2014 CFN Preview - Akron Zips
Akron RB Jawon Chisholm
Akron RB Jawon Chisholm
Posted Jul 6, 2014

Preview 2014 - It might have been a disappointing year, but the Zips didn't quit. (Getty Images)

Akron Zips

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Terry Bowden
3rd year: 6-18
21st year overall: 146-80-2
Ten Best Zip Players
1. LB Jatavis Brown, Jr.
2. RB Jawon Chisholm, Sr.
3. LB Justin March, Sr.
4. WR Zach D'Orazio, Jr.
5. QB Kyle Pohl, Jr.
6. NG Cody Grice, Jr.
7. DE Nordly Capi, Sr.
8. P Zach Paul, Jr.
9. WR Fransohn Bickley, Soph.
10. FB Conor Hundley, Jr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Howard
Sep. 6 at Penn State
Sep. 20 Marshall
Sep. 27 at Pitt
Oct. 4 Eastern Michigan
Oct. 11 Miami Univ.
Oct. 18 at Ohio
Oct. 25 at Boise State
Nov. 4 Bowling Green
Nov. 11 at Buffalo
Nov. 18 UMass
Nov. 25 at Kent State

The Zips didn't quit.

2013 Akron epitomized the old college try, getting better as the season went on, even when there was nothing really left to play for but the fun of just playing college football. Head coach Terry Bowden was able to keep the team and the program going forward after a rough 1-11 first season, and after starting off last year 1-6, he and the team kept on fighting.

The Zips gave Northern Illinois a major scare in a 27-20 loss, and while it was a plus to hang around with a team that showed BCS-buster potential, it was also the third loss of the season by a touchdown or less, and it also meant they had to be perfect over the second half of the year to avoid a losing campaign.

That didn't happen getting blown out by Ball State a few weeks later, but the team bounced back and hung on to get by Kent State and UMass in tight, tight games. Just when it seems like Akron was nothing more than a mid-level also ran that could only beat the bums, it came through with a 31-29 shocker over Toledo in the season finale. As it turned out, the loss made it the final game of the season for the Rockets, too.

And now Bowden's boys come into the season on a three-game winning streak and winners of four of their last five games. No, no team should only beat UMass 14-13 and Miami University by seven, but it also came within one late play of shocking Michigan on the road and it pushed a strong Louisiana-Lafayette squad.

The Zips played in shootouts, brutal slugfests, and everything in between. This year's team has the experience and depth to be on more of an even keel and be more consistent, and the potential is there to be a bit of a surprise and get in the hunt for a winning season.

At the very least, after everything that happened last season, the effort should be there throughout. In the MAC, that's half the battle.

What to watch for on offense: Can the offensive line start to generate more of a push for the ground game? Akron just never seemed to know what it was getting out of its line and its rushing attack from one game to the next. Jawon Chisholm was and is a veteran back to anchor the attack, but he didn't get much help from any type of a rotation, and when defenses keyed on him, he could be stopped. The Zips came up with just three 100-yard rushing days in the first six dates, and part of the reason things started to turn around was when the offense got into a lather with five straight 100-yard games in the second half of the year. The only 200-yard day came when running for 226 yards in a loss to Ball State, but for the most part, when the line can push, the offense works. That might require some work with just two starters returning up front.

What to watch for on defense: Concerns in the secondary. The pass defense gave up yards and was dinked and dunked on a bit too much, but it wasn't miserable after getting bombed on for 300 yards or more in three of the first four games. No one else hit the 300-yard mark the rest of the way, and the picks started coming late with six interceptions over the final three games. Unfortunately, the defensive backfield might be the team's biggest concern after losing safety Anthony Holmes and all-star corner Malachi Freeman. Making matters worse was an offseason off-the-field altercation that led to the suspension of free safety Johnny Robinson and rising corner Donte Williams. That could mean the Zip secondary comes down to corner Bryce Cheek and the hope for Bre' Ford to be ready to rise up at one safety spot. No matter what, there's work to do.

The team will be far better if … the return game rocks. The Zips have to start cutting down on penalties, the offense has to put more points on the board, and the defense has to figure some things out in the secondary, but along the way, improved field position would be a plus. Akron was absolutely miserable in the return game with Tyler Williams averaging just 1.9 yards per punt return and the team averaging 3.3 yards per try. The kickoff return game wasn't any better, averaging a miserable 18.6 yards per pop as a team with Fransohn Bickley averaging a mere 16.6 yards per try.

The schedule: It's not too bad – at least it's not an excuse if the Zips have a rough year. With Howard, Eastern Michigan, Miami University and UMass at home, holding serve is a must. Marshall is a tough non-conference date, but that's at home sandwiched in between road trips to Penn State and Pitt. The hard part comes in the middle of the season with back-to-back games at Ohio and Ball State, and getting defending MAC champ Bowling Green at home still won't be that easy. There's only one true week off – coming before the Marshall game – and the timing might be thrown off with three straight Tuesday games in November. It'll be taxing at times, but a winning season is possible with this slate.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Jawon Chisholm. He might not be the flashiest back around, and he might not be a sure all-star, but he's dependable, he's tough, and he's going to be the centerpiece of the attack when teams aren't worrying about what Kyle Pohl and the passing game might do. Chisholm can be a pounder, growing into the role over the last two years as the star of the running game, but he's going to need help from a rebuilding line.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Jatavis Brown. Built like a big safety/smallish linebacker, he has great wheels and athleticism on the weakside, and as he showed down the stretch last season, he tackles everything. Great at getting around the ball, he's able to come up with solo stops in the open field, but he's at his best piling on and getting the assist. He's not built to generate more than 100 tackles, but he did it last year and he might have to again.

Key player to a successful season: Junior C Travis Switzer. The defense should be fine with a little bit of time to figure out the secondary, the kicking game will be strong and the offense has enough playmakers to improve on the foundation set last season. Now it's up to the O line to do its job, and with only two returning starters, it all begins with the 6-2, 296-pound Switzer in the middle. Versatile, he can play guard or center, but he spent the last two years in the middle and he's turned into the leader. He's not going to be the biggest blocker on the line, and he's not going to be a blaster, but he needs to be a steadying force.

The season will be a success if … Akron wins six games. The potential and talent are there to do more, but six wins would make it the best season since winning the MAC title in 2005, and it would put the program in the mix for a bowl appearance. There are enough winnable games – barring a total disaster - to expect a base of four wins. It's not asking a lot to figure out a way to get two more coming off a 5-7 season with a few near misses.

Key game: Oct. 18 at Ohio. If all goes according to form, and assuming there isn't a massive shocker of an upset, Akron will probably beat Howard, Eastern Michigan and Miami University, but it'll probably lose to Penn State, Marshall and Pitt on the way to a 3-3 start. With three road games in the next four and four of the final six away from InfoCision after facing the RedHawks, starting off the run with a win at Ohio could and would be a huge step with the meat of the slate kicking in. Last year, Akron got blasted by the Bobcats 43-3 for the sixth straight loss in the series. If the Zips really are better, they win this.

2013 Fun Stats:
- First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 101 – Akron 58
- Penalties: Akron 78 for 642 yards – Opponents 56 for 483 yards
- Punt Return Average: Opponents 7.3 yards – Akron 3.3 yards

-  2014 Akron Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players