It’s not the ideal way to start off the season for the University of Akron football team.

Away.

In Happy Valley.

Against Penn State, the sixth-ranked team in the nation.

Three years ago, the Zips had a shot at defeating the Nittany Lions.

This ain’t that team.

“We know what we’re dealing with,” UA coach Terry Bowden said during his Tuesday news conference. “We’re dealing with the Big Ten champion. We’re not dealing with a new coach just taking over a program he’s having to rebuild. It’s a big task for us.”

Considering some of Penn State’s firepower on offense, that’s definitely the case.

“We’re going [to be] dealing with a quarterback and running back who are Heisman [Trophy] contenders, and they’re going to be able to put the ball in their hands,” Bowden said of Lions QB Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. “It’s not like their No. 1 player is their right guard.”

It’s also a humongous task considering the Zips don’t have film from this year’s Penn State team to study and likely had to rely on last year’s film to get a read on its star players.

“That’s any team,” UA quarterback Thomas Woodson said. “That’s every team — every team that’s getting prepared to play that first game because we have to watch film of them from their last season. That’s the only thing we’ve got.”

Still, some members of the Zips said it could ultimately be an advantage going into the game.

“If you look at tape from last year, you’re looking at a young team, kind of new to everybody playing with each other,” linebacker Ulysees Gilbert said after Wednesday morning’s practice. “This year I feel like we’re way different. We’re playing more like a unit.”

The Zips could use every advantage they can get. Like most mid-majors taking on a Power 5 conference team, winning may be the objective but reality usually trumps that.

Since arriving to coach the Zips, Bowden is 1-6 against Power 5 schools. His teams have been outscored 255-94 in those games for an average loss of 32-14, with the lone win coming against Pitt in 2014.

Nittany Lions coach James Franklin agreed that first games offer some perils for teams, no matter who they may be.

“Well, I think the first game of the year is always challenging because you just don’t completely know what you’re going to get,” he said in his weekly news conference. “What offseason studies have they done? What offseason studies have we done? That we’ve tweaked some things? Have they lost some players? Do they have some injuries that they are not communicating right now with the roster and the depth chart and the camp?”

That uncertainty aside, the fact it’s the first game of the season doesn’t matter to the Zips, who’ve appeared calm as they prepare to depart for central Pennsylvania.

“We’ve watched a ton of film of these guys — great teams,” UA running back Warren Ball said. “So we kind of know what to expect going into the game. We’re just excited, ready to hit someone else for a change.”

There may be excitement to play someone else, but the Zips will also have to confront a crowd of more than 106,000 mostly hostile fans at Beaver Stadium in the process.

That has to be a daunting proposition, right?

“No, not at all because all of us have been playing this game forever,” Gilbert said. “Everybody’s been at different stages ... so, playing football is football. When you’re out on the field all of the fans don’t really matter. You barely hear them. You barely even recognize them.”

Blocking fans out may be necessary for the Zips to hold out any hopes of beating Penn State, but is claiming a victory a pipe dream?

“We have a shot to win any game. It’s football,” Woodson said. “I don’t see anyone being that big or anything. It’s still the game of football.”

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.