Summer Vacation: Frat Boys, Phenomenal Mascots And The Akron Zips

After a couple of weeks in the bastion of capitalism and royalty known as the BCS conferences, it's time to jump back out to our cottage in socialist MAC country.  We're doubling up on the profiles to catch up a bit.  Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

The last Akron head coach who ever moved on to lead another Division I team was Joe McMullen, who left Akron in 1960.  There are two types of jobs that end up with tidbits like that: destination jobs and coaching graveyards.  This is mean, of course, but ... Akron's not a destination job.  The school with a higher athletics budget than Troy or Southern Miss just has not been able to figure out how to field a consistently competitive team at the FBS level through the years, and demographics (i.e. the shifting population base) can't explain all of that.  The Zips have certainly had their moments; Charlie Frye brought them a couple of winning seasons in 2003-04, and the immortal Luke Getsy led them to a surprising, exciting MAC title in 2005.  But in the five years since then, Akron won just 18 games, only four of which have come in the last two seasons.  Since advancing to the FBS level in 1987, the Zips have finished with a winning record seven times, played in one bowl game, and won more than seven games in a season exactly zero times.

But hey, their stadium is historic (and has a cool name), and their mascot is phenomenal, so they've got that going for them.

Rob Ianello begins his second year as Akron head coach in 2011, and there's almost nowhere to go but up after an incredibly miserable first season that saw the Zips lose to Gardner Webb (which is a school, not the frat boy antagonist in Van Wilder), score over 22 points just twice, allow fewer than 28 points just twice, and pull out a final-game win over Buffalo to avoid an 0-12 season.  They had exactly one strength -- run defense -- and ranked in the triple digits in almost every single other category we track.  They were bad, bad, bad, and it's hard to know where to start describing the ways in which they need to get better.  But we'll give it a shot.

(Akron dumped McMullen after a 1-9 season, and he wound up at San Jose State for two years after serving on Joe Paterno's staff for almost a decade. The more you know...)

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk**: 117
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
3-Sep Syracuse 3-29 L 6.0 - 30.4 L
11-Sep Gardner Webb
37-38 L 25.4 - 40.1 L
18-Sep at Kentucky 10-47 L 7.9 - 39.3 L
25-Sep at Indiana 20-35 L 22.3 - 37.8 L
2-Oct Northern Illinois 14-50 L 27.5 - 32.8 L
9-Oct at Kent State 17-28 L 18.6 - 23.5 L
16-Oct at Ohio 10-38 L 20.0 - 36.0 L
23-Oct Western Michigan 10-56 L 14.4 - 37.2 L
30-Oct at Temple 0-30 L 7.6 - 33.1 L
6-Nov at Ball State 30-37 L 19.6 - 30.6 L
17-Nov Miami-OH 14-19 L 18.5 - 30.6 L
26-Nov Buffalo 22-14 W 23.9 - 33.3 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 15.6 118 35.1 106
Adj. Points Per Game 17.6 116 33.7 116

In 2010, Akron was one of five teams who didn't once play well enough to beat a perfectly average team according to Adj. Score.  (The other four: Kansas, Memphis, New Mexico, UL-Lafayette.)

Honestly, I'm not sure what to say beyond that. The offense and defense were equally bad -- only once did the offense produce better than 27.0 Adj. Points in a game (27.5 against Northern Illinois), and only once did the defense allow fewer than 27.0 Adj. Points in a game (23.5 versus Kent State).  Ianello was receivers coach at Notre Dame under Charlie Weis, so in theory, their offense may be more likely to improve than their defense, but that is a reach. On both sides of the ball, though, there is almost nowhere to go but up (he said for the second time in four paragraphs).

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 116 115 115
RUSHING 108 103 107 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 118 116 118 88
Standard Downs 117 110 118 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 112 118 97 102
Redzone 110 103 114
Q1 Rk 119 1st Down Rk 119
Q2 Rk 113 2nd Down Rk 107
Q3 Rk 110 3rd Down Rk 108
Q4 Rk 99

Akron was slightly on the pass-heavy side of run-pass ratios, and while some of that may be explained by the fact that they were playing from behind so often, their lower variability suggest that they intended to pass quite a bit anyway.  Not that this matters, really, as the best thing about their running game is gone.  Running back Alex Allen (877 yards, 4.7 per carry, +0.5 Adj. POE, 8 TD) has escaped Akron, and while he was far from spectacular (he didn't earn any all-conference recognition despite the fact that the MAC honors many, many people) ... well, when you rank in the triple digits in every major category, you take your positives however you can get them.  But both Allen and backup Nate Burney (467 yards, -15.5 Adj. POE ... yuck) are gone.  So unless Ianello's recruiting acumen can pay some immediate dividends, don't expect the running game to be anything onto which the Zips can lean.  Ianello got commits from two three-star running backs in the 2010 recruiting class, but neither (Giorgio Bowers, Erick Howard) are on the roster.

So that leaves the passing game. Junior quarterback Patrick Nicely (1,753 yards, 5.2 per pass, 49% completion rate, 10 TD, 13 INT ... again, yuck) is the face of the Akron offense, but who will be the target of his 2011 passes, nobody knows.  Three of his top four targets -- Jeremy LaFrance (534 yards, 12.4 per catch, 61% catch rate), Jalil Carter (412 yards, 13.7 per catch, 49% catch) and Allen -- are gone, leaving Gary Pride III (182 yards, 8.3 per catch, 52% catch), Antoine Russell (221 yards, 17.0 per catch, 43% catch as a freshman), tight end Richard Hall (149 yards, 9.3 per catch, 75% catch as a freshman), and ... ?  LaFrance and Carter were hardly world-beaters, so their absence will not really make things worse, but it adds more uncertainty to an offense that was already rather uncertain.

