Akron (0-0) at UCF (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 29, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bright House Networks Stadium (45,323) -- Orlando, Florida. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: Akron 0-0, UCF 0-0. Away Record: Akron 0-0, UCF 0-0. Neutral Record: Akron 0-0, UCF 0-0. Conference Record: Akron 0-0, UCF 0-0. Series Record: Akron leads, 5-3.
GAME NOTES: Year two of the Terry Bowden era in Akron will get underway as the Zips hit the road to take on the UCF Knights at Bright House Networks Stadium to kickoff the 2013 season.
Akron has finished 1-11 in each of the past three seasons. Bowden may have not improved the record immediately upon his arrival, but the Zips ended 2012 averaging 9.6 less points per game than their opposition, still a huge improvement from the 24.3 point per game average margin they posted in 2011.
Coach George O'Leary did a tremendous job leading the Knights last season. They lost in overtime to Tulsa in the Conference USA Championship before bouncing back with a 38-17 rout of Ball State in the Beef'O'Brady's Bowl. UCF finished with a 10-4 overall record including a 7-2 mark in league play. It is now in its first season as a member of the American Athletic Conference.
Bowden began his tenure as Akron's head coach in 2012 and watched his team suffer its worst loss of the season in the opener when it fell, 56-14, to UCF at home. The Zips still hold a 5-3 all-time series lead over the Knights heading into this one.
Akron expects to make strides this season as it takes aim at its first winning record since 2005. That may be difficult as it debuts a rookie offensive coordinator in A.J. Wilwee and sophomore Kyle Pohl at quarterback. He saw some action as a rookie, completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 366 yards with five touchdowns to two interceptions. Pohl will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself as he takes over an offense that rushed only 38.5 percent of the time last season.
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. Sconiers has recorded 88 catches for 1,118 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Although the Zips frequently passed the ball, 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. Akron has solid size and experience on its offensive line which could open things up for Chisholm.
Akron has seven starters back from a defensive unit that was one of the worst in the MAC in 2012. Last season, the Knights were just one of the nine different teams that picked up 185 yards or more on the ground against the Zips.
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. Akron could dramatically improve against opposing rushing attacks if Nico Caponi and Albert Presley come back healthy. The development of sophomore end Alfonso Horner could factor in as well.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Amato has three of four starters back in the secondary also, including strong safety Johnny Robinson, who finished fourth on the squad last year with 61 total tackles.
Robinson and the rest of Akron's defensive backs had no answer for UCF's Blake Bortles when these teams met last year. In the first game of his sophomore season, Bortles went 14-of-19 for 180 yards with four TDs and one interception at Akron. The junior was sensational in his first full year as a starter, completing 62.9 percent of his pass attempts for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions. Bortles also showed he is a threat as a rusher with eight touchdowns on the ground.
J.J. Worton is the top option at wide receiver for UCF after posting career- highs in receptions (44), yards (594) and touchdowns (5) last season. Jeff Godfrey hauled in 39 passes for 429 yards after converting from a quarterback to a wideout to give Bortles full control of the offense. He and Breshad Perriman are going to be secondary options in the passing game, which may be called upon more in the team's first year without first-team all-C-USA running back Latavius Murray.
Storm Johnson is set to become the team's new work horse as long as he can stay healthy. The former Miami Hurricane was a regular contributor in the first six games of 2012, rushing 92 times with an average of 4.6 yards per carry. He scored two of his four rushing touchdowns versus Akron.
UCF was one of the top teams in its conference defensively in coordinator Jim Fleming's first year with the program, as it finished second in the C-USA in total defense and its 22.1 points allowed per game led the league. Fleming has a tough task on his hands for his second term as graduation left him with numerous holes to fill.
There are only four starters returning, and just two of those come in the front seven. Defensive tackle E.J. Dunston is the lone man with starting experience from last season in the trenches. He had 30 tackles and a sack in 2012.
Junior strong safety Clayton Geathers is an impact player among the newcomers for the Knights. He has started every game of his career, earned a spot on the 2011 C-USA All-Freshman Team and finished second on the team in tackles as a sophomore with 117 stops in addition two forced fumbles and five pass break- ups.
The wide gap in talent and experience between these teams that was clear in 2012 has narrowed, but the Knights still hold an edge. Bortles has put himself on the radar of NFL scouts and has a greater stage in the AAC to raise his stock even further. He is capable of leading UCF past the Zips, who have not won an away game since Oct. 18, 2008. Their current 26-game road losing slide is the longest active steak among FBS programs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCF 38, Akron 17
08/28 10:41:10 ET