The University of Akron football team find themselves in a situation that’s been missing for the past few seasons – people possess expectations of what the Zips should do in the upcoming season.
As in they are expected to contend for the Mid-American Conference East title this year. Is that a burden that’s too much to bear? For a team that won four of its last five games to end the 2013 campaign generating some momentum toward the coming season, no it isn’t. Part of that comes courtesy of the schedule that the Zips have to navigate to get through the season.
The non-conference schedule (Howard, Penn State, Marshall and Pitt) finds them facing opponents with a combined 30-21 record. Yes, it’s not a powder puff calendar, but it should provide the team some toughness heading into a MAC schedule (Eastern Michigan, Miami, Ohio, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Massachusetts and Kent State) where their opponents were a combined 42-59.
However, if the Zips are to make that significant leap that everyone expects, there are questions to answer. Here are the five questions as they prepare to open camp Aug. 1.
Will Kyle Pohl make the needed leap to take the Zips to that next level? Zips fans didn’t see the real Pohl last year, primarily because he battled a lingering ankle injury for most of the season. Heading into his junior year, this is where he should improve significantly on his 56 percent completion percentage and a touchdown-to-interception ratio that didn’t light the world afire. What was missing from Pohl’s game? His ability to run – for obvious reasons.
Can two sophomore wideouts Fransohn Bickley and Mykel Traylor-Bennett give Pohl the targets he needs? This is less about Bickley who was the team’s freshman of the year last season. Traylor-Bennett has a big frame and speed and he needs to use it this season. Bickley? He’s a small stick of dynamite listed at a generous 5-foot-6, 138-pounds, just waiting to explode. He came close several times last season. He possesses the kind of speed and the hands that break games open, coming very close to doing just that last year. This year Zips fans should scream “more please.”
Can that defensive line replace a stud like Nico Caponi? Toughness like he had doesn’t come easy. How tough was Caponi (please insert cliché here)? He played much of the second half of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Nose guard Cody Grice matched his intensity, but it’s always a plus when a team has two guys that mean plugging the middle.
Will the coaching staff be able to fill holes in an untested secondary? Two new players will take spots at cornerback as the Zips lost Malachi Freeman, their shutdown player at that position. At the safeties Bre Ford, who has shown promise, will have to step up given that a teammate expected to play a significant role appears to no longer be on the roster.
Can the linebackers improve? Justin March and Jatavis Brown may very well be one of the best linebacking tandems in the MAC. Will they continue to elevate their play? Look for C.J. Mizell to make a bigger impact now that he knows the system. As for March and Brown? No worries there.