The unexpected representative of the MAC East in the title game, Terry Bowden’s Akron Zips made their second bowl game since he became Head Coach in 2012, going 7-7 and 6-2 in conference. Ohio really looked to be the team to beat out of the East, but a huge upset in Akron, as a 12-point underdog, gave the Zips a chance to play Toledo for the MAC Championship. They would go on to lose both that game and the Boca Raton Bowl in rather embarrassing fashion, but overall, considering the expectations, Akron had a successful season.
The big story of the 2017 season was the emergence of true Freshman, Kato Nelson, whose redshirt was burned when Senior starting Quarterback, and 2nd All-time leading passer in Akron history, Thomas Woodson, was suspended for two games. Nelson had a rough outing in his first ever start in at Miami, OH, but put on a show in that massive upset over Ohio (22-38, 322 YDS, 4 TD: 45 Rush YD). Woodson never did return from his suspension and Nelson would go on to finish the year as starter. Now as a Sophomore Nelson will be back to captain the Zip ship that is looking to make it to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history.
With only four other starters returning alongside Nelson, and five underclassmen slated to start, Akron will be a young and inexperienced team on offense. At the opposite end of a stark dichotomy, the defense will return nine starters and other than one Junior at Free Safety, will start all Seniors on this side of the ball. With a season win total set at 3.5 (-115, 105) at BetOnline, the market is expecting a ton of regression out of Akron for 2018, and an apparent lack of faith in Kato Nelson and that inexperienced offense. To win three games or less, Akron would have to have its worse season ever under 7th year head coach Terry Bowden, while winning four games less than they did just a year ago. This would be a drastic decline, indeed. Will this offense regress that much? Is their schedule, perhaps, that difficult? These are some of the questions Akron backers will need answered in addressing this season win total.
|9/22||@ Iowa State||+23.5|
|10/20||@ Kent State||-3.5|
|11/1 (Th)||Northern Illinois||+8.5|
|11/10||@ Eastern Michigan||+7|
|11/23 (F)||@ Ohio||+18|
Of All the position groups most likely to be affected by the loss of six starters, it’ll be the offensive line, where they will lose four offensive linemen and a combined 72 career starts. With only one Senior out on the line to go along with two true Sophomores, one should wonder if this inexperience and lack on continuity on the line is the best thing for a Quarterback who has only started six games in his young career. Nelson will get his number one Wide Receiver back, Senior Kwadarrius Smith, but the next six of the top pass catchers from 2017 will be gone. Leading rusher Manny Morgan will also be gone, but as with receiving targets, this is a team spread the ball around to running backs as well, with three backs getting significant work. As you can see the offense is in rebuilding mode without a doubt, and Akron’s success will depend upon whether they can do enough to supplement a defense that could be one of the best the Zips have had in a long time, if not ever.
This Senior-laden defense, though experienced, will undergo some transformation itself, having to adjust to the departure of six-year defensive Coordinator Chuck Amato. Former defensive line coach, Todd Stroud, will join last year’s QB Coach Joe Tresey as Co-Defensive Coordinator, to try to improve upon where Amato left the defense in 2017 (28.0 Points per Game). With 1st Team All-MAC MLB Brian Bell as one of those entering their senior season, they should have the leadership to undergo a Coordinator change, but the loss of Amato shouldn’t be completely overlooked. This defense will have a lot of pressure on it to perform in 2018 with such a young offense, and it remains to be seen what the coaching change will do to the cohesiveness of this unit. They should be one of the best defenses in the MAC, however, and will likely improve upon last year’s numbers (28 PPG, 443 Yards Allowed per Game).
The obvious feature that stands out on Akron’s 2018 schedule is that, other than the FCS game vs Morgan State, they didn’t really give themselves many winnable games out of conference, if any (@ Neb, @ Northwestern, @ Iowa State). So, with what will likely be a 1-3 start, can Akron go 3-5 in the MAC and go over the 3.5 wins? Our Power Ratings would tell us yes, as they are favored in three out of their eight conference games, but it’s important to realize that other than the Kent State game, these are essentially coin flip games, against evenly matched teams. With the offense led by Kato Nelson being such a question mark at this point, and the defense, though experienced, under new coaching, I’m not sure how comfortable we can be with Akron winning the close games.
Season Win Total Pick: Slight Lean Over 3.5 -115
Akron would’ve been the perfect team to fade from a season win total perspective, but the only problem is that with the number is set so low, the market appears to already be on to it. Four wins sounds about right, but that is still banking on the Zips winning a couple of coin flips, or possibly pulling off an upset or two. I don’t doubt the defense has the potential to be one of the MAC’s best considering their talent and experience, but a bad offense can wreak serious havoc on what could be a great defense. On the other side of the coin, Terry Bowden is a very good coach in his 13th season, and I don’t see how you go under 3.5 games, when he’s won at least five in each of his seven seasons at Akron. I think it would be a bit of a surprise if Akron won under four games this year, and It’ll be interesting to see if that holds true, but I just don’t know if it’s worth laying the -115 to find out.