by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

The arrival of Terry Bowden to take over the flagging football program at Akron has given Zip fans and players some hope. But there’s an old saying in business, “Hope is not a plan.” The Akron faithful are hoping Bowden has a plan to reverse the trend that’s seen the Zips go 4-30 SU in their last 34 games.

Bowden has quite a resume, posting a 140-62-2 record in an 18-year career highlighted by an undefeated team with Auburn in 1993, leading the Tigers to 20 straight victories over ‘93 and ‘94. After a decade as a TV commentator (1999-2008...nice work if you can get it), he returned to the coaching ranks with North Alabama and is now selling Akron as a destination for high school football talent.

If the college game hinges on coaching as much as most feel, the Zips will be an improved team...eventually. Bowden brought in ex-N.C. State head coach and longtime Florida State assistant Chuck Amato to run the defense. Amato served under Terry’s dad Bobby Bowden at FSU and helped produce 11 first-round draft picks in his career. Amato’s 2004 N.C. State team led the nation in total defense. Terry also brought his younger brother Jeff to the staff as special teams and receivers coach. Jeff coached with Terry at Samford and with his dad for 13 years at Florida State. Terry Bowden and this staff represent a major upgrade over the likes of Rob Ianello, J.D. Brookhart, Lee Owens and Gerry Faust who’ve been in charge of the Zip program for the last quarter century. Now all they have to do is get some players.

In the short run, it’s unrealistic to expect more than one or two wins this season. Home dates against Morgan State, Miami-Ohio (4-8 LY), Bowling Green (5-7) and MAC newcomer Massachusetts (5-6 LY) present the best chances for wins this season, but don’t expect the Zips to sweep those games with the players on hand.

New coaches mean new schemes on both sides of the ball as Bowden’s offense will shift gears and go to an uptempo, no-huddle style. Although the staff has yet to make a decision on which quarterback will run the new attack, it appears sr. Dalton Williams, a 6-4 transfer from Stephen F. Austin who ran the scheme for the last three years, will be a stop-gap solution, replacing jr. Clayton Moore, a former Ole Miss and juco transfer who started all 12 games for the Zips last season. Moore threw for just 1655 yards and completed only 48% of his passes as the offense ranked among the worst in the country (118th out of 120 in scoring). The 2012 Akron attack has at least one decent club in the bag in the person of soph running back Jawon Chisholm (right), who gained 961 yards (4.4 ypc) and scored five times last season. Chisholm made a big effort during spring and impressed the staff with his hustle and dedication. The offensive line is in a forced rebuilding mode after losing four of last season’s five regulars. This unit gets a boost with the return of Mitch Straight, a senior who started 12 games in 2010 but missed seven with injury last season and made just four starts. Junior left tackle Jarrod Pughsley, a former walkon, lost 50 lbs. (down to 290) and won a job in spring, but none of these players are all-MAC quality and injuries slowed the development of the offensive line in the spring. Word is that at least three incoming freshmen could end up as starters by late October in an expected “build for the future” program.

The team returns 11 of the top 12 pass-catchers, but the fact that two of the most impressive wideouts in spring were L.T. Smith (a converted safety) and 5-8 jr. Dee Frieson (didn’t play in a game LY) could be signs the Bowdens aren’t pleased with the talent on hand. Seniors A.J. Price (6-4) and Marquelo Suel (6-3) combined for 81 catches and 9 scores a year ago, but the coaching staff is looking for more big plays and would probably prefer to develop players who will be around after 2012.

The defense, which gave up 39 ppg LY (116th), lost LB Brian Wagner, who was by far the Zips’ best player a year ago and their only representative on any of the three-deep all-MAC teams. Wagner had more than twice the tackles of sr. MLB Troy Gilmer, a returning starter who ranked second in the club last season with 71 stops. Akron gave up 4.9 ypc in 2011, the programs worst mark since 2004. Amato is emphasizing speed on the defensive side of the ball, and he moved redshirt freshman fullback Cody Grice to defensive tackle with that in mind, and imported juco DE Albert Presley to inject some athleticism on the D-line. Presley proved he could be an impact player in spring, as he gave the offensive line major headaches. With both safeties returning, the secondary should be improved, but it’s still very thin and ranked just 112th in pass efficiency defense a year ago. How much better can they really be?

Oh yes, and the special teams are pretty much a mess.

Summary: Bowden is capable of building a MAC East contender, but it’s going to take time. The likelihood is the staff will need two or three more recruiting classes before it knows if this will work. The facilities at Akron are in place, with nearly-new Infocision Stadium/Summa Field and recently-upgraded facilities (Stile Athletics Field House, dedicated in ‘04, still looks state-of-the-art). So the Zips have top-drawer facilities and top-drawer coaches in place....all Akron fans are waiting for is an infusion of talent.


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