Other tidbits:

  • Ianello's offensive coordinator, John Latina, was Notre Dame offensive line coach under Weis (it's a Weis reunion!); before that, he held the same position at Ole Miss while Eli Manning was behind center.  This suggests that the background is heavily based in pro-style principles, even if Akron was behind so much that we can't really tell what they intended to do last year.  Oh, and by the way ... their quarterbacks coach?  RON PAWLUS!!  Sheesh ... they couldn't find jobs for Gerry Faust (who worked the Akron sidelines before) and Tony Rice too?
  • Latina should be relatively satisfied with this year's line, which is (by default) easily the most experienced unit the offense will have this fall.  There are no stars, but LG Mitch Straight, RG Zac Kasparek and RT Jake Anderson have been around the block at this point.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 113 96 117
RUSHING 63 57 62 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 119 117 119 104
Standard Downs 115 109 118 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 111 101 112 101
Redzone 83 62 88
Q1 Rk 59 1st Down Rk 111
Q2 Rk 120 2nd Down Rk 99
Q3 Rk 111 3rd Down Rk 118
Q4 Rk 85

You're Kevin Cosgrove. For years, you were one of the hottest names in defensive coaching. You were Barry Alvarez' defensive coordinator for nearly a decade at Wisconsin, and then you joined Bill Callahan's sure-to-be-great staff at Nebraska.  As recently as about 2006, yours was a highly-respected defensive mind.  Then your 2007 Husker defense completely fell apart and you were fired.  Then you ended up at Minnesota and, after a year of decent results in 2009, your defense once again fell apart in 2010.  Your last two bosses have been fired.  What do you do?  You head down to the MAC for some career rejuvenation ... or at least some anonymity.  Cosgrove takes over the Akron defense in 2011, and ... honestly, this isn't a bad move.  I wouldn't want Cosgrove calling the shots for my BCS conference unit, but his level of expertise is certainly solid for what Ianello is attempting to build.

At both Nebraska and Minnesota, Cosgrove's defenses were aggressive, ranking higher in success rates than PPP+ and putting together stellar standard downs and line rankings.  This might fit well at Akron, where the run defense and linebacking corps were easily the best things the Zips had going for them (other than, again, that awesome mascot).  Gone are end Shawn Lemon (a second-team all-MAC performer ... Akron's only all-MAC performer), and tackle-heavy linebacker Mike Thomas (89.0 tackles, only 3.0 TFL/sacks), but some interesting pieces return.  I'm intrigued by end Hasan Hazime (32.5 tackles, 7.5 TFL/sacks) and tackle Dan Marcoux (33.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks), and they have another tackling machine in Brian Wagner (97.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 6 PBU).  It's hard to get excited by much on the Akron roster, but the front seven is about as close as you can get.

Other tidbits:

  • The less said about the secondary, the better, but here goes: the cornerback position is a potential strength -- Manley Waller (47.5 tackles, 6.0 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 5 PBU) had a nice season, all things considered, and Anthony Holmes (39.5 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 1 PBU) was solid for a freshman.  The safety position, however, could use some work.
  • The defense ranked 59th in Q1 S&P+, suggesting their gameplans weren't actually that bad.  But due to some combination of a) opponents figuring out the gameplan and adjusting, b) Akron's athleticism being too poor to keep it up, and c) the defense losing hope because the offense was so terrible, things fell apart by the second quarter.

Akron's 2010 Season Set to Music

In honor of the best band to come out of Akron, here are five songs by The Black Keys that are rather relevant to Akron's 2010 season:

"The Desperate Man"
"Grown So Ugly"
"Heavy Soul"
"Strange Times"
"Thickfreakness" (why, I'm not sure)

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Here is a little of what to expect from a Kevin Cosgrove defense.

Average Rankings For Recent Kevin Cosgrove Defenses (Nebraska 2005-07, Minnesota 2009-10)
S&P+: 54th
Success Rate+: 46th
PPP+: 62nd

Rushing S&P+: 56th
Rushing SR+: 41st
Rushing PPP+: 68th

Passing S&P+: 54th
Passing SR+: 54th
Passing PPP+: 55th

Standard Downs S&P+: 39th
S.D. Rushing S&P+: 44th
S.D. Passing S&P+: 36th

Passing Downs S&P+: 79th
P.D. Rushing S&P+: 64th
P.D. Passing S&P+: 77th

Redzone S&P+: 48th

Adj. Line Yards: 27th

Obviously Akron's defense probably won't rank this highly, but a) this does show that Cosgrove isn't the worst defensive coordinator in the history of creation, and b) this does give you the impression that standard downs and success rates will be relative strengths for the Zips defense in coming seasons.

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 111
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 86
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -6 / -8
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (6, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin***** +5.0

So Akron actually experienced a bit of turnover luck in 2010 -- looking at their fumble recoveries and generally awful defense, things could have been worse in that regard.  Not that we'd have noticed much of a difference on the scoreboard.  The Zips have a few things going for them -- a YPP margin that should turn around at least a bit, a decent front seven, and recruiting rankings that, at the very least, suggest they could be a little better than they have been.  But like other teams that hit rock bottom, the Zips weren't particularly young in 2010, and they will have to do quite a bit more rebuilding, especially at offensive skill positions, in 2011.  That's not good.

Honestly, I think there's hope for the defense; Cosgrove's a decent-not-great defensive coordinator, and he should be able to make something out of the front seven.  But until I see reason to have at least a smidge of hope in the offense, I can't imagine the Zips will have much of a ceiling this fall.  VMI's on the schedule, and they have winnable home games in Central Michigan and Kent State.  Win those, and you've made progress.  Hell, two wins is progress, so let's aim for that.

 

 

---

* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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