What started out as a season of expectations and earned highs has devolved into one of disappointment for the University of Akron football team.
After missing out on Nebraska — a game that rightly was considered winnable at that moment in time — and beating Northwestern a couple of games later, the Zips' (4-7) season will end Saturday after a game against South Carolina.
It ends with UA's most successful senior class missing out on a bowl chance after reaching that goal in two of the previous three seasons. Coach Terry Bowden is relying on the team to be motivated and maintain it throughout the week because some, such as Ulysees Gilbert III, Brian Bell and Jamal Davis III, do have pro prospects.
“Many of those guys say ‘I wonder if I can play on Sundays,’ ” Bowden said. “If you are, those NFL scouts are going to watch this film [South Carolina] first. They may watch Northwestern, but they’re going to watch this film first because of the number of NFL quality players on the football teams, so if you want a chance to shine … it’s your last chance to make an impression [and] this is your time to do it.”
The other reason is just general pride.
Bowden has always been blunt when it comes to the process of recruiting, knowing which football school ranks consistently at the top of potential players’ lists as a place to play. In Ohio, that’s Ohio State.
“If you’ve got pride, and you want a challenge and you respond to those challenges,” he said, “it’s motivating. It’s a very motivating force.”
He understands that the Gamecocks can be a challenge on the level of a Northwestern.
“When [Director of Athletics] Larry [Williams] scheduled this game, he talked to the players about their missed opportunity to play in a big venue against Nebraska and this would be an opportunity to come out there and be there for us. I think from that standpoint, the players will be motivated to play their very best.”
With the Gamecocks playing in the SEC, it’s certainly an opportunity for the UA program to shine once again in a large venue.
It's a venue in which there might be many empty seats. Ticket sales are going slow, according to a report in The State, a Columbia, S.C., newspaper.
Williams-Brice Stadium seats 80,250 fans. As of Monday, 30,000 tickets for the game had been sold. Officials there plan to give tickets to military organizations and athletic department sponsors and student organizations. The Zips are guaranteed a $1.3 million payday from the game.
Speaking of numbers
Closure for the payday for the Nebraska game could be near, according to Williams.
“We’re pretty close on a resolution,” he said. “It just needs to get signed off on by the state. Our attorneys are just trying to get the state to sign off now.”
If the powers that be in the state don’t approve terms of the deal, it’s back to the drawing board.
The Zips will take the field knowing that quarterback Kato Nelson, who has been dealing with a undisclosed leg injury (TV analysts on UA’s game broadcasts pegged it as a high ankle sprain) is relatively healthy.
He was able to run and pass last week in the team’s loss to Ohio University.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.