The Akron Zips probably made prime time a year before they were truly ready in 2017. They won a weak MAC East Division but were hammered by Toledo in the MAC Championship Game and by Florida Atlantic in the Boca Raton Bowl. Winning another division title will be a tall order.
Previewing Akron Football's Offense for 2018
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You could argue that Kato Nelson saved the Zips' 2017 championship season. After star senior quarterback Thomas Woodson was suspended, Nelson led the Zips to a 37-34 upset victory over Ohio that paved the way to a MAC East Division title. The dual-threat QB threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns against Ohio and finished with eight TD tosses and just one interception in his five starts while also gaining 109 yards on the ground during that season-ending stretch. All that would lead one to believe that Nelson enters his sophomore season entrenched as the starter, but he's actually being pushed by redshirt freshman Alex Ramart.
Akron has a proven running back returning in 5'9", 210-pound senior Van Edwards and a promising virtual newcomer in Deltron Sands. The 5'8", 200-pound junior transfer from Oregon State was injured for much of last year but could play a significant role in 2018 as the team looks to spark a ground attack that averaged just 3.2 yards per rush last fall.
Akron's receiving corps will be bolstered by the return of Mykel Traylor-Bennett, a 6'3", 230-pound sixth-year senior who missed all of 2017 with a knee injury. Traylor-Bennett has been very effective when healthy since his freshman season in 2013.
The Zips suffered some losses up front, but Kyle Ritz is a fourth-year starter to build around at right guard.
Previewing Akron Football's Defense for 2018
The Zips fielded a formidable defense last season that managed to slow down every MAC foe besides champion Toledo. This year, they believe their defense can be as good as any in the conference.
A unit featuring experience at every position is headlined by senior linebacker Ulysees Gilbert, a reigning first-team All-MAC performer who led the squad with 140 tackles and five sacks while also piling up 9.5 tackles for a loss and three interceptions in 2017.
Senior Kyron Brown broke up 11 passes last fall and is widely regarded as one of the top cover corners in the league, while senior Shawn Featherstone is an impact player at safety. Junior cornerback Alvin Davis, a second-team All-MAC pick in 2017, missed spring drills due to injury but should be ready for the season.
Up front, watch out for junior Davon'te Jest, a 300-pound nose tackle who is primed to make an impact after missing last season. Senior end Jamal Davis, a third-team All-MAC selection last year, and senior tackle Brock Boxen are also among 15 returning defensive players who have started games for the Zips.
DeMarcus Lloyd, a senior linebacker who missed last season due to injury, has impressed coaches.
Previewing Akron Football's Specialists for 2018
Special teams could be a strength, with senior Nick Gasser back to handle both the punting and kicking chores. He averaged 42.2 yards per punt but made only 3-of-6 field goal attempts.
This year, Akron seems to have some pieces in place, but the Zips could have a tough time getting back to the league title game as the top teams in the East should be vastly improved. Ohio looks to be the class of the division, and both Miami and Buffalo will be in the hunt. The Zips could finish anywhere from first to fourth in what figures to be an intriguing season of MACtion.