Tue Jun 15 01:30pm EDT
An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Zips.
Why They Might Look Familiar: They have a pants-less kangaroo for a mascot. Kangaroos, while fearsome pugilists, would probably be very good at football. And Akron is not, for the most part, although the school did produce famous television ballroom dancer Jason Taylor, whom we hear can play a little bit.
(A cautionary personal anecdote regarding love of mascots: A while back, the school store started selling this excellent line of shirts (at right), and I snapped up a bunch of them for Christmas presents, because who doesn't love an angry kangaroo? This purchase landed me on some sort of Zips booster mailing list from which, despite six months of alternating pleas and threats, I have been unable to extract myself.)
More ignominiously, you might remember the Zips as the team that lost 14 starters to injury last season and ended up having to advertise for a walk-on quarterback in the student paper after the early dismissal of starter Chris Jacquemain.
Previously On: The injuries helped the Zips limp in at 3-9, which is lowly even for Akron – the Zips haven't won more than five games since 2005. (That was also the year they won the conference title game to push their record to 7-5. MACtastic!) Those three wins: A 41-0 blanking of Morgan State in September, a 28-20 November scrape over Kent State, and another close call, 28-21, against Eastern Michigan, who we are obligated to remind you is terrible. Among the grislier losses: 31-7 in a respectable opening loss at Penn State, 48-21 at eventual MAC champ Central Michigan, and 56-17 at the hands of Temple in the friendly confines of Infocision Stadium. The only close-ish loss was a 21-17 drop to Buffalo.
The numbers don't lie, and they tell a sad truth: The 2009 Zips ranked 113th nationally in total offense, 106th in scoring offense, 118th in sacks, and, curiously, 112th in punting, where you'd think they'd be better given all the practice they were afforded.
Those depths led to the unceremonious sacking of coach J.D. Brookhart in November, and the subsequent installation of Notre Dame's recruiting wonderboy, Rob Ianello, fresh off a brief stint as ND's interim coach after Charlie Weis was dropped in late November. (Ianello's main duties as Irish boss: Holding down the postmortem press conference and interviewing for the Akron gig.) The 3-9 record seems explanation enough for Brookhart's exit, but we're sincerely going to miss the old guy, a gruff interview but a stylish dresser without peer. Happy trails, dinosaur hunter.
Encounters In The Wild: The Zips will enjoy an early "Dregs Of The Auto-Bids" tour, including a rare home visit from a Big Six team, Syracuse. They host the Orange in the season opener because Syracuse is just that paltry, followed by back-to-back road trips to Kentucky and Indiana to close out September. None of these are slated for national media coverage thus far, so just imagine the games being played with heavily recruited kangaroos. It'll be better for all involved that way.
Stock Characters: Viva la pro-style! Ianello's preferred modus operandi will test the mettle of young quarterback Patrick Nicely, who took over the latter half of the season as a true freshman and has the inside track for the starting job. His primary target will be Jeremy LaFrance, last year's No. 1 receiver. The team's second-leading rusher from '09, Broderick Alexander, is another likely nod for first-team action (even though "second-leading rusher" on one of the nation's worst offenses amounted to less than 200 yards for the season).
On defense, linebacker Brian Wager, who led the team in tackles last season as a freshman, anchors a reasonably solid seven, backed up by cornerback Manley Walker, a pint-sized cornerback who picked off three passes as a sophomore.
Prognosis: With Ianello and some patience in the athletic department, Akron will get out of this barrel – just not yet. A new coach, unproven talent at crucial positions, and a new offensive system will bedevil the Zips. But Buffalo, the team directly above them in last year's MAC East standings, is also breaking in an unfamiliar staff. Fifth place in the division is the likely 2010 ceiling.
- - - Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.
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Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.