his recruitment, although he insists that the Zips are still in play.
Eleven bloggers who follow MAC teams, including me, voted on their predictions for the conference outcome.
While the regular media picked Akron last in the division, the bloggers were slightly more gracious. The bloggers picked Akron sixth, in front of Miami. That might be because of my fifth place vote for the Zips, which got the title of "homer." The bloggers predictably went for NIU and Temple as division champions.
Click here for the detailed results.
I plan to report from another practice this week. Maybe Thursday.
I dropped by practice today and spoke with coach Rob Ianello. My notes follow...
This was the fourth of 30 practices in August for the Zips. They won't be in full pads until tomorrow.
I made a conclusion while watching. Here are the premises that led to it: 1) Patrick Nicely looks great. 2) Nicely is a pro-style pocket passer. 3) Matt Rodgers looked just OK in pocket passing situations, like you normally see when players don't wear pads. 4) Rodgers' greatest asset (his scrambling) is jeopardized by his serious knee injury. 5) Ianello runs a pro-style offense. ... Now here is my conclusion: Nicely will have to really blow it this month not to be the starter.
Nicely hit Jeremy LaFrance in stride on a beautiful post pass. By the end, LaFrance went for about 50 yards. Not surprisingly, Ianello is happy with LaFrance's work so far. The question will be, can a few other receivers step up to give Nicely other options. Ianello mentioned that Jalil Carter and Gary Pride also are part of his top three. "Carter is a better player than he was in the spring," the coach added. Anthony Meriwether will play, too, but he was set back by a hamstring injury in the spring.
On the injury front, there is one important piece of news: Broderick Alexander is out for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon. He will redshirt. In the spring, he had a freak injury to his pectoral muscle while lifting weights. Having just recovered from that, Alexander tore the Achilles before camp began while running. He started the later games last season as a true freshman.
Luckily for Akron, Alex Allen is churning at top capacity. Nate Burney, too, is earning praise from Ianello. Allen broke through the defense on two long runs while I was there. Burney and Larry Dawson also had carries deep into the secondary.
Mike Ward (OL) and James Harvey (DL) both had their knees cleaned out recently. They should be back soon, though.
Tight end Rhyne Ladrach looked good today. He caught two balls in traffic. The sophomore appears to have good hands. Akron hasn't had much tight end production since the Merce Poindexter/Kris Kasparek years. I was surprised to see that Will Fleming has been moved from linebacker to tight end.
It was another tight end who was involved in the last (and most fascinating) play of the day. Jon Root, a freshman, found himself wide open. He caught the ball 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. He ran for 30 more yards until a cadre of defenders brought him down like a wildebeest on the African plains. Root coughed up the ball and the group of defenders aimlessly tried to scoop it up (rather than just falling on it, like TV analysts always preach). This gave freshman fullback Austin Bailey a chance to catch up to the pack. He snatched the ball and rumbled to the goal line before he was tripped up. Coach Ianello pointed to this play as an example of execution needing to tighten up. Today "wasn't as crisp as I had hoped for," he said.
On the whole, Ianello has been "impressed" with team effort. He has liked the front seven on defense, as well as the running game.
Three players who signed in February are not here. Zach D'Orazio (QB), Marvin Staten (RB), and Carl Washington (DB) will not enroll until January. The NCAA gives players five years to play four from the moment they enroll full-time in college. By not enrolling until January, these three players delay the clock from ticking.
Four scholarship players will take their place. One is Antoine Russell, a true freshman receiver who signed late. I don't know much about him, except that he made it a mission to be the fastest in post-practice sprints. The second is Jawon Chisholm, a 6-foot running back from Harrisburg, Pa. Chisholm did not have any other scholarship offers. Like Russell, he signed later. The third is Marquelo Suel, a 6-3 juco wide receiver who signed this June. Suel, whom Scout.com calls "one of the more explosive juco wideouts in the country," has three years left to play two.
