2011 Akron Preview
Akron LB Brian Wagner
Akron LB Brian Wagner
Posted Jun 11, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview & Breakdown - Akron Zips

Akron Zips

Preview 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Rob Ianello
2nd year: 1-11
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 14, Def. 16, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Akron Players
1. LB Brian Wagner, Jr.
2. CB Manley Waller, Sr.
3. FS Josh Richmond, Jr.
4. TE Richard Hall, Soph.
5. DT Oren Wilson, Sr.
6. OT Jake Anderson, Sr.
7. CB Anthony Holmes, Soph.
8. OG Zac Kasparek, Sr.
9. LB Matt Little, Sr.
10. DE Hasan Hazime, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 at Ohio State
Sep. 10 Temple
Sep. 17 at Cincinnati
Sep. 24 VMI
Oct. 1 at Eastern Michigan
Oct. 8 FIU
Oct. 15 Ohio
Oct. 22 Central Michigan
Nov. 3 at Miami
Nov. 12 Kent State
Nov. 19 at Buffalo
Nov. 25 at Western Michigan

After what Miami University did last year, going from miserable to MAC Champion in a year, every bad team in the conference is trying to believe it can also make the big jump up in production. Akron might not have that far to go to come up with a huge surge, but only if Rob Ianello can coach.

A big hire from Notre Dame after the Charlie Weis era flamed out, Ianello put together a strong coaching staff, highlighted by defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove and with a few good-looking assistants like former Irish star quarterback Ron Powlus. With 53 returning lettermen and 14 starters back, Akron appeared to be headed in a new direction with plenty of potential to shine, and then …

Pfffffffft. The air immediately went out of the balloon.

Akron was among the worst teams in college football over the first nine games of 2010 with eight of the defeats coming by double-digits and the other loss coming in two overtimes to Gardner-Webb from the FCS ranks. Finally, the team started to click a bit with a double overtime loss to Ball State, a good battle in a five-point loss to Miami, and a win over Buffalo to close things out, but on the year the offense only scored more than 21 points three times and went over the 30-point mark twice with both of those games coming in double-overtime losses.

While there was promise and potential last year, now there's more promise and potential and the coaching staff has had a year to work. It's a young team on offense, old on defense, and with just enough talents in key spots to demand more than being among the nation's weak and sad.

Ole Miss transfer Clayton Moore will push Patrick Nicely for the starting quarterback job, and the big, strong line has good upside if everyone can stay healthy. The receivers and running backs are all almost brand new, and even though the offense was awful and could use a change, the loss of running backs Alex Allen and Nate Burney, and the departure of receivers Jeremy LaFrance and Jalil Carter, will hurt.

The defense starts with all-star linebacker Brian Wagner in the middle and works from there. The rest of the linebackers in the 4-3 – changed up from the quirky 3-3-5 of a few years ago – are experienced and solid, and the line is big and potentially strong if a pass rusher can be found early on. The secondary was bad, but it could make a big jump up with three starters returning and with more talent than the stats make it seem.

But again, can Ianello really get the job done?

Nothing worked right for the Zips last season with one of America's worst offenses, a bad defense, and among the worst teams in college football. Even so, this is a program that tasted success with a 2005 MAC title and isn't going to sit idly by and continue to stink. Ianello and his staff have put a lot of the pieces in place, and now the wins have to start coming.

What to watch for on offense: The backfield. The line should be better with new starters Paul Simkovich and Adam Bice good enough to fill in the gaps, and the receiving corps is big and skilled wit Penn State transfer A.J. Price adding more talent to the mix. However, the offense needs running backs to add more pop to the balance with Jawon Chisolm an untested but smooth back combining with Broderick Alexander, who's coming off an Achilles heel injury. Quarterback Patrick Nicely has good skills but he completed fewer than half of his passes. Now he has to fight off Ole Miss transfer Clayton Moore, who can throw the ball a bit but is better known for his running ability.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. There hasn't been one for a few years and the problems have trickled down into the secondary. The pass defense wasn't bad a few years ago despite the lack of quarterback hits, but there were issues last season for a secondary that was trying to retool and reload. Three starters are back helped by a pair of decent-looking corners in Manley Waller and Anthony Holmes, but there will be more problems unless JUCO transfer John Griggs and veteran Hasan Hazime can bring the heat from the outside.

The team will be far better if … the offense can do one thing right. 119th in the nation in total offense, 118th in scoring, 115th in passing efficiency, 108th in passing, and 101st in rushing; there's work to be done. The attack had some nice skill players but the production was never, ever there with just 176 first downs on the season – compared to the 254 allowed – and the chains weren't moving. This wasn't an offense known for going on long, sustained drives, and it's not like it did much to hit the home run. It's going to take a few surprises to get the machine rolling, but there's nowhere to go but up.

The schedule: All of a sudden, the opening day game at Ohio State takes on a new meaning. Akron won't beat the Buckeyes, but it needs to try to work some of the kinks out with the MAC season kicking in the next week with a home game against Temple that might go into the must-win category. There are a few breaks in the conference schedule getting Eastern Michigan from the West and missing Northern Illinois and Toledo, but going to Western Michigan to close out the year is a bear. The key will be to get hot in the middle of the season with a stretch of four home games in five with the lone road trip to Miami University. The date with the defending MAC champs kicks off a run of three road games in the final four with the home slate finishing up on November 12th against Kent State.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Patrick Nicely and/or sophomore QB Clayton Moore. Nicely only completed 49% of his passes and he struggled to get the offense moving, but he threw seven touchdown passes in the final three games, with four coming against Ball State and three against Buffalo, and he showed a better command of the offense this offseason. Moore is a dual-threat option with a good, live arm and nice mobility. One of them has to take the offense by the horns and make it work.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Brian Wagner. He has done everything for the linebacking corps over his first two seasons with 132 tackles and play after play after play against the run. While he hasn't done enough to get into backfield, and he hasn't been too disruptive, he has been good against the pass and he's a peerless run stopper.

Key player to a successful season: Besides the quarterbacks, sophomore RB Jawon Chisolm. The Akron running game didn't exactly blow up, but it had its moments with Alex Allen turning into a star late in the year with three straight 100-yard games to close things out. The passing attack desperately needs a steady runner to put the offense in more manageable situations, and Chisolm or junior Broderick Alexander has to prove early on that there's more than just Nicely or Moore dinking and dunking.

The season will be a success if … Akron wins five games. It the Zips can make a decent-sized leap forward in all-around production, they should be in the fight for wins in at least eight games with Ohio State, Cincinnati, Miami University and Western Michigan – all road games – likely losses. There's no excuse to lose to VMI, and the team has to come up with wins over Buffalo and Eastern Michigan – even though they're on the road. There has to be some progress made after the disaster of last year, and while five games wouldn't be great, it would be a start.

Key game: Sept. 10 vs. Temple. Get that first win out of the way. After the certain pasting to be applied by the Buckeyes in the season-opener, the Zips need to kick off the MAC season with a big home win over a Temple team looking to make a statement of its own in the first game of a new coaching era. With a road game at Cincinnati to follow, Akron will almost certainly be 0-3 if it can't get by the Owls. However, a win, and with VMI coming up a few weeks later and Eastern Michigan to follow, a 3-2 start isn't out of the question before going into a three game homestand. It all has to start with Temple.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Points: Opponents 421 – Akron 187
- Second Quarter Scoring: Opponents 153 – Akron 51
- Total Offense: Opponents 5,138 – Akron 3,222

- 2011 Akron Preview | 2011 Akron Offense
- 2011 Akron Defense | 2011 Akron Depth Chart
- Akron Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006