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2005 MAC Football Pigskin Preview
How do you replace your best quarterback in school history who holds just about every passing record? Charlie Frye was Mr. Everything for the Zips and certainly their poster child of the football program for the past three years - he is now with the Cleveland Browns. Jabari Arthur looks to be the heir apparent. The 6-4 220-pounder was once the top college prospect in Canada and is a tremendous athlete. Last season Akron used him as a wideout just to get the ball to him even though he was listed as their #2 QB on the depth chart. While he lacks the accuracy of Frye, there is not nearly the drop-off in talent some might think. Luke Getsy transferred from Pitt and is eligible to play this season. A 6-2 225 pounder was a phenomenal high school player at Steel Valley Hill near Pittsburgh. John Ferguson, Brian Flaherty and Kurt Shoemaker provide depth.
Senior Brett Biggs is back after he accounted for nearly 1,500 total yards and twelve TDs last season. He came from way under the radar screen as a late signee from Fort Scott JC after the February signing period. This second team all-conference player has the power to run between the tackles and the speed to hit the homerun in the open field. Jerell Ringer and Dennis Kennedy are each in the 5-10 200-pound range; provide some positive and dependable depth at running back. Dan Basch has graduated leaving a void at the fullback position. Richard Spaulding and Joe McDaniel are capable players but lack Baschís size. The Zips rushed for an average of just 97-yards per game in 2004, a stat that will need to increase significantly for the Zips to have success.
Whoever wins the QB job in the fall will have a potent receiver unit as the Zips return their top four receivers. Domenik Hixon is a Biletnikoff candidate as he had a tremendous 2004 season. Hixon equaled the single-season school receptions record (66) and ranks fourth in the MAC among returning receivers in receptions per game (6.0). Jason Montgomery has 65 career receptions, including 42 last season. Johnny Long and redshirt freshman Brandon Williams lack experience but they have plenty of talent according to the coaches. Brett Green and Marcus Patterson were spot contributors last season and will provide depth as will redshirt freshman speedster Stephon Fuqua. Jabari Arthur would be the wild card at wide receiver if he ends up here. He made 23 catches during his nine games at wideout in 2004. Akron has some very reliable tight end prospects in 6-6 265-pound Kris Kasparek, 6-3 250-pound Dennis Basch & Doug Fife (6-5, 240).
Tim Crouch is the lone returning starter which might not be a bad thing. Akron ranked 13 or 14 in rushing offense last season and gave up 40 QB sacks. Andy Alleman, another Pitt transfer, is looking to bolster the offensive line after playing DE for the Panthers. Mike Donaldson, Andy Wills and Justin Hein, round out the remaining starters, who average 6-4 298 per man. Garrett Brewster, Mike Schepp, Scott Kaplan and Jim Holley provide depth, but very little experience. How quickly this newly formed line develops will likely determine the success of Akronís season.
Senior Kiki Gonzalez turned it on toward of last season and has a chance to be one of the better interior linemen in the MAC in 2005. At 6-foot-2, 300 pounds he is big enough to battle the big lineman and quick enough to get off blocks to make plays. Brian White (6-2, 275) has been a solid performer the last three seasons. Jermaine Reid (6-4, 275) is another DT with experience as he battled through shoulder trouble last season. Jared Cecchetti contributed last season as a true freshman in 2004 but there is little depth after him. Tim Wilkes provides pass-rushing presence but newcomers Doug Williams, Brandon Butler, Esau Hooks, and Chuck Lewis, will have an opportunity to play their way into the rotation. Akron often plays a 3-3-5 scheme, which could explain why they gave up nearly 190-yards per game rushing last season.
There are some holes to fill at linebacker as Diontre Earl decided to give up his final year of eligibility to concentrate on his academics. Jay Rohr, an All-MAC candidate, is the lone returning starter at either LB spot. Rohr finished last season 5th on the team in tackles, including a team-high five QB sacks. Bryan Howe and Brion Stokes add size and athleticism to this position. Howe missed most of last season with an injury, is expected to be back at full strength in the fall. The coaching staff is very excited about redshirt freshman Jemall Benjamin has 4.48/40 speed to go with his 6-1 225-pound size. Mark Groza has mainly been a backup and special teamís performer the past two seasons adds depth. Kevin Grant and Anthony Showers both bring good size and speed to thus unit. Overall this group averages 6-2 230-pounds per man. On paper, this group should be the strength of the defense this season.
The Zips return all four starters from a unit that gave up 237-yards per game through the air in 2004. SS Chevin Pace led the secondary with 68 tackles last season and is not afraid to stick his nose into the action. FS Dion Elie added 63 tackles and one INT in 2004. There is better depth this season at safety with Chris Brown, Jason Nedd, Antonio Samuel, Vince Vaughns and Donte Cloud. Cloud may earn a starting position before the season ends. Both starting cornerbacks return in Reggie Corner and Dionte Henry. Corner was 7th on the team in tackles and picked off a pair of passes, as did Henry. Backup Brandon Anderson brings unprecedented speed while sophomore Davanzo Tate, a transfer from West Virginia, is an athletic presence on the outside. Andre Walker will also be in the mix at cornerback. Parris McNeal will replace the steady John Fuller at the rover position. McNeal is a physical player who will need to adjust to playing closer to the line of scrimmage. John Mackey is his backup and saw limited time last season. Often playing with five DBs in most defensive schemes, this group needs top make more plays at or near the line of scrimmage.
Domenik Hixon is one of the top return specialists averaging 17-yards per punt return and 25-yards per kick off return. On the other side of the coin, Akronís coverage units were very bad last season giving up nearly as many yards per punt and kick return that Hixon produced. Jason Swiger slipped last season after garnering all-conference honors in 2003. He did hit a game winner against Marshall as time expired last year. Billy Sullivan averaged over 40-yards per punt and has shown good hang time.
Sadly, Akron was the only team who was bowl eligible in 2004 that didnít get a bid last season. This year the Zips return 12 starters from a 6-5 team that finished in a tie in the MAC East. What makes matters worse is they must replace Charlie Frye, the schoolís best QB ever, four very good offensive linemen, and a total of 20 lettermen. Frye accounted for more than 70 percent of last season's total offense and holds 54 school records. He ended his career ranked No. 11 on the NCAA career total offense chart and No. 16 on the career passing yards. Coach JD Brookhart is the reigning 2004 MAC Coach of the Year and will need to make quick magic once again. Last season Akron started 0-3 before everything fell into place. This year may be more of the same considering the make-shift offense line, major change at QB, and youth at many positions. Overall this a good team with lots of quality underclassmen. The Zips are two years away from being a MAC title contender. This year their focus will be on another winning season and to try break free from the middle of the MAC East standings.
Mark it down!
Akron will be a much better team at the end of the season then at the beginning. Breaking in a new quarterback and virtually a whole new offensive line will take time for the offense to jell properly. Playing four of the first six games on the road doesnít help much either.
@ Purdue - LOSS
@ Middle Tennessee - LOSS
vs. Northern Illinois - LOSS
vs. Central Michigan - WIN
@ Buffalo - LOSS
@ Miami - LOSS
vs. Army - WIN
@ Bowling Greeen - LOSS
@ Ball State - LOSS
vs. Ohio - WIN
vs. Kent State (Thanksgiving) - WIN
4-7 Overall, 3-5 MAC