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Akron Zips 2016 Preview and Prediction

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#98 Akron Zips

NATIONAL FORECAST

#98

MAC East PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Terry Bowden, 19-30 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: A.J. Milwee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Amato

Terry Bowden's Akron team broke through with eight wins last season, including a 23-21 victory over Utah State in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. But with just six starters returning, the Zips' progress could be stymied this fall.

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Previewing Akron’s Offense for 2016


The Zips return only two offensive starters, but there are plenty of transfers and experienced upperclassmen to step in and provide a positive answer to major question marks.

It is a surprise to say that the two key returnees are quarterback Thomas Woodson and receiver Jerome Lane, both juniors. It’s a surprise because after spring practice a year ago, Woodson was third string and Lane was a strong safety. A change in their status in 2015 was instrumental in the Zips recording an 8–5 mark — the program’s first winning season since 2005. Woodson, who took over as the full-time starter in the fourth game, threw for 2,202 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 591 yards and three scores. Lane moved to offense in preseason camp and caught 39 passes for 782 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. His 20.1 yards-per-catch average ranked 12th nationally. Lane likely will pair with transfer JoJo Natson to provide Akron with two deep threats. Natson was dismissed at Utah State after last season for his third violation of team rules, but he was a solid producer for the Aggies when he was in the lineup. 

The running game could get a boost from Warren Ball, a graduate transfer from Ohio State. A former four-star recruit, Ball played sparingly during his career in Columbus.

The offensive line is the prime overall concern for coach Terry Bowden, because all five starters were seniors in 2015. Tackle Kyle Ritz, guard LaVonne Gauthney and center Stephen Ericksen have had spot starts but must prove they can produce over the course of a season. Several junior college transfers also will be in the mix.

Related: Athlon's 2016 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Akron’s Defense for 2016

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There are also a limited number of returning starters on defense (four), but there is not quite as much optimism as on the offensive side.

Last year, the Zips ranked No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (92.9 ypg) and No. 15 in total defense (331.5 ypg). But six of the top seven tacklers are gone, including all three linebackers. A drop-off at those three positions is probable, although middle linebacker John Racha has plenty of experience.

The defensive line will be anchored by ends Jamal Marcus (third-team All-MAC in 2015) and Se’Von Pittman (a former Ohio State Buckeye), who give the Zips a pair of bookends that rival any in the conference. Bowden likes the potential of junior Darius Copeland and sophomore Brock Boxen on the interior of the line.

The secondary has the chance to be solid if the regulars can stay healthy. Corner DeAndre Scott led the team with six interceptions.

Previewing Akron’s Specialists for 2016


Kicker Robert Stein and punter Zach Paul were two of the best in school history. Both must be replaced. Tom O’Leary has limited experience but likely will hold the placekicking job in the fall. The punting duties will go to one of three sophomores. Natson gives Akron a punt returner who can change field position in a hurry. His 11.7 yards per return in 2014 for Utah State ranked No. 11 nationally.

Final Analysis


Bowden has changed the culture at an Akron program that went 3–33 from 2010-12. The Zips went 5–7 in both 2013 and ’14 and then broke through with eight wins last fall. He has taken some chances on transfers — both from FBS schools and the junior college ranks — but that has translated into a more talented roster that has made this program competitive in the MAC East.  Another successful season is possible — if the offensive line develops, if Woodson continues his maturation and if the linebacking corps can at least be steady. It helps that Akron has Bowling Green and West powers Toledo and Western Michigan at home.