Bowling Green will not play in its fourth consecutive Mid-American Conference Championship Game — that much is certain.
After dominating the MAC East under head coaches Dave Clawson and Dino Babers the last few years, the Falcons have taken a big step back under first-year head coach Mike Jinks. They are winless both in conference play, and against all Football Bowl Subdivision competition, the lone win coming by a point in Week 2 over North Dakota.
Bowling Green's Week 11 opponent knows such trying times. Akron went on a three-season run of 1-11 finishes from 2010-12, finally breaking through to the right side of .500 last year.
The Zips built off the foundation of an 8-5 finish last season to open 2016 4-2, with a realistic path to the MAC Championship Game. Losses in three of the last four, however, have Akron now sitting at .500, and in need of one more win to gain bowl eligibility. The Zips can still win the East with some help, a byproduct of playing East-leading Ohio in the regular-season finale.
Bowling Green at Akron
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Akron -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. An Akron Aerial Assault
Bowling Green dissected opposing defenses in recent years with one of the most prolific passing attacks in college football. Coming into Wednesday's matchup, the Falcons have a sense what defending those offenses was like.
Bowling Green comes in with the 116th-ranked pass defense in the FBS, giving up 278.2 yards per game through the air. That's close to Akron's yearlong production via the pass, which at 273.5, ranks the Zips No. 31 nationally.
Quarterback Thomas Woodson has thrown for nearly 2,100 yards, despite missing two games in MAC play with a shoulder injury. Prior to the injury, Woodson had three games with at least three touchdown passes; he's yet to break that mark since returning.
Wednesday marks a prime opportunity for Woodson to get back on track against a struggilng Bowling Green secondary. Expect big nights from JoJo Natson Jr. and Jerome Lane, the Zips' pass-catching tandem responsible for more than 1,500 yards and 15 combined touchdowns on the campaign.
2. Bowling Green's Rushing Ability
An ability for Bowling Green ball carriers to complement the potent passing attack gave the Falcons' prolific offense life the last few years. In 2016, BGSU owes some of its woes to an inability to establish the run, averaging a paltry 131.8 rushing yards per game.
If ever there was a time for the Falcons to jumpstart the ground attack, it's Wednesday. Akron comes in giving up 5.2 yards per carry for nearly 235 rushing yards per game. The latter ranks the Zips No. 116 nationally. Two weeks ago, Akron surrendered a school-record 282 rushing yards to Buffalo's Jordan Johnson.
Running back Fred Coppet only sees about 16 carries per game for Bowling Green. In two of the Falcons' better offensive games this season — against Toledo and Eastern Michigan — he toted the rock 17 and 25 times, and rolled off 6.1 and 5.6 yards per attempt.
Bowling Green can exploit that deficiency in the Akron defense by getting Coppet carries in excess of 20, perhaps opening the field more for freshman quarterback James Morgan.
Morgan's thrown for 11 touchdowns in Bowling Green's last three outings. The youngster is settling in as the quarterback of the future since taking over in late September. Should he get production from his teammates in the rushing game, Morgan can be dangerous.
3. A Turning Point, One Way or the Other
Akron's playing for MAC championship dreams on Wednesday, despite the Zips' recent struggles. Division-leading Ohio travels to Central Michigan next week, a game the Bobcats could certainly lose, then face Akron on the Nov. 22 edition of Tuesday night MACtion.
With a Nov. 15 Ohio loss and Wednesady Akron win, that game decides the East. However, the Zips must first take care of their own business before scoreboard-watching.
Despite its record, Bowling Green poses a threat both to Akron's MAC title hopes, and the Zips' bowl eligibility. A loss Wednesday could well send Akron to a season-concluding defeat, and a 5-7 overall record.
Three of the Falcons' losses in MAC play are by a combined 16 points — and came against East-leading Ohio (6), bowl-bound Toledo (7) and likely bowl-bound Eastern Michigan (3).
Both teams have matchups that decidedly favor their squad. The most obvious are advantages on the offensive side, so expect a classic, high-scoring MACtion affair.
Bowling Green quarterback James Morgan has a bright future ahead of him, and it gets a lot brighter if the Falcons can pull off this upset. The more experienced Akron should be able to score enough points on the struggling Bowling Green defense to keep the Falcons at bay, however.