In the past 12 months, I have left InfoCision Stadium six times thinking, "What a waste of my Saturday."
If you were trying out the Akron Zips for the first time, it would be equivalent of a first date that talks nonstop about ex's, doesn't even pretend to pay attention when you're talking, intentionally orders the most expensive meal on the menu, and caps the night off with an "I love you."
You ain't calling that person back.
Similarly, Akron is continuing to push away fans. The crowds are getting smaller and smaller. They don't offer entertainment, just a metal seat for three hours.
Last night, 12,333 fans came to the "Homecoming Game" -- a night where multiple alumni groups strive to bring their members back to campus.
Those people have every right to check the "No thanks" box on next year's invitation. The product that Akron offered its fans was awful.
Akron competed for a little while. Mid-way through the second quarter, though, Northern Illinois scored three touchdowns within four minutes, capped by a TAINT (Touchdown After INT).
I have seen enough of this team to know the TAINT would finish off the Zips. And it did. Final score: NIU 50, Your Akron Zips 14.
But enough about TAINTs. NIU is a really, really good team. In the seven years I have followed the Zips, I haven't seen a single Akron team that could beat those Huskies, whom you will see playing for the MAC Championship in Detroit.
Last night reminded me a lot of the 2004 matchup between the Zips and Huskies in DeKalb, Ill. Charlie Frye's team looked way overmatched, and the Zips lost 49-19. Garrett Wolfe averaged 10 yards per carry.
That loss sent the Zips to a seemingly hopeless 1-4. It wasn't hopeless for the seniors on that team, though. They refused to let their teammates play lackluster football like that. The Zips won five games in a row after the loss to NIU. By the end of the season, Akron was bowl-eligible.
This season is not over, either. But leadership must improve, and the coaches must adjust. Some suggestions:
1) Can anyone seriously contend that Akron is a better team with Jalil Carter at receiver? He has caught eight passes in five games. Seventy-four yards. I like coaches keeping an open mind about position changes, but they must be equally open to aborting the mission at a certain point. The secondary made a running quarterback look like Dan Marino on Saturday (Chandler Harnish: 16-for-20, 3 TD, 0 INT, 281 yards). Carter is an All-MAC safety, and he will make a difference. Come on.
2) In college, I think coaches should pick the system they believe to be best, not worrying so much about current personnel, because personnel rotates so rapidly. So if Rob Ianello likes the pro-style offense, fans should give it a fair chance. But we need to start calling plays within that offense that suit our players.
3) Tell the seniors one simple message: Either you start leading, or you sit. If the seniors do not orchestrate a season turn-around like in 2004, they are not adding any value to the system by being on the field. Motivate your teammates, or move aside and we will play the underclassmen.
Next week is Kent State. If you are one of the fans who sees nothing but doom and gloom, envision this: Akron beats the Flashes on Saturday. Of the six remaining games, only Temple is a game Akron cannot win. The Zips win five of those games and become bowl-eligible. Or maybe they win three or four, which would be a nice stride toward next season.
It's not time to give up as fans. I think this team can make something of the season. The attendance issue is a more serious problem. With those six home performances (Indiana, Ohio, Temple, Syracuse, Gardner Webb, and Northern Illinois), I think the team has done irreparable damage to its hopes of expanding the fanbase.