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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 30th, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: InfoCision Stadium (30,000) -- Akron, Ohio. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: UCF 0-0, Akron 0-0. Away Record: UCF 0-0, Akron 0-0. Neutral Record: UCF 0-0, Akron 0-0. Conference Record: UCF 0-0, Akron 0-0. Series Record: Akron leads, 5-2.
GAME NOTES: Terry Bowden makes his return to the FBS sidelines when his Akron Zips square off with the UCF Knights in the season opener for both teams at InfoCision Stadium.
Bowden spent the past three seasons coaching North Alabama at the Division II level. The son of the legendary Bobby Bowden served as an assistant at Akron in 1986 before going on to become the head coach of Samford and later Auburn. Bowden coached the Tigers to a perfect record in 1993 in his debut season with the program, but the team was ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA probation. Bowden has his work cut out for him, as the Zips went 2-22 overall in their past two seasons under former head coach Rob Ianello. To help the transition go more smoothly, Bowden brought former NC State head coach Chuck Amato onto his staff as UA's new defensive coordinator.
George O'Leary's Knights go into the season with a lot to play for, but that all could change suddenly. UCF was hit with a bowl ban for recruiting violations, but is still currently eligible for postseason play this year unless the appeal process concludes before the end of the season and the NCAA's ruling is confirmed. The Knights are one of the favorites to win the Conference USA despite finishing 5-7 in 2011. UCF is embarking on its final tour of the C-USA, as it is slated to join the Big East in 2013.
Akron holds a 5-2 lead in the all-time series between these programs. O'Leary is 1-1 as UCF's head coach versus the Zips after leading the Knights to a dominant, 57-17, victory in 2011's clash.
UCF returns both members of its continuous QB battle that took place during the 2011 season, but Jeff Godfrey's offseason conversion into a wide receiver makes sophomore Blake Bortles the unquestioned starter. Bortles earned a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman Team last season after playing well as an often used backup to Godfrey. Bortles's best performance came against the eventual league champions as he completed 24-of-34 passes for 248 yards in the Knights' one- point loss to Southern Miss.
Miami-Florida transfer Storm Johnson brings his electrifying running style to make a three-headed monster, with returning seniors Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey. UCF returns 70 rushing touchdowns to its lineup, which is second only to Wisconsin among FBS programs.
Senior Quincy McDuffie is the top target in the passing game, but J.J. Worton and Josh Reese will be viable options as well. Worton set the school record for a freshman with 41 grabs in 2011. Similar to Godfrey, junior TE Chris Martin is a new option in the passing game after starting 12 games on the offensive line previously in his career.
The Knights return several key components from the defensive unit that ranked 9th in the nation in both total defense (303.3) and scoring defense (18.3) in 2011. UCF has held six opponents under 100 yards rushing over the past two seasons and joins Alabama as the only team to rank in the FBS top 20 in rushing defense in each of the past three seasons.
Former DT Victor Gray and senior Troy Davis combine to make a very effective pass rushing defensive end tandem. O'Leary has a deep defensive line with five serviceable tackles to rotate up front.
The heavy pass rush should lead to some success for the secondary, which returns three starters in CB A.J. Bouye, SS Clayton Geathers, and FS Kemal Ishmael. Ishmael is on The Jim Thorpe Award watch list and enters 2012 with 244-career tackles.
Ray Shipman is expected to make a big impact at linebacker after redshirting in 2011. Shipman was a member of the Florida Gators basketball team prior to transferring to UCF. The former hoops star will be lining up next to last season's tackle for loss leader Jonathan Davis (10.5).
Bowden has made it clear he intends to run a fast-paced offense to pump some life into Akron's weak attack. The Zips managed just 277.8 yards per game last season. The program has not had depth at the skill positions in quite some time, but tailback Jawon Chisholm was a bright spot last season, as he dashed for 961 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman.
Akron had some big question marks surrounding the quarterback position in the offseason before Stephen F. Austin transfer Dalton Williams emerged as the starter late in the preseason. Williams completed 72-of-110 attempts for 724 yards and seven touchdowns during his career at SFA, where he served as the team's backup quarterback.
Junior WR Keith Sconiers is back in the mix after leading the team with 639 yards on 47 catches last season. Sconiers, Marquelo Suel, and A.J. Price should all see their production and roles increased in Bowden's new offensive system.
Amato has his work cut out for him on the defensive side of the ball. The Zips allowed 427.2 yards per game and recorded just 11 sacks and two interceptions last year.
The defensive line is undersized and inexperienced. Senior defensive end J.D. Griggs and junior defensive end Albert Presley could flourish under Amato's aggressive philosophy while defensive tackle Nico Caponi rushes from the interior.
Senior linebacker Troy Gilmer is the new leader of the defensive unit due to the transfer of star Brian Wagner. Gilmer was the second-leading tackler in 2011 despite missing three games due and battling injuries along the way. The secondary might be the strength of the defense as it returns three starters from 2011 in Josh Richardson, Anthony Holmes, and Johhny Robinson.
Bowden and his staff face the tremendous challenge of rebuilding Akron from the ground up. Bowden reeled off 20 wins in a row when he took over at Auburn. Despite previously finding immediate success in a new setting, Bowden will have a rocky journey to the top of the MAC. O'Leary's Knights are more talented and a deeper team on both sides of the ball. UCF should have no trouble getting past the Zips, as a tuneup for next week's big trip to the Horse Shoe.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCF 35, Akron 17
08/29 10:56:24 ET