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An Absurdly Premature Assessment of: Akron

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A random, too-soon look at next fall, sans the inevitable injuries, suspensions and other pratfalls of the too-long interim.
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The least you should know about Akron...
2006 Record
5-7 (3-5 MAC/ Third, East)
Past Five Years
29-31(22-18 MAC)
Returning Starters, Roughly
14 (6 Offense, 8 Defense)
Best Player
Guys who put up numbers like ten touchdowns and 21 yards per catch as a true freshman tend to not repeat them as defenses pay more respect and they take on more responsibility in the routine, chain-moving duties of the offense. David Harvey, though, already led the team in catches (43) and, with a MAC-best 30-yard average, in kick returns. So even when his youthful field-stretching duties evolve to include more eight-yard curl routes on third-and-six, Harvey will still be the guy Akron most wants with the ball.
Bizarre Tradition(s)
Akron plays nearby Kent State every year for one of the nation’s several Wagon Wheel Trophy, which has properly weird, rural origins: The prolific Ohioan John R. Buchtel, founder of what would become the University of Akron, lost the wheel when horses ripped apart his mud-stuck wagon near Kent in 1870. A wheel was discovered at the site on a pipeline dig 30 years later, alleged to be Buchtel’s famous loss, found its way into the hands of the president of Kent State, and 40 years down the line became a symbol of fierce regional hatred.

Kent State’s lead in the series is only three games, but the Flashes actually so dominated in its first nine games, from 1946-1954, that the series was discontinued until 1972 for "lack of competitiveness." Akron has won eight of the last ten but lost last year.

Bizarre Item of Dubious Interest
It may not host the best football, but the MAC does deliver the best stadium names in the country. Miami, Ohio, plays in Yager Stadium, Central Michigan in Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Kent State in Dix Stadium. If not for Toledo’s truly fearsome-sounding Glass Bowl, Akron would reign unmatched with the Rubber Bowl, which replaced another arch Midwestern venue, Buchtel Field, in 1940. It is not made of rubber, unfortunately, though historically SMQ imagines it is home to the comforting waft of factory-stink. The new Astroplay turf, at least, does feature a rubber layer.

SMQ remembers last year's Akron preview as the toughest, dullest such post he attempted, but also was struck by its brevity relative to the 3,000-word monsters that have emerged this spring. Comparing the Zips as MAC champion to the presidency of Gerald Ford? That's good, good, except that he's dead now, which is not so good. Yet regarding the president's relationship with the current championship prospects of Akron football, unfortunately for both this time, the comparison endures.

What's Changed: In reality, the conference and overall records were only two games worse last year, but whatever residual optimism carried over from the improbable (and essentially fluky) `05 MAC championship season, it peaked in the September upset at N.C. State (also kinda fluky) and died a lingering death in the form of three losses in the first four conference games. Once you lose to Kent State by three touchdowns, your run as conference bigwig is pretty much shot.

It doesn't help, either, to lose Luke Getsy, a big, pocket-style Pitt transfer who led the league in passing yards in 2005, was second last year and who leaves with 41 touchdowns on a staggering 915 throws in two years. Stylistic opposite and presumptive starter Carlton Jackson has exactly one career attempt, for two yards against Buffalo, which is one attempt and two yards more than either of his competitors, Chris Jacquemain and Sean Hakes.

What's the Same: The Zips rushing offense under J.D. Brookhart has consistently bottomed out, dead last or next to last in the MAC three years running, and ranking 106th in 2004, 103rd in 2005 and an awful 111th last year at a meager 83.8 yards per game. It's not that they're chucking the ball around all the time, either, like most of the other teams that find themselves at the bottom of this category - it's that the Zips actually can't move anyone out of the way: yards per carry have read 2.82, 3.31 and, with five returning offensive line starters in tow last year, 2.75, highlighted by negative yardage in year-end losses to Ohio U. of Ohio and Western Michigan. There was a direct correlation in '06 between Akron rushing yards and Akron points, one that made itself soberly manifest over the final eight quarters of the season, in which the Zips scored a single touchdown.

It's interesting that during this stretch of low, low overall production, Akron has regularly had a serviceable starter, most recently Ohio State retread Dennis Kennedy, deliverer of five 100-yards games and just a few yards shy of a 1,000-yard season. Jackson's athleticism will be an upgrade here over the lumbering Getsy, but five new line starters aren't likely to help so much.

Speak of the Devil: There are problems ahead for both lines, which were not particularly good in '06 and which return just one starter apiece. The ongoing struggle to run the ball was exacerbated by the pressure on Getsy, who was sacked two and a half times per game (96th) behind a line that - in departed members Andy Wills, Andy Alleman, Mike Donaldson and Tim Crouch - logged more than 115 career starts. Those are pretty lousy results after all that time, especially after a much better job of protection (only 1.6 sacks allowed per game) in 2005, which suggests that either a) the coaching staff is stubborn and/or does not consider a position up for grabs once taken, or b) the backups were much worse. Testing the latter hypothesis should be fun for opposing defenses.

