The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 97 Akron.
Previewing Akron’s Offense for 2014
With a bevy of playmakers returning, the Zips have the potential to field one of the best offenses in the conference. The definitive word here is “potential,” because those skill players must improve if Akron is to avoid its ninth consecutive losing record.
Junior quarterback Kyle Pohl is back for his second year as a starter, but he must do better than 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 56 percent completion rate. His running mate is senior tailback Jawon Chisholm, who has led the team in rushing for three consecutive years but has never reached the 1,000-yard plateau.
Pohl will throw to a group of experienced receivers, including junior Zach D’Orazio (team-high 42 catches for 567 yards) and 5'6" sophomore speedster Fransohn Bickley (39 catches for 407 yards). A breakout season by some of the talented young receivers, especially highly touted sophomore Mykel Traylor-Bennett, would make Akron even more dangerous.
Of course, much will depend on the play of the line, which has been a problem area in recent years. Third-year coach Terry Bowden and his staff have concentrated on adding depth to the line in recruiting, and there are signs that the emphasis has paid off. Center Travis Switzer and guard Dylan Brumbaugh head the list of returnees, but the other three spots will be handled by former reserves or incoming recruits.
Previewing Akron’s Defense for 2014
The Zips showed vast improvement here, jumping from No. 99 nationally in 2012 to No. 59 in 2013, but they are facing major rebuilding jobs on the front line and the secondary. The only returning starter up front is nose guard Cody Grice. There are plenty of candidates to fill the holes, but they are of unknown quality. A key player here is end Se’Von Pittman, who must put his troubled past at Ohio State behind him.
Both starting cornerbacks will be new, but at least safeties Devonte Morgan, Johnny Robinson and Bre’ Ford are veterans.
The linebacking corps is led by the strong duo of Jatavis Brown (No. 1 in tackles with 107) and Justin March (No. 2 with 80).
If the likes of Pittman, corner Bryce Cheek and linebackers C.J. Mizell and Dylan Evans, among many others, can fill holes, the defense may be a viable complement to the offense.
Previewing Akron’s Specialists for 2014
The Zips kicked the ball capably last season, with returning placekicker Robert Stein and returning punter Zach Paul. But the return teams were abysmal, ranking 111th nationally on kickoff returns and 117th on punt returns. The hope is that the diminutive Bickley can give both areas a major boost.
Akron made major strides last season with a 5–7 record after winning only six games total in the previous four seasons. A winning season is possible if enough players turn potential into productivity. It helps that the league schedule seems more forgiving than in the recent past.
The offense needs Pohl to make better decisions and be more consistent than he was in 2013. The receiving corps may have put up some decent numbers, but there were far too many drops. A senior-style performance from Chisholm would take some pressure off the passing game.
Defensively, veteran coordinator Chuck Amato believes that question marks can be turned into exclamation points.
The feeling around the conference is that the Zips are finally going to have a team befitting the beautiful InfoCision Stadium. The university must feel the same way, because Bowden was awarded a new two-year contract extension through 2018.
Bowden has built from the bottom, filled pieces slowly but surely and has a team that might be a surprise.