By Daniel Johnson
It took until Nov. 26 of last season, the final game of Head Coach Rob Ianello’s debut season with The University of Akron, for the Zips to earn their first and only victory.
Fast forward 9 months later: Ianello’s squad is on the brink of a new season, with last year far in their hindsight.
“It’s the second time around, so the expectations are very clear,” said Ianello. “They look, they talk and they walk different. Physically they look much improved.”
Ianello has reason for optimism, as 13 starters return (five offense, eight defense), a strong freshman class has arrived on campus and several transfers are expected to make a big impact on the field and in the locker room.
“I’m eager to have our first full recruiting class contribute to our team,” said the second-year head coach. “I believe there are a lot of guys that can contribute in some way to the success of the Zips this fall.”
The quarterback competition between junior Patrick Nicely, who has started every game since halfway through his freshman season, and transfer Clayton Moore is a clear reflection of the 2011 Zips as a whole. A mix of new and old faces is hidden under their gold helmets, but a new outlook has spread across the entire program.
Ianello admitted that 2010 was a year of transition, but sees 2011 as potential breakout years for several Zips.
Jawon Chisolm, Marquelo Suel, Anthony Meriwether and A.J. Price are just a few of the names Ianello expects to hear more often echoing down from the loudspeakers at InfoCision Stadium.
Ianello also made several coaching changes in the offseason to help create the success he envisions. Kim McCloud was brought in to coach the secondary, and Kevin Cosgrove became the biggest coaching addition to the 2011 Zips as defensive coordinator.
Cosgrove, most recently the co-defensive coordinator for the University of Minnesota, looks to improve a defense that ranked 106th in the nation just a season ago.
It is clear the expectations have been raised.
“Start winning,” said junior linebacker Brian Wagner of his goals for this season. “We need to turn the program around.”
The idea is simple, but the Zips will immediately jump into the fire as they travel to Columbus to face Ohio State on Sept. 3. It has been 90 years since the Buckeyes lost to another in-state school (1921, Oberlin College), yet they had never faced the type of off-season they did in 2011.
“It will be great to play on a national stage in our first game, in the state of Ohio,” said Ianello. “It’s going to give us a great opportunity to go in there and lay it all out there.”
The schedule does not get much easier after the trip to the Horseshoe, as the Zips welcome Mid-American Conference favorite Temple to InfoCision Stadium on Sept. 10. The following Saturday, Akron will hit the road for another in-state game as they take on Big East foe Cincinnati.
Five of the Zips’ first eight games are at home, which presents a chance for the team to gain momentum as they head into their conference schedule in week five.
The wagon wheel will be up for grabs Nov. 12 when Kent State comes to Akron for the annual rivalry game.
The MAC Championship game will be played on Dec. 2, as the winners of the East and West division will square off for the MAC title.