What would constitute a successful season for the University of Akron football team?
Any number greater than two that shows up in the win column. In the past two seasons, the Zips have a 2-22 record. With Terry Bowden (140-62-2) running the program, high expectations exist for a team that some might have considered beleaguered. If looks are to be believed, Bowden has successfully turned around the teamís attitude, now the Zips just have to show it on the field.
Quarterback play: Fifth-year senior transfer Dalton Williams will be the starter. He looks good in practice, possessing chemistry with several of his receivers, but that means exactly zero in a game situation. In Bowdenís spread offense, quarterback is the key. Williams ran the spread ó albeit as a backup ó at Stephen F. Austin, so heís familiar with it. Heís shown leadership as heís grown into the role. The Zips ranked last in scoring, passing efficiency and third-down conversions in the Mid-American Conference last season. If Williams is on the money, his presence could make a huge difference in the Zipsí fortunes.
Developing playmakers: It begins with Williams, but the need for speed and explosiveness in other areas of the Zipsí game is glaring. They need to find players with that final gear who can break open a play at any time. Is that possible for a team that didnít give its skill players a lot of time to work, primarily because of injury? Maybe. There is some freshman blood in receiver Imani Davis and running back Hakeem Lawrence who come to UA with Florida speed. Whether they play enough to make an impact remains to be seen. Defensively, the Zips need players who can not only get a stop when needed, but who can generate crucial turnovers as well. The Zips were minus-9 in the turnover category last season. Florida State transfer Avis Commack, a cornerback, might help that, and Kurt Mangum, who starts at Brian Wagnerís old linebacker position, is looking to make an impact.
Secondary play: The secondary is the strength of defensive coordinator Chuck Amatoís defense. They got larger with the addition of the 6-foot-3 Commack and last year ranked No. 6 in pass coverage in the MAC. But itís difficult to tell if they were that good or if teams were too busy running on the Zips, who were the third worst team against the rush in the conference. This season, there isnít only quality. Miklos Blake, a senior, will play opposite Commack, and Malachi Freeman, a transfer who looks to have lockdown coverage capabilities, backs them up.
Defensive line depth: Itís a problem. The Zips have four solid linemen up front (perhaps even a couple of workhorses) in defensive end Albert Presley, nose guard Cody Grice, defensive tackle Nico Caponi and defensive end J.D. Griggs, but not a lot of depth. The salvation of the line might come from a those defensive backs if theyíre able to consistently shut down opposing receivers.
The O-line conundrum: Injuries took their toll on the offensive line last season. Bowden and his staff are trying to get the five best offensive linemen on the field at the same time. The big move was moving senior Adam Bice from his comfortable center position and putting him at right tackle. Sophomore Travis Switzer takes over at center and left tackle Jarrod Pughsley and guards Dylan Brumbaugh (Green) and Mitch Straight round out the quintet. The first five are solid, according to offensive line coach Alan Arrington and they also have two more backups with whom they feel comfortable. Ideally, the Zips would like one or two more, making this one of those areas that needs to remain healthy.
Losing the faith: Bowden has done a remarkable job of getting the Zips to buy into his system and attitude. The players are treated with respect and they give it back. That can never be underestimated.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.