Welcome to another roster preview to supplement the series about Akron’s quest for eternal glory in NCAA Football 14. For any new readers, feel free to check out the about page of the site to read about this whole project and catch up on the past installments. This preview is meant to give you a closer look at the team since there are so many players to know on a fictional football team.
Life is good in Akron these days.
Coach Luke is once again considered a premier college football coach. The team’s stellar coordinators, DC John Dickson and OC Dan Harris, are back with the team despite both getting lots of buzz for other jobs. The city of Akron itself is even benefiting from a growing national reputation and they have lots of new breweries, offices, and businesses all filling up the city.
Even with all of that, the most exciting thing happening in Akron is the construction of LeBron James Stadium. InfoCision Stadium is less than twenty years old but Akron football has had such a meteoric rise that a state-of-the-art giant stadium is now necessary to meet the demands of a major football program. The hope is that this upgrade will be the final piece that makes the team ready to join a conference like the Big Ten.
There’s risk associated with this new stadium construction. If the Akron football team suddenly goes downhill, it could become a giant money pit. For that reason, the university is begging Coach Luke to stick around and they are eager to ensure that the team can continue their newly-found winning ways. Year 12 of Coach Luke’s tenure is the next step in that process.
The roster for this season looks promising. There are question marks, as always, but there are reasons to believe this may be a potential championship season as we say farewell to InfoCision Stadium.✓
Meet the Offense
The Year 12 Zips offense is the most interesting group that we’ve seen in a long time. For the first time since Year 6, we don’t have an offensive player rated 99 OVR in the lineup. We also actually have our lowest-rated quarterback since when Cortez Haumiller started as a 92 OVR quarterback in Year 5.
I think this may be the most potent offense we’ve ever had because of a lack of weak links. Everywhere you look—even at backup positions—you see players rated in the high 80’s or above. It’s a deep, talented roster.
The biggest mystery with this offense is how it will look with a quarterback under center that’s not a scrambler by nature. It opens up a lot of possibilities to have a more efficient passing attack, but it may be a complete bust and step backward for the Zips.
Let’s take a look at the two most important offensive players in determining how successful this experiment will be.
Mr. Adaptable: HB Rod Jackson
When Rod Jackson was being recruited out of high school, most colleges saw him as a halfback or receiver. Part of the reason that Rod chose Akron was because Coach Luke promised him a chance to play quarterback. It’s been a tantalizing experiment that looked genius at times and like a diaster at other times. Rod has been borderline Heisman candidate because of all of the ways he can contribute. There’s no denying though that something has been off about his play at quarterback against top-tier teams.
This problem became more apparent when Coach Luke decided to install Air Raid passing concepts into the playbook. Rod struggled to master them and it created frustration for both Luke and Rod.
The one thing Rod never struggled with was running the ball though. When he’d drop back as the quarterback, Rod felt more comfortable running instead of waiting for plays to develop. It resulted in over 800 yards rushing and nine touchdowns last year but an inconsistent offense that lacked a true identity.
After last season ended, Coach Luke and Rod went to Skyline Chili together to talk about things. They both knew something had to change. As they sat there with giant plates of spaghetti-topped-with-chili-and-cheese, Luke proposed a new plan to Rod: be our swiss-army knife. Luke talked about a scenario where Rod would be the starting halfback and have sets designed to also use him at receiver and in Wildcat formations. Luke even took out a napkin and drew examples of the trick plays they could run with Rod at halfback.
Rod was surprised at how exciting this all seemed. For the first time since high school, he felt like he would be used to the best of his ability. Rod started to feel like he could be Hot Rod again. Despite coming to Akron to play quarterback, there was no escaping who he really was anymore.
With Rod on board, there was one other key piece to this puzzle.
Not Just For Sim Games: QB Leonard Sims
You see, part of the reason why this Rod Jackson plan came about is because of who was next in line at quarterback. Leonard Sims was one of the big prizes for Coach Luke out of his newly-installed California recruiting pipeline.
The University was a bit apprehensive when Luke started asking for money to go to California multiple times a year but it paid off when he fully established a recruiting pipeline there in the Year 7 recruiting cycle. A few years later, Coach Luke got his best California player yet when the #4 QB in the country, Leonard Sims, committed to the Zips in Year 10. For the first time in our history, we had recruited a non-scrambling quarterback.
