AKRON How do you pivot from a disappointing performance in the Mid-American Conference championship game and end your season on a high note?
The Akron Zips are a team in search of a positive finish, one that will help wash away the taste of their 45-28 defeat by Toledo in the MAC title game earlier this month. When news came down that Akron had accepted a bowl bid, head coach Terry Bowden did his best to shift the focus toward the postseason.
"We’re excited to accept a bowl trip to the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla. on Dec. 19 to play against Florida Atlantic and I think our players will be excited to work toward that," Bowden said. "Our players and our coaches, the credit goes to them and the efforts they have put in to put us in a bowl game. We have a lot of players that are from that area that will look froward to be going close to home."
There is no question the Zips were hoping for a better result in their second matchup of the year with the MAC West champion Rockets, but Toledo’s high-octane offense once again proved too much for Akron to handle.
With redshirt freshman quarterback Kato Nelson and senior Thomas Woodson, who missed several games late in the season due to a suspension, at the controls, the Akron offense simply couldn’t keep pace at Ford Field.
By the time the Zips got on the scoreboard, they trailed 38-0 and could get no closer than 17 points.
"Coming off the MAC championship (game) that didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, we didn’t get the championship, but we have to go from there," Bowden said. I’m excited that these players won the (MAC East Division) championship and fought so hard to finish strong in that football game even though we did not play our best half in the first half of that game."
Shaking off that defeat, along with a 27-point loss at Toledo on Oct. 21, won’t be easy, but Akron has to turn the corner quickly if it’s going to be ready to handle a Florida Atlantic offense that rang up 518 points this season under former Oakland Raiders and University of Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin.
In his first season at FAU, Kiffin engaged in social media exchanges and other stunts to promote the program and the Owls won Conference USA with a 10-3 mark and Bowden, like Kiffin the son of a legendary football coach (Kiffin's father, Monty, was a longtime NFL defensive coordinator), knows his team will have a big task facing FAU on the Owls’ home turf.
"They won Conference USA … they lost to Buffalo earlier in the year, but they went on like a nine-game winning streak … they’re a real good football team. I have a fine relationship with Lane (Kiffin) and he’s done a great job there," Bowden said.
Bowden acknowledged the scheduling challenges that come with playing in a mid-December bowl game, but playing on Dec. 19, ahead of the bigger bowls, could afford the Zips a chance to garner a bit more national attention.
The fifth-year head coach also pointed to the fact that many of the team’s players hail from the Sunshine State and specifically from south Florida, so going to Boca Raton should be more than a welcome escape from the chilly Northeast Ohio winter weather. Playing in Boca Raton will allow Akron to show what it can do in front of more potential recruits in the region, which may pay dividends in the years ahead.
There’s also the issue of extra practice time, as bowl teams have the chance to continue practicing while those who don’t qualify for the postseason can’t get together on the field again until spring football in March and April
"That has always been a benefit because spring ball is only 15 days and when you get to your bowl preparations you have two and a half weeks, but really we’ll only have nine or 10 days, and there will be some days where you’ll get your bowl guys in and some days where you get your younger guys in," Bowden said.
With all of those elements in play, the Zips have plenty of reasons to pour all of their energy into their bowl game and forget the lopsided result of the MAC title tilt. The game will be a sharp departure from their previous two bowl games of the Division I era, with a 2005 trip to Detroit for the Motor City Bowl and a trip to Boise two years ago for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl both sending them to much chillier climates for the postseason.
In a matter of days, they’ll have a shot to write a much warmer, sunnier final chapter to their season.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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