Luke Getsy's advice is to just deal, dude.
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There are some positive vibes about the linebackers, where Brion Stokes and Kevin Grant have started together the last two years and appear to be solid veteran contributors, but the Zips were about as bad at generating pressure on the quarterback as they were on the other side preventing it. Yards per carry was down for the second straight year, but not so much that the exits of multiyear starters Kiki Gonzalez and Jermaine Reid don't have partisan Mike Rasor mulling the installation of a 1-5-5 during the Spring and asking "Does the Zips defensive line stand a chance?" Well, a chance, Mike, there's always a chance.

D'Brickashaw Onyenegecha Watch: The defense does, however, return appropriately-named corner Reggie Corner. The team's two-time interception leader was granted a fifth year under Prop 48 provisions.

Overly Optimistic Offseason Chatter: Akron student and Beacon-Journal blogger Rasor was conscientious enough to direct SMQ to a few of his recent Spring-themed reports, and SMQ repays him by blatantly mocking his flippant comparison of Carlton Jackson to Michael Vick? Absolutely, yes. That is a ridiculous thing to write. As Joan Didion said, never forget that a writer is always selling somebody out - it's a cutthroat world, this blogging biz. Kid like Mike's gotta learn someday.

Actually, his comparison of another quarterback candidate, Sean Hakes, to dear, departed Charlie Frye is probably also an overly-rosy intonation at this point, but it is not quite mockable, at least, as the Zips have actually produced a quarterback of Charlie Frye's caliber and style (Charlie Frye). The Zip legend his own self only won four games each of his first two seasons, which would certainly seem to be within Hakes' grasp. No word on whether the sophomore goes to bed at night dreaming of "Sean Hakes Day" in the city, as Frye got back in 2004 (Thank God It's Frye Day, see?), which SMQ imagines is pretty sweet if anyone actually notices. Everyone, at least every Zip, should have his day.

Akron on YouTube: SMQ is on the record declaring Zippy the beanie-wearing kangaroo "one of the NCAA's undisputedly creepiest mascots," in large part because of his her penchant for Porky Pig-like pantlessness amidst an overall Bernice Bobs Her Hair pastiche. SMQ wants nothing to do with an anthropomorphic kangaroo sans drawers in any location, much less in northern Ohio, of all places, a geographic anomaly with no apparent connection to the school or to a "Zip," whatever that is. Everything about Zippy is wrong, vaguely menacing, foul to its marsupial core, as clearly demonstrated here:

Can the children of Akron sleep in their beds with this depraved beast at large? Could you?

See also: Notoriously cheesy frat boy favorite Denny Blaze is an average homeboy who knows enough to feat the 'roo; Zippy plays basketball with other mascots at halftime of Akron's visit to Cleveland State last January; Dominik Hixon hauls in the game-winner at the end of the '05 MAC Championship; and a dude gets the living hell beat out of him as half a dozen guys stand and watch, or try not to watch, at an Akron pizza parlor in 2004. If the last one doesn't ask you for "questionable content" confirmation, it should.

Best-Case: The non-conference schedule includes two Big Ten teams, but only one of them (Ohio State) should be etched in as an automatic loss. Akron has a perfectly good chance to beat Indiana and then Connecticut and for their own sake had better take care of Temple pretty easily. The difference in actually getting into a bowl game for the second time in three years (it was 30 years in the making prior to the Motor City Bowl in 2005) will be getting the conference record back above .500. The '03-06 Zips had three straight winning MAC records before going 3-5 last year, which puts the trend in their favor. Akron won't be playing for the MAC Championship - brought to you by the fine folks at Marathon Petroleum LLC, stressing success through efficiency, efficiency through innovation, innovation through people - but if it works it way back to 4-3, it could win seven overall and wind up in Mobile or some awful place.

Worst-Case: A completely inexperienced quarterback combined with what its own partisans are yet to be convinced is not one of the worst defensive lines in the nation and an annually brutal running game - that's brutal in the sense Caligula is brutal on the aesthetic and moral sensibilities of any conceivable viewer, not in the sense Adrian Peterson is physically brutal on linebackers - is recipe for significant reversion. The MAC is muddled enough that Buffalo and Temple are the only sure-looking things. If it falls apart, 3-9 would represent the worst season here since 1997. That is very conceivable under the circumstances.

Non-Binding Forecast: SMQ, obviously, is not very optimistic about these Zips. Jackson's particular talents would figure to change the system pretty significantly, but the offensive strength clearly figures to be receivers David Harvey and Jabari Arthur (an ex-quarterback his own self), who will not be much good if Jackson can't also throw a little, or if he has no time to throw due to the young line. The offense regressed by a touchdown per game in '06, when every early expectation was that it should have improved from its championship season. And it will be better this fall because...? Akron probably thinks it's better than this after a string of decent teams, but this looks like a rebuilding year along the lines of 4-8 to SMQ, 3-5 in the conference.