LEXINGTON KY - SEPTEMBER 18: Donald Russell #23 of the Kentucky Wildcats runs with the ball while defended by Brian Wagner #34 of the Akron Zips during the game at Commonwealth Stadium on September 18 2010 in Lexington Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
2009 record: 3-9 (2-6 MAC)
2009 Sagarin: 137
Coach: Rob Ianello (first year, 0-3)
Series: IU leads 2-0
TV: 7 p.m., Big Ten Network
The Indiana Hoosiers began the season with a home game against Towson, a FCS school that finished 2-9 last season. After a two-week layoff, IU played at Western Kentucky, a school in its second season as a full FBS member and sporting a 22-game losing streak. Akron, a MAC school with a bowl appearance within the last decade, would seem to be an upgrade, but it's not clear at all whether Akron will end up being better than either Towson or Western Kentucky. Akron played in a bowl game in 2005, but has been on a steady decline, and after last season, fired coach JD Brookhart. The new coach, Rob Ianello, was Notre Dame's recruiting coordinator under Charlie Weis. The Zips play in a nice new stadium (where IU won 38-21 last year), but clearly are starting from square one in 2010. The Zips have been humiliated in both of their games against FBS competition (they lost 29-3 to Syracuse and 47-10 to Kentucky) and lost 38-37 to Gardner-Webb, a FCS school that went 6-5 last season.
There are 120 teams in FBS (Division I-A). The Zips rank #95 or worse in every major offensive category: total offense, total defense, passing offense, passing defense, and so on. The one positive is that the Zips are in the black on turnovers, but in a way, that makes the other numbers look even worse. And, if anything, the Zips' offensive stats are exaggerated by the slugfest against Gardner-Webb. Akron managed only 172 yards of offense against Kentucky and only 166 yards against Syracuse. Akron's only touchdown against FBS competition came in the final two minutes, in garbage time, against Kentucky. Certainly, if statistics against the big boys were the only stats that counted, IU wouldn't have any numbers yet this season. Akron has faced better competition than IU, but has been completely overmatched in each instance. Comparing this game to Western Kentucky will be interesting. The week before Kentucky played Akron, the Wildcats played Western Kentucky, and allowed 285 yards of offense to the Hilltoppers (IU allowed 288). In short, if this season is any guide, this weekend should yield IU's best defensive performance. If Akron suddenly finds life, and ends up with 300+ offensive yards or multiple scoring drives in the first half, then it's time to be concerned about how this defense will hold up against Big Ten competition.
The Zips still are struggling at quarterback. Patrick Nicely has eclipsed Matt Rodgers (who was forced to start against IU last year when Chris Jacquemain was suspended), but not based on anything he has done in games. Nicely, who started for most of 2009, is completing only 40 percent of his passes and averaging 111 yards per game. Nate Burney and Alex Allen have decent rushing numbers (4.4. and 4.3 yards per carry, respectively), but not enough to make much of an impact.
For better or worse, this is how the 2010 pre-conference schedule will end. Should there be any concern about whether this schedule has prepared the Hoosiers for Michigan and beyond? Maybe. Ultimately, however, the team has no control over the schedule, and we should hope to see the passing game continue to fire on all cylinders. Th running game must find a way to contribute. Darius Willis, Trea Burgess, Antonio Banks, Nick Turner, whoever. A repeat of the moderate rushing struggles that characterized the WKU game would again be a cause for concern. Finally, this is an important game for the defense. Akron, to date, has demonstrated complete ineptitude on offense. This defense must find a way to make that continue. It's beyond dispute that the offense is the strength of this IU team and that IU's chances of success are heavily dependent on the IU offense being one of the most productive in the Big Ten. The defense doesn't have to be great, or even above average. This offense and a halfway decent defense should allow the Hoosiers to win some games. IU should win this game, but the capabilities of the defense may be better known after Saturday night.
My prediction: Indiana 45, Akron 17.