After months of uncertainty, and waiting patiently, we'll finally see some Mid-American Conference football in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all MAC teams will be limited to just a six-game, conference-only schedule. Each team will play its five divisional rivals and one crossover opponent. It's basically only half of a normal season, but it's better than no MAC football at all.
To start this unique season, the Akron Zips will host the Western Michigan Broncos. The Zips are eager to rebound from last year's winless (0-12) campaign. As for the Broncos, they're looking to play in a bowl game for the third consecutive year. While this WMU team isn't quite the one that went to the Cotton Bowl at the conclusion of the 2016 season, they've still had winning records for each of the last six years.
Here's what to look forward to as Western Michigan and Akron kick off their 2020 seasons in InfoCision Stadium–Summa Field on Wednesday night.
Western Michigan at Akron
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. ET
Spread: Western Michigan -18
When Western Michigan Has the Ball
Jon Wassink has graduated, so it's a new day for the quarterback position in Kalamazoo. Redshirt sophomore Kaleb Eleby is set to take the reigns after sitting out last year. He last saw the field in 2018, where he completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 1,092 yards and four touchdowns with a 129.9 passer rating. He'll also have plenty of talent to give the ball to.
Sean Tyler is expected to be the featured running back this season, and he'll have the daunting task of replacing LeVante Bellamy, who finished second in MAC last year with 1,472 rushing yards and tied for the national lead with 23 touchdowns on the ground. Behind Bellamy, the Broncos averaged 205.1 rushing yards per game, placing them fifth in the MAC. Tyler was second on the team in rushing with 390 yards and five touchdowns, and he led the way at 5.7 yards per carry.
Out wide, Eleby will have Skyy Moore, one of the MAC's best wide receivers to throw to. Moore recorded 51 receptions for 802 yards (15.7 ypr) and three touchdowns last season. He will be joined by D'Wayne Eskridge, Jaylen Hall, DaShon Bussell, and tight end Brett Borske. Eskridge, who saw most of his time at cornerback last season before suffering a collarbone injury, is back and on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, which goes to the nation's most versatile player. In 2018, he caught 38 passes for 776 yards and three touchdowns and his 4.43 speed makes him a threat to break off a big play whenever he touches the ball. Hall, Bussell, and Borske combined for 45 catches, 766 yards, and six touchdowns last season. The Broncos will certainly get their opportunities against an Akron defense that gave up 413.9 yards and 36.3 points per game in 2019
When Akron Has the Ball
Through all of the ups and downs for the Zips over the last few seasons, the one constant has been senior quarterback Kato Nelson. In 29 career games, Nelson has put up 5,140 passing yards, 617 rushing yards, and he's responsible for 36 touchdowns. He is the backbone of this offense and a leader on this team. Nelson has six of his top nine targets from last year back as Akron looks to improve upon a passing attack that averaged fewer than 200 yards per game in 2019.
Wide receivers Nate Stewart, Jeremiah Knight, Michael Mathison, Timothy Scippio, and Julian Hicks, as well as tight end Maverick Wolfley, will give Nelson plenty of downfield options. This group collectively had 148 receptions for 1,703 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Out of the four running backs who registered a carry last season, Michiah Burton (117 rushing yards, 1 touchdown in '19) is the only one returning. Whoever gets the ball, there's plenty of room for improvement after Arkon finished last in the country in total (242.2 ypg), scoring (10.5 ppg), and rushing (46.8 ypg) offense last season.
On the other side, Western Michigan's defense was second in the MAC in points allowed per game (25.9 ppg) and returns six starters from that unit, including linebacker Treshaun Hayward, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the conference. Hayward racked up 142 tackles last year to lead the MAC and is on the watch list for both the Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) and Nagurski Award (nation's top defensive player) this season.
The Zips are 5-14 all-time against the Broncos, but Akron did win the last meeting between these teams in 2017. However, they haven't won a MAC game since Oct. 27 two seasons ago. They've gone 0-12 against conference opponents since then. Western Michigan is 28-12 in MAC play since 2016 and hasn't lost consecutive conference games since '18. The Broncos lost their conference finale in 2019 to Northern Illinois, but don't expect a similar result on Wednesday night.
Prediction: Western Michigan 28, Akron 14
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.