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.
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