The circular firing squad begins today in the Mid-American Conference.

The University of Akron (1-3, 0-0) opens the conference schedule with two home games, starting with the Miami University (2-2, 1-0) descending upon InfoCision Stadium at 2 p.m. today

The Zips have shown improvement over last year, but the true measuring stick begins today when they begin playing their MAC rivals.

UA coach Terry Bowden said no one really knows how the teams will measure against one another until a couple of conference games have been played.

“I don’t know that stats mean anything when you play four games before the conference. They’re 2-2, we’re 1-3. I don’t know what kind of story stats tell right now,” Bowden said. “The more I watch bits of all conference teams, everybody’s capable of knocking off one another.”

Here’s the reality of who the RedHawks are based on the only metric available, those stats, including a 27-16 conference win over UMass last weekend.

Key matchups (defense)

Miami quarterback Zac Dysert against the Zips’ front seven: That first-team defensive line has really come on for UA. Dysert, a dual-threat quarterback, could give the Zips fits if they’re not careful. Defensive ends Albert Presley and J.D. Griggs are speedy and Nico Caponi and Cody Grice possess the ability to collapse the pocket, but they will have to do a lot of it to keep him contained. The Zips will be playing without linebacker Justin March, whom Bowden calls one of the best players on defense. March will sit out at least this game with a high-ankle sprain.

Dysert versus the Zips’ secondary: Averaging better than 220 passing yards per game, Dysert will look to his top target Andy Cruse (29 receptions, 163 yards). Dysert is capable of playing the gunslinger and passing his way to a win. But he’s probably going against the strength of the Zips’ defense. Despite the loss to Tennessee last week, cornerbacks Avis Commack (interception return for a touchdown) and Malachi Freeman (several defensed passes) are coming off a strong game. They possess the ability to cover man-on-man.

As a defense, it’s important to remember that UA opponents only convert third downs at a rate of 28.81 percent, good enough to rank 17th nationally.

Key matchups (offense)

Zips quarterback Dalton Williams against the Miami defense: Williams ranks No. 1 in the conference, averaging more than 310 passing yards per game and he’s developed chemistry with senior Marquelo Suel (32 receptions, 352 yards, three touchdowns). He runs Bowden’s version of the spread very effectively, which allows the Zips to average 36 points per game. The RedHawks give up 34 points per game and average just a shade over 19 on offense. Williams has enjoyed some success against better teams so there’s little reason to believe that he won’t against the RedHawks.

Jawon Chisholm (51 carries for 252 yards) against the Miami front seven: If Chisholm is going to break out in a game there might be no better opportunity. Miami ranks second to last in run defense in the conference, giving up more than 250 yards per game. As long as Bowden is coach, the Zips will be a passing offense first, but it doesn’t hurt anyone to get fat on the ground occasionally and Chisholm has appeared to be on the verge of breaking a long one in recent games.

Both coaches realize that this week’s game will be no easy win.

“Certainly on offense, as you look at their stats, they’re able to rattle off a lot of points and that’s a concern for any team from a defensive standpoint,” Miami coach Don Treadwell said. “They do a lot of things very well. They have a defense that really flies around. I think they have a lot of speed on defense as well.”

As for the Zips, Bowden is taking nothing for granted.

“We’re going to be aggressive on offense and do everything we can to put up numbers,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to put up points. That’s our style.”

Quick hits

The Zips are 7-13 in MAC openers. Their last win in a conference opener came against Kent State in 2007. … The Zips will be looking to avenge a 35-3 loss to Miami from last season.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.