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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
MAC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Terry Bowden, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: A.J. Milwee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Amato
The Zips, who are trying to avoid their fourth consecutive 1–11 season, have had transient quarterbacks recently who have been one-year wonders or one-year blunders. It’s been one-and-done, to steal a phrase from the college basketball world. The master plan is for sophomore Kyle Pohl to take over, grow into the job and be a three-year starter. But that plan may have changed this offseason, as Nick Hirschman transferred in from Colorado and is eligible to play this season. Pohl played sparingly in 2012 behind transfer Dalton Williams, who was solid in his only season of eligibility in 2012. But second-year coach Terry Bowden is high on Pohl’s ability and potential to be a cornerstone for years to come, not just in 2013.
Pohl certainty will have some experienced performers surrounding him. Junior tailback Jawon Chisholm has rushed for 1,914 yards in his first two seasons, leading the team in both 2011 and ’12. The receiving corps, a definite area of strength, may not have a superstar, but there is depth. Keith Sconiers, L.T. Smith, Dee Frieson and Jerrod Dillard lead the way, but some younger players will be pushing for time.
The line was considered above average in 2012, but it lost two key seniors. Center Travis Switzer, guard Dylan Brumbaugh and tackle Jarrod Pughsley are the most experienced returnees. Junior college transfer Cedric Brittnum (6'6", 330) provides bulk to a unit lacking overall size.
The defense has been an area of disappointment for the Zips for years, and only a vast improvement in 2013 can prevent another disaster. The good news is that seven defensive starters return. The bad news is that the Zips ranked 99th nationally in total defense (450.0 ypg) and tied for 104th in scoring defense (35.7 ppg) with those players.
Both starting defensive tackles — Nico Caponi and Cody Grice —are back as part of a front seven that often was pushed around in 2012. A major plus may be end Albert Presley, who was having a solid 2012 before a fractured fibula shelved him for the final five games. The Zips are hopeful he will be 100 percent by the fall.
The only returning starting linebacker is Justin March, who had 62 tackles from the outside last season. Junior college transfer Jon Shelby is a big addition. The Zips are hoping that former Washington State linebacker C.J. Mizell will fill a major need, but he must meet NCAA eligibility requirements first, and that is in question.
The secondary is much like the receiving corps — no eye-catching standout but strength in numbers. Malachi Freeman, Johnny Robinson and Anthony Holmes lead the way, but others are close behind.
This was a major area of concern headed into last season, but placekicker Robert Stein (9-of-12 on field goals) and punter Zach Paul (40.9-yard average) won jobs and were steady all year. The Zips were last in the country in kickoff returns and 80th in punt returns, so a major upgrade is needed.
The second year of the Bowden Era likely will produce the program’s eighth consecutive losing record. Road games at Michigan and UCF can dim anyone’s lights, and the MAC crossover games are against Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State — which could be the best three teams in the West.
The offense was exciting last season in a move to the spread and likely will be a fun to watch again. Pohl must follow Williams’ example — get the ball to his playmakers while limiting turnovers. Chisholm needs to approach (or surpass) the 1,000-yard mark, and it would be nice if one or two receivers separated themselves from the pack. The defense is generally undersized and may only be better if some of the returnees improve drastically or are pushed aside by newcomers.