Photo courtesy of Akron athletics
After a winless season in 2019, Akron will look to bounce back in 2020 under second-year head coach Tom Arth.
The Zips haven’t had a winning season since 2015, but did reach the MAC Championship in 2017. While big things aren’t expected of Akron in 2020, there are reasons for optimism.
Here are five of them:
The Quarterback Room
Redshirt senior Kato Nelson is one of the better quarterbacks in the MAC. He has completed 50 percent of his passes or better in all three years he has been at Akron. He played in 10 games last year and 10 and 11 in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Nelson loves to be aggressive and many expect to see him take another step in 2020.
Nelson’s backup Zach Gibson, a sophomore, will provide competition and a solid option if Nelson struggles or goes down with injury. The program seems to be in great hands with Gibson moving forward. Last year, Gibson showed incredible potential against Massachusetts with a passer rating of 186.5. Look for both Gibson and Nelson to take steps forward in 2020.
More Experience in the Secondary
Last year, Akron had one of the most inexperienced secondaries in the MAC and it showed. Giving up explosive plays in the passing game was the biggest issue for this Akron defense. The loss to UAB saw the Zips allow three touchdowns of 40 yards or more.
Aside from those few big plays, the Akron defense played well. A.J. Watts really impressed as a freshman last year. Expect Watts and junior Jordyn Riley to provide a solid cornerback duo for the Zips.
Weapons on the Outside
Akron returns some solid receivers for Nelson and Gibson to throw to. Nate Stewart was the leading receiver for the Zips with 37 catches for 529 yards and three touchdowns last season. The trio of Julian Hicks, Timothy Scippio, and Jeremiah Knight all have the ability to be big-play receivers. Look for this passing game that was 100th nationally and ninth in the MAC to improve in 2020.
Last year’s schedule featured a few weeknight “MACtion” appearances and this year’s schedule provides Akron with a conventional slate with games only on Saturdays. Of course, the schedule could change drastically from when this was written, but the non-conference is much more friendly this season.
Though Akron is scheduled to make a trip to Death Valley on Sept. 19 to battle Clemson, the other three games against rival Youngstown State, New Mexico State, and UMass provide possible wins. New Mexico State and UMass won a total of three games last year. It’s not unreasonable to believe that the Zips can win both of those games in 2020.
In hindsight, letting Terry Bowden go after the 2018 season may have been a mistake. For a coach who took Akron to the MAC Championship, Bowden could’ve been given more time to continue to improve Akron. Head coach Tom Arth has a challenge in front of him with all the financial challenges the university has.
However, Arth has committed to a complete rebuild. In many instances, you are better off cleaning house and creating the culture you want instead of slowly trying to change it. Though Akron was the only FBS program to be winless last season, do not think that Arth is not the man for the job. He and his staff will need time, but there is nowhere to go from here, but up. Don’t be surprised if Akron catches someone this season in MAC play.