NCAA Football Preview - Akron Zips
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From The Sports Network By John Agovino, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: Lee Owens led his Akron Zips to a 7-5 record in 2003, the teamâ¿¿s first winning mark since 2000. But despite the winning record, Owens was fired as head coach after six seasons with the team. The squad opened the year on a bad note, dropping its first two matchups, including a heartbreaking loss in the season opener to Kent State in which the Zips allowed 17 unanswered points late in the final quarter to lose by three (41-38). After the rough start, the Zips were victorious in five of their next six matchups, with the lone loss coming against Ben Roethlisberger and his Miami-Ohio RedHawks (45-20). The Zips stumbled in their next two games, losing on a last-second field goal to Connecticut (38-37), which was followed by a devastating loss to Marshall (42-24). Despite the late slip, Akron was able to finish its season on a high note by defeating Central Michigan 40-28 and squeaking by Ohio University 35-28, giving the Zips something to build on heading into 2004. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Over the past few years the MAC has produced some of the top quarterbacks in college football (Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, and Ben Roethlisberger), and this season Akronâ¿¿s Charlie Frye could be added to that list. Frye has already surpassed 49 school records during his three years at the helm and last season he accumulated 3,549 passing yards, breaking his own school record for most passing yards in a single season. Frye now has his arm set on breaking the MAC career passing yards mark, which is held by the previously mentioned Leftwich, whose record sits at 11,905 yards. Frye enters the '04 season with 8,426 passing yards and needs just 3,480 yards to claim the MAC mark. Reaching that plateau could be tough to accomplish with the departure of three of the top nine receivers in school history. Receivers Matt Cherry, Miquel Irvin and Nick Sparks accounted for 60 percent of the team's receptions last season as well as 58 percent of the receiving yards. With the loss of that phenomenal trio the Zips had no choice but to move Domenik Hixon from his free safety position to wideout for this season. Accompanying Hixon will be Jason Montgomery, who caught just 18 passes last season, Morris Ellington, who caught 31 passes in '02 and Jamie Goodwin. With that said, there will be a heavy dropoff in production at the position this year. The running attack also took a heavy hit with the loss of Bob Hendry, who rushed for close to 2,000 yards in two seasons as the starting tailback for the Zips. Hendry will be replaced by Jerell Ringer, who last season averaged 7.8 ypc in limited action. DEFENSE: There are six returning starters back for the Akron defense, including All-MAC linebacker Chase Blackburn. Blackburn, who was one of the best linebackers in the country last season, will open this year on the defensive line, which is returning three starters in Tim Wilkes, Brian White and Dwayne LeFall. LeFall led the defense last season with 6.5 sacks and should find more opportunities with the addition of Blackburn to the line. As for the linebacking corps, which is no doubt weaker with Blackburn moving to the line, it still returns talented starter Diontre Earl along with John Fuller, who started at strong safety last season. Fuller will move to the wide linebacking position this year, giving the Zips more speed on the outside. The void in the middle is currently staled to go to undersized Jay Rohr (5-11, 215 pounds), but he could end up sharing time with senior Cam Yeow. With the loss of cornerback Ryan McKenzie, free safety Hixon and strong safety Fuller, the defensive backfield is extremely inexperienced entering the 2004 season. With the exception of the questionable secondary, the Zips look to field one of the better defensive units in the MAC this fall. SPECIAL TEAMS: Jason Swiger, who walked-on to the squad at the beginning of last season, finished the year with the most points by a kicker in school history at 91. Jamie Goodwin, who was second in the MAC in '03, averaging 23.1 yards per kick return, will look to cause opposing special team coaches nightmares again in '04. The punt return duties will most likely be handled by Hixon, who saw little action last season while backing up Matt Cherry, but should fit in just fine after averaging 12.6 yards per return when he did get his chances. OUTLOOK: The Zips open the season with four of their first five contests away from home. Those four contests come against Penn State, Virginia, rival Kent State and Northern Illinois. After that tough road stretch, the Zips will host four of their final six matchups, but two of those opponents come against Marshall and Miami-Ohio. New head coach J.D. Brookhart, who was the offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh before coming to Akron, will have a tough task ahead of him, and although Frye is at the helm again for the Zips, the offense has lost too many key components for a repeat of the seven victories it posted in 2003.