***** NCAA Football Preview - Akron Zips *****
 
 By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Although the overall record wasn't a strong indication,
 Terry Bowden made an impact at Akron in his first season as the team's head
 coach. Bowden came to the Mid American Conference after leading North Alabama
 to three consecutive Division II playoff appearances and Auburn to a 47-17-1
 from 1993-98. He inherited a program that had gone 1-11 in back-to-back
 seasons under Rob Ianello, so the team making its first bowl appearance since
 2005 was not expected.
 
 Akron once again finished 1-11 despite the presence of Bowden, but it was much
 more competitive than the year before with four of the losses being decided by
 eight points or less. The Zips took a pounding in Bowden's debut, falling to
 UCF, 56-14. They lost a heartbreaker in overtime the following week as FIU's
 field goal in the extra session gave the Golden Panthers a 41-38 decision.
 Akron coasted to its only win of the year when it returned to InfoCision
 Stadium and completed a 66-6 rout of Morgan State. It suffered nine
 consecutive setbacks to close out the season, including a 22-14 loss to
 Massachusetts, which was in its first season as an FBS program.
 
 Akron ended 2012 averaging 9.6 less points per game than its opposition, still
 a huge improvement from the 24.3 point per game average margin it produced in
 2011.
 
 The spread offense was coordinated by Bowden in 2012, but he will hand over
 those duties to the 2012 quarterbacks coach A.J. Wilwee, who was a superstar
 signal caller at North Alabama from 2006-08. Wilwee was a two-time finalist
 for the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded annually to the nation?s top player at the
 NCAA Division-II level.
 
 2013 ANALYSIS:
 
 OFFENSE: Wilwee will need to pass on his knowledge of the quarterback position
 in his first season as the offensive coordinator. Dalton Williams, who had one
 of the best offensive performances in school history with 3,387 yards and 25
 touchdowns, graduated and left Akron without a proven passer. Sophomore Kyle
 Pohl saw some action as a rookie, completing 65.5 percent of his passes for
 366 yards with five TDs to two interceptions.
 
 Williams's favorite target was Marquelo Suel, who tallied 820 receiving yards
 and five touchdowns in 12 games to lead the team. Suel also exhausted his
 eligibility, which means Zach D'Orazio, Keith Sconiers, L.T. Smith, and
 Dee Frieson are all expected to take on more vital roles in Akron's spread
 attack. Senior wideout Jerrod Dillard was the most reliable option in the red
 zone in 2012, reeling in a team-high total of nine touchdown catches.
 
 The Zips ran the ball on just 38.5 percent of their offensive plays last
 season. Junior tailback Jawon Chisholm still came up 47 yards shy of the
 1,000-yard mark. He showed solid improvement in terms of efficiency as his
 yards per carry average rose from 4.4 to 5.3.
 
 "Jawon is a tough, hard-nosed back with good speed and is due for a 1,000-yard
 season after coming close the last two seasons," said Bowden on his starting
 tailback. "He allows us to really spread the field and find holes in the
 opponent's defense."
 
 Akron is planning on having a more balanced gameplan so Chisholm can make even
 more of an impact. If given enough touches, he has a great chance of finally
 surpassing the 1,000-yard plateau in 2013, especially because of the strength
 of the Zips' offensive line. Senior tackle Jarrod Pughsley (6-5, 319) is going
 to be the anchor for the front five, which also returns more seasoned versions
 of Travis Switzer (6-2, 292) and Dylan Brumbaugh (6-5, 303).
 
 DEFENSE: Although former NC State head coach Chuck Amato took over the
 defensive coordinator responsibilities prior to last season, the Zips were not
 an intimidating team defensively. UMass and Bowling Green were the only two
 FBS programs that they managed to hold under 30 points. Akron ranked 99th out
 of 120 FBS programs in total defense with an allowed average of 450 yards per
 game.
 
 Akron was much better suited to stop aerial attacks than solid ground games,
 finishing seventh in the MAC in pass defense (238.9 ypg). The defensive
 backfield should be even better this season with seniors Malachi Freeman and
 Anthony Holmes back to man the corners. Junior strong safety Johnny Robinson
 also returns after registering 61 total stops in 2012, good for fourth best on
 the team. Freeman took some time to settle into his starting role, but began
 to make strides late in the season.
 
 "We are getting deeper at all four positions," said Freeman on the secondary.
 "We continue to work on defending as a unit and we are making progress. We
 need to build on last year  and play better as a group for four quarters."
 
 Junior linebacker Justin March is the leading tackler among returners. He also
 stepped up his play late in his sophomore campaign, registering 20 of his 62
 total stops in the final two games. He will need to continue to progress to
 help Akron survive against top tier running backs.
 
 Graduated nose tackle J.D. Griggs was responsible for six of the team's 16
 total sacks last year. The Zips could dramatically improve up front if Nico
 Caponi and Albert Presley come back healthy. The development of sophomore end
 Alfonso Horner could factor in as well.
 
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Although Bowden will have to rebuild several aspects of the
 offense and defense over the next couple years, special teams is covered.
 Sophomore kicker Robert Stein connected on 9-of-12 field goal attempts and 38-
 of-39 extra point tries as a rookie. Stein has a streak of eight consecutive
 made field goals entering his second season. Sophomore punter Zach Paul downed
 18 of his 65 punts inside the opponent's 20 yard line. Although he averaged
 only 40.9 yards per punt, he showed his leg power when he recorded a season-
 long 67-yard boot.
 
 Sophomore speedster Imani Davis (5-9, 172) led the team in both kick return
 yards (251) and punt return yards (168) last year. He may have to compete with
 some incoming freshmen like Wade Edwards and Manny Morgan to retain his role
 as the return specialist.
 
 OUTLOOK: Akron's return to the postseason does not appear to be imminent. It
 has another difficult schedule to trek through and enters 2013 on a 16-game
 losing streak in MAC games.
 
 The Zips have not won an away game since Oct. 18, 2008. Their current 26-game
 road losing slide is likely to grow when they open up their season at UCF.
 Akron's only win in 2012 came over an FCS opponent and it will host James
 Madison for its home opener hoping for similar results. It then has a pair of
 difficult non-conference bouts at Michigan and versus Louisiana.
 
 Akron's MAC schedule will be a little more challenging also as it will take on
 Ball State instead of Central Michigan. Bowden's team faces five of the MAC
 schools that made it to the postseason in 2012 in Bowling Green, Ohio,
 Northern Illinois, Kent State and Toledo.
 
 "We have to improve to meet the level of a conference with 7 bowl teams," said
 Bowden at the annual MAC media day. "We have to go through the process but
 everything is there for us to be successful."
 
 The Zips have a ways to go before they are going to be competitive every
 Saturday. Bowden has found a way to win at every job he has taken since his
 career started in 1983. Akron doesn't need to play in a bowl game this season
 for it to be a success. Ending its conference, road and FBS losing streaks are
 all steps in the right direction.
 
 
 
 08/19 11:44:09 ET