Penn State kicks off 2009 with a familiar opening day foe, the Akron Zips. The Lions have hosted the Zips three times since 1999, winning by an average score of 51-17. But what do we know about the 2009 Akron Zips? Let's find out in today's First Look.
"Hart" of the Zips
A 27-33 record as head coach doesn't usually earn you an "underrated" title in college football. I beg to differ with Zips' head man, J.D. Brookhart.
Akron has only posted two winning seasons under his guidance, but he's been able to recruit enough of his own players that things are coming around. This could be his best season. Much of his offense returns, and if the defense can make up for a bad secondary, things will pop in 2009. The defense under Brookhart has always been an issue, but last year's offensive point total of 360 was 57 points more than any previous season in his system.
Throwing with Zip
Ok, so the "zip" puns are already getting old, but they're just too easy. To the point of the pun, Akron returns a third-year starting quarterback in Chris Jacquemain, which is always a winning factor in the MAC.
Seniors Deryn Bowser (785 yds '08) and Andre Jones (678 yds '08) return, supported by senior Jeremy Bruce (345 yds '08). While it's no USC pitch-and-catch combo, Penn State will be very inexperienced at defensive back, especially early in the season.
Looking at Akron's schedule, there is no reason to expect fewer than six wins. Games at Penn State, Central Michigan, and Ohio for homecoming in the first five games are the only games I wouldn't give Akron a good chance to win. The other nine are very winnable games.
If the Zips develop and learn from the early losses, they could finish up the year on a seven game win streak, with Buffalo, Syracuse, Northern Illinois, Kent State, Temple, Bowling Green, and finishing up with Eastern Michigan. Even with a loss or two in there, that would still be seven or eight wins.
Overly optimistic? Maybe.
Totally possible? Absolutely.
From enemy territory
I asked Mike Rasor, Rasor on the Zips blogger, about the 2009 team. The tone was cautiously optimistic. Rasor pointed to the offense as the Zips' strongest suit this year.
"An experienced passing attack should keep Akron in most games. Chris Jacquemain is playing his third year as starting quarterback," Rasor told me, adding, "The Zips have loads of talent at receiver, [and] the veteran offensive line has been very dependable."
But Rasor isn't sold on the defense, as one would expect in the MAC. He said the defense could be this team's Achilles' heel.
"In the MAC, every defensive coordinator dreams of having an experienced secondary," Rasor said. "Akron is thin. It will struggle on third down."
The biggest story by far this year will be InfoCision Stadium, which will replace the old Rubber Bowl, Akron's home since 1940.
"Akron will open InfoCision Stadium vs Morgan State, the week after the Penn State game. Indiana comes to town the week after. This stadium was much needed.
"Its predecessor, the Rubber Bowl, was 15 minutes from campus and was literally crumbling," Rasor said, adding that 2009 should be "the most highly anticipated season in the program's history. If the Zips can put a scare in Penn State, it will only heighten the hype."