University of Akron
Location: Akron, Ohio
Home Stadium: InfoCision Stadium
Head Coach: Terry Bowden, 6th season, 24-37 (.393)
Conference: Mid-American Conference, East Division
First Game: 9/4/1999 (Penn State won 70-24)
Last Game: 9/6/2014 (Penn State won 21-3)
Overall: Penn State leads 5-0
Current Win Streak: 5, Penn State (1999-2014)
Last Season (5-7 overall, 3-5 conference)
In 2016, the Akron Zips ended their season at 5-7, with a four game losing streak in their last games, finishing in a tie for third place in the East Division. That’s a far cry from their 8 win season and bowl game appearance in 2015. The Zips’ 2016 season came down to injuries on the defense and offense, most notably when both starting quarterback Thomas Woodson and backup quarterback Tra’Von Chapman were knocked out of the Bowling Green game in November. That stroke of bad luck left coaches putting wide receiver Tyrell Goodman (who played QB in high school) in the quarterback spot during the game.
Offseason and Recruiting
There’s just no matchup when it comes to recruiting, as Akron’s 2017 class is ranked as the nation’s 131st recruiting class (12th and last in the MAC) as compared to PSU’s 2017 class ranked at 15th in the nation and 3rd in the Big10.
The Zips lost a few key players to the NFL with the departure of receivers JoJo Natson Jr. and Jerome Lane (who declared early). But they’re returning 57 letterwinners, including 14 starters.
The Zips were ranked 73rd in the nation last year in offense with 27.4 points per game, but are returning quite a few letterwinners overall, including impressive senior quarterback Thomas Woodson, who poses a threat now that he's back from injury. Last year, Woodson passed with a 152.1% efficiency rating, with18 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions, throwing for 2, 079 yards, and going 146 of 242 before a late season shoulder injury.
Tra’Von Chapman, Woodson’s backup last year, has now moved to wide receiver and is a likely top target, after catching seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the Zips’ spring game. Senior Austin Wolf also returns at wide receiver, and was third in receiving for Akron in 2016 with 36 receptions for 550 yards and five touchdowns.
One of the most hyped Zips players is former Ohio State senior running back Warren Ball who returns after being injured much of 2016 and after being granted a sixth year of eligibility. Ball, who was behind current NFL running backs Carlos Hyde, Ezekiel Elliot and Curtis Samuel on the depth chart at Ohio State, transferred to the Zips in 2016 to get more play time. Ball rushed for 110 yards in the first game against VMI and 71 yards on 10 carries against Wisconsin, and looked incredibly promising, but ended his season with an injury just two games in.
Four out of five starters also return on the offensive line, including Zips senior center LaVonne Gauthney, who is on the Rimmington Trophy Fall Watch List.
Defensive Coordinator Chuck Amato has his work cut out for him after the 2016 Zips defense was ranked 98th in scoring defense by allowing 33.6 points per game. Zips were 107th (S&P+) in total defense last year, and are predicted to be even worse this year at 123rd in total defense.
Akron does return some defensive talent, including sophomore linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III, who last year racked up 122 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss, and 4 sacks. Gilbert’s impressive performance earned him a spot at ninth in the nation, a First-Team All-MAC selection and his name on the Bronko Nagurski preseason watch list as a candidate to be the nation’s top defensive player.
Zips sophomore cornerback Alvin Davis also returns after a stand-out 2016 season, after snagging 87 tackles as a freshman.
Sophomore kicker Tom O’Leary returns after a solid 2016 season, making 10 of 11 field goals with a 90.9% field goal percentage and a long of 42 yards, and going 39 for 42 extra point attempts for a 92.9% average. He’s been named a third-team-all-MAC selection.
Zip on over to the SB Nation blog Hustle Belt to read more about Akron football and the MAC.