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Akron closed the 2015 campaign on a solid note, taking down Utah State in the Potato Bowl, one of the only MAC teams to win a bowl game. The Zips finished with five straight wins with an easier schedule down the stretch. The problem was that they lost to all the better MAC teams, including a 49-point loss to Bowling Green. With few starters returning on both sides, Terry Bowden has his work cut out for him in trying to win the MAC East.
There is some consistency carrying over on the offensive end with quarterback Thomas Woodson still there. He saw action in the third game last year and never looked back, finishing with 16 TDs and 11 INTs. Woodson's main goal will be to improve on a 52.8% completion percentage. To help, he gets back top receiver, a converted safety, in Jerome Lane (39 receptions, 782 yards, 8 TDs). As a boost, JoJo Natson comes over from Utah State to help out where he had 51 receptions two years ago.
The running game also gets a transfer, who should be starting immediately in Warren Ball from Ohio State. A former top recruit, Ball could be in for a great season, maybe something similar to what Thomas Rawls did when he moved from Michigan to Central Michigan. The problem for the Zips and their run-heavy approach is that they lost all five senior offensive linemen from a year ago. Inexperience filters the unit with a few incoming transfers expected to fight for time there as well.
They didn't have a great offense a year ago, scoring just 23.9 points per game, so reaching that mark will be the first order of concern.
It's the same situation on the defensive side, where only four starters return after having one of the better defenses in the country last year, allowing 21.5 points and just 92.9 rushing yards per game. The starting point will be at end where they have two seniors in Se'Von Pittman and Jamal Marcus, two guys that could be all-conference. The secondary at least has a couple pieces in corner DeAndre Scott and safety Zach Guiser. The issue is at linebacker where they lost all three starters. Getting back to last year's level will be close to impossible considering their overall losses, but Akron still has a few pieces that should keep this defense in the top half of the league.
The non-conference schedule doesn't help Akron one bit in its goal to reach another bowl game. The Zips travel to Wisconsin and Marshall while hosting App. State and all three could turn into losses. The good news is that their MAC schedule is mostly favorable, at least in a home/away sense. They get to host Western, Toledo and Bowling Green with Ohio being the only road game against a team with a winning record in 2015. Of course, having to play Western and Toledo in the first place is not favorable as both come from the West.
Akron is tied with Ohio with the second-best odds to win the MAC East, which falls right in line with last year. The Zips should be able to get to six wins, and maybe five in conference play, but any more than that would be a surprise considering the turnover on the roster. Then again, Bowden has gotten a lot out of his team since coming in and with all the transfers and a returning QB, should be fighting til the end for the East.
2016 Akron Zips Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. VMI
Sept. 10 at Wisconsin
Sept. 17 at Marshall
Sept. 24 vs. Appalachian State
Oct. 1 at Kent State
Oct. 8 vs. Miami (OH)
Oct. 15 vs. Western Michigan
Oct. 22 at Ball State
Oct. 27 at Buffalo
Nov. 2 vs. Toledo
Nov. 9 vs. Bowling Green
Nov. 22 at Ohio
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