Here is your sure-fire bet of the season: Akron's kicking game will be the most improved of any in the nation.
Unfortunately, I could be right, and the kicking game conceivably could remain the worst in the conference.
I don't really want to reminisce about how the Zips missed six of 36 extra point attempts in 2006. Don't remind me of their eight missed field goals on 14 attempts.
Igor Iveljic was recruited to assume the kicking responsibilities. He was top-10 in the nation coming out of Mentor High School. Everything looked great for the Zips' kicking game... Until he injured his back. Until he beat the daylights out of a fellow student.
These events made some cynical fans think: "Ohhhh. Now I see why a top-10 kicker came to Akron."
Meanwhile, Matt Domonkos, a transfer from Minnesota, battled a platoon of demons in his head. Coach J.D. Brookhart went scrambling to the soccer team to find Jon McClain, who performed less terribly.
Akron's punting was in the lowest third in the MAC, but any concern about punting in 2006 was akin to swatting a house fly from your face while a cobra is wrapping is fangs around your calf. Kick coverage also was just so-so.
But don't you worry, Brookhart has a plan for each facet of special teams. He brought in a few more place kickers to spring practice. Jamie Ortiz comes from Woodridge High School in Cuyahoga Falls. Branko Rogovic is a transfer from Toledo. Andy Hildreth is a converted punter. Of course, Iveljic (redshirt freshman) and Domonkos (senior) will return as well. The latter two are listed as a tie atop the depth chart.
During the spring, Domonkos looked a lot stronger. There is no better evidence of that than when Brookhart trotted him out to attempt a 56-yarder in the second spring game. Iveljic looked a little shaky, but he also was still coming off his back injury. I'm pretty sure the job is Iveljic's, but he just need to earn it.
John Stec wasn't an awful punter his first year, but coaches certainly should expect some improvement. I didn't get to see much punting during the spring, but I'm confident Stec will only get stronger the next three years.
Kick coverage, on the other hand, became a little more challenging. A new NCAA rule dictates kickoffs will come from the 30-yard line, rather than the 35. That means almost every kick will be playable. Credit Brookhart for spending the final 15 minutes of almost every spring practice to hone the skills necessary for kick coverage.
Indeed, Brookhart realizes special teams cost Akron a lot last season. He took on the responsibility of coaching them himself. And the Zips should be very much improved because of it.
Even a ton of improvement, however, doesn't guarantee the Zips a top-notch kicking game.