The fourth is the most intriguing. Oren Wilson is a defensive tackle transfer from Michigan State. He started 12 games last season for the Spartans. He will have one year remaining after he sits out per transfer rules in 2010. He is transferring because of an incident before Michigan State's 2009 bowl game that landed him 21 days of jail time. This article suggests that Wilson wanted to return, but Spartans coach Mike Dantonio said otherwise.
Last month, I got on Ianello's case for not connecting with fans. He took a great step in the right direction by starting a Twitter account that he updates quite frequently. Click here to view it.
I plan to report from a few more practices in the coming weeks. In the mean time...
The University of Akron men's soccer team is ranked No. 1 in the nation according to a preseason top-30 poll conducted by College Soccer News.
UA will face six opponents in the CSN top-20 this season with four ranked in the top-10. The Zips will face all but one of those opponents away. They host No. 5 Tulsa on Sept. 24.
According to College Soccer News: "The Zips impressed everyone last year. Expect more of the same in 2010. Don't fret about personnel losses. The backline of Kofi Sarkodie, Chris Korb, Zarek Valentin and Chad Barson is the best in the country. David Meves is stellar in goal. Forward Darlington Nagbe and midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong can run and gun with anyone."
The Zips will officially kick off their training schedule on Monday, Aug. 16. They return eight of 11 starters from a team that matched an NCAA single-season record with 23 consecutive victories a year ago and advanced to the national championship game for the second time in school history.
College Soccer News Preseason Top 30 Poll:
1. Akron, 2. North Carolina*, 3. Maryland, 4. Virginia, 5. Tulsa*, 6. UC Santa Barbara, 7. Wake Forest*, 8. UCLA, 9. Monmouth, 10. Ohio State*, 11. Boston College, 12. St. John's, 13. South Florida, 14. Stanford, 15. Duke, 16. Penn State*, 17. UNC Wilmington, 18. Northwestern, 19. Michigan State*, 20. UC Irvine, 21. Indiana, 22. Connecticut, 23. Portland, 24. Louisville, 25. Charlotte, 26. Bucknell, 27. Princeton, 28. Sacramento State, 29. Green Bay, 30. Evansville.
* indicates a 2010 UA regular-season opponent
Ampaipitakwong, Nagbe and Sarkodie honored
Ampaipitakwong, Nagbe and Sarkodie were named to the College Soccer News Preseason All-America Team.
UA's three representatives were the most by any school in the nation. Just four other schools – Maryland, North Carolina, Tulsa and Virginia – had more than one player honored. UA will travel to Chapel Hill on Sept. 3 to face the Tar Heels in the first game of the regular season before hosting Tulsa on Sept. 24 at Lee Jackson Field in a rematch of last year's NCAA quarterfinal game.
Ampaipitakwong, Nagbe and Sarkodie each achieved All-American status a year ago and may all be in the running for the Missouri Athletic Conference Hermann Trophy – considered the highest individual honor in collegiate soccer.
Ampaipitakwong (first team) and Nagbe (second team) were named to the NSCAA All-America Team in 2009 while Sarkodie was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team after posting a 4.0 cumulative GPA as a microbiology major.
Ampaipitakwong, a senior midfielder, was the catalyst of the nation's top-ranked attack a year ago and became just the 10th player in the history of the men's soccer program to earn NSCAA All-America honors in multiple years as a first-team selection in 2009 and a third-team honoree in 2008. The senior midfielder was also a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy a year ago after recording eight goals, including four game-winners, and five assists for the Zips.
Nagbe, a junior forward, was also dangerous in the final third in 2009 with 10 goals, including five game-winners, and three assists. He recorded the first hat trick of his career in one of Akron's most impressive wins of the regular season, a 5-1 route of Michigan in Ann Arbor last October, earning him a spot on national teams of the week from Soccer America, College Soccer News and Top Drawer Soccer.
Sarkodie, a junior defender, was a key component on one of the most dominating defensive units in NCAA history in 2009. He helped guide the Zips to 19 shutouts, which was the second-highest, single-season total in NCAA history. UA's goals-against-average of 0.27 and shutout percentage of .760 were the third-best, single-season marks in NCAA history.
Sarkodie also scored a pair of goals and had seven assists.