Sunday, July 2, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Akron Zips
Injuries decimated the Akron Zips last fall to drop the program from an eight win bowl winner in 2015 to a five win team staying home for the holidays last season. Some of those injuries are still lingering as we head into fall camp, and if the roster does not get healthy in a hurry, it could be another slip for Terry Bowden and his Zips this fall. Can they get healthy and have enough in the tank to be a surprise team in the West and get back to another bowl in 2017?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Thomas Woodson was one of those injured players at QB, and was limited to eight games. If he is healthy in 2017, he is one of the better QBs in the league. He managed to pass for 2079 yards and 18 scores in those eight games, and tossed just six INTs. He missed spring ball due to shoulder surgery, and just got back to throwing in June. If he is not ready to go, this position gets devalued to a concern rather than a point of excitement. Virginia and JC transfer Nick Johns and Kato Nelson are the other options.
The interior line will be solid for the Zips in 2017, as both Guards and the Center all return. Stephen Erickson and Kyle Ritz will be back at the Guard spots, while LaVonne Gauthney will be back at Center.
Tom O'Leary is back as the PK, and was almost automatic last fall when he hit 10/11 FG attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
If Woodson is not healthy, we start there. Otherwise the run game will have to show a massive improvement over last season, as only one player, Warren Ball, carried the ball over 10 times per game (12 carries per game last fall).Ball was given an extra year of eligibility to return in 2017. He ran for 181 yards in just two games. Van Edwards and Manny Morgan, the two leading rushers from last season, are both back, but have to battle Ball for carries.
The receivers are a mixed bag, as both Jermoe Lane and JoJo Natson, Jr. are gone. That's 121 receptions from last fall headed out the door. Austin Wolf is back after catching 36 passes for 550 yards and five scores, and can get up field after averaging over 15 yards per reception. Former QB and Pitt transfer Tre'Von Chapman has moved over to receiver to add bodies, while Kwadarrius Smith and AJ Coney hold the spots that are currently open as starters.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Ulysees Gilbert III is back at LB after finishing with 121 tackles last fall and is the heart and soul of the defense as a junior. He also led the team with 11.5 TFLs, four sacks, eight QB hurries, and two forced fumbles.
The line was beat up last season, but several players got experience who would not have otherwise. Three returning starters will suit up this fall camp in DE Darius Copeland, DT Brock Boxen, and NT Ibrahima Camara. Copeland is the leader of that group after finishing with 4.5 TFLs. Deon'Tae Moore, a senior, will get first crack at the open DE spot. Look for Pitt transfer Jamal Davis to get some looks at both DE and LB as well.
The secondary will return three starters, but there are other options as well. CB Jordan George collected 32 tackles in five games at Safety, and now moves to the corner. Zach Guiser and Alvin Davis are back at Safety. Guiser finished with 53 tackles, while Davis finished second on the team with 87 tackles as a freshman. Junior Kyron Brown has an inside track at CB, but look for Rutgers transfer Darian Dailey to get a look as well, as the unit could make use of his burning speed.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
It's all about staying healthy for the Zips, who went from having one of the best defenses in the MAC in 2015 to one of the worst in the nation last fall. Akron ranked 114th in total defense as a lack of returning talent took its toll, and then injuries did it in.
Outside of Gilbert, the LB corps is thin. Andrew Hauser is back after collecting 39 tackles in eight games, and Travonte Junius is back to grab a starting spot after not doing much last fall. Look for Jamal Davis to get plenty of snaps here as well.
Nick Gasser returns as the starting Punter, but averaged just 37.73 yards per punt last fall, and could use a push.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 at Penn State, 9/9 Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 9/16 Iowa State, 9/23 at Troy, 9/30 at Bowling Green, 10/7 Ball State, 10/14 at Western Michigan, 10/21 at Toledo, 10/28 Buffalo, 11/7 at Miami (Ohio), 11/14 Ohio, 11/21 Kent State
This is a brutal schedule for the Zips, as I can only see three straight up opportunities for wins in 2017. They are going to have to stay healthy, find a solid run game, and show massive improvements on defense, and then they will have to steal some games that they will not be favored to win to get back to any kind of bowl this season. Terry Bowden has one of his biggest challenges to date, and that's a lot given what happened last fall.