From the moment Leonard Sims arrived on the Zips practice field, Coach Luke was smitten. He liked the way that Sims stayed in the pocket to let plays develop. Seeing the poise of Sims made Coach Luke realize that we could open up our passing game with a more patient quarterback. In an atypical move for Coach Luke, he opted to not redshirt Leonard Sims. He liked what he was seeing and wanted him out on the field as soon as possible.
We got to see glimpses of Sims on the field in his freshman year but he was always brought in during odd circumstances without much prep. This year is sure to be different.
After Coach Luke’s visit to Skyline Chili, he immediately visited Leonard Sims and handed him a new playbook. He told him he was QB1 and that his time to shine was now.
Time will tell if this gamble catapults the team to a championship or if it ruins all the progress we made in recent years.
Players Talked About In Previous Years
- TE Eric Fagan – The speedy tight end is our starter again this year despite his backup being higher-rated. Fagan is a pure receiving tight end and better fits the team’s new direction on the offense.
- HB Keith King – Keith King’s season was cut short with a season-ending injury last year. Instead of taking over as starting halfback this year, he’ll continue to be a rotational piece behind new starter Rod Jackson. Rated at 92 OVR this year, we should still see a lot of King on the field.
Meet The Defense
It’s been amazing to see the Zips become a defensive juggernaut. In six games last season, the Zips held opponents to under ten points, including three shutouts. It’s been comforting to always have a solid defense to rely on, but it’s not something I’m taking for granted. I’m continuing to try to add to it and ensure we can keep this going.
Our calling card has been having an elite secondary play that allows us to always create turnovers as well as pressure up-front due to our elite coverage skills. This year’s defense fits that mold.
The lowest-rated starter that we have is 87 OVR. That’s a strong weakest link, I must say. I’m most excited about seeing our stud cornerbacks hit their peak form together over Year 12.
The Strongest Link: DE James Smith
James Smith was not supposed to start as a freshman but then DE Rueben Mason surprisingly left early to go to the NFL. The Zips had a vacancy on the line and the freshman was tasked with filling that spot last season. He was only rated 83 OVR, but the hope was that the defense had enough other pieces to make up for James Smith as our weakest link.
All that the “weakest link” did was set an Akron single-season record for sacks in a season with eleven last year. No big deal! But, was it a mirage or was it the start of a legendary career?
It’s hard to say. On paper, James Smith is listed as a run-stopping defensive end because he is not very fast and lacks acceleration. Despite that, he has elite moves for getting past blockers and into the backfield. I haven’t really seen a defensive end like him yet!
I’m so interested to see if the legend of James Smith continues to grow in his second year as a starter for us.
Five Star: FS Ken Davis
Ken Davis came to the Zips as a five-star athlete. Historically, past athletes at Akron were placed on the offensive side of the ball but Ken was the first one to agree to be placed on defense.
He’s appeared all over the field but now finds his home as a starting safety in his junior year. His ratings are absurd as he rates 98 or above in Awareness, Man Coverage, Zone Coverage, and Play Recognition. I’m excited to see how those skills translate to his game on the field this year.
With elite cornerbacks on the sides, he’ll have lots of chances to cause chaos over the middle this year.
Players Talked About In Previous Years
- CB Howard Norman – Norman enters his junior year as a 97 OVR cornerback. He’s yet to have a breakout season like his predecessor Anthony Morris, but the hope is that this year will be his coming-out party.
- CB Ethan Terrell – Ethan “E.T.” Terrell appealed himself to fans right away with some big games, but he has been quiet since then as he’s battled injuries. If he’s able to stay healthy this season, he should return to being a fan favorite.
- OLB Todd Austin – “Stone Cold” Todd Austin had a great year as a sophomore. He was a constant threat to change the game at any moment with a key sack or turnover. He enters his junior now and hopes to be one of the top linebackers in the entire country.
Meet the Special Teams
Oh, you know, we’ve got a kicker and a punter to perform those duties again. Roland Williams is a sophomore kicker with an accurate leg. After having some inaccurate kickers with powerful legs, I’m excited about Roland’s potential. Chris Mason now starts his job as our freshman punter.
Full Roster View
If anyone is curious about who are backups are at all of our positions, here is a spreadsheet that contains a look at the entire roster. It does not indicate who will be redshirted for this year yet though so keep that in mind.
Year 12 Schedule
We start the season as the #3 team in the country and have six ranked teams on our schedule. Three of those teams are rated 90 or less and may fall out of the rankings. We also have some tough unranked teams in Michigan and Northwestern. The toughest games will likely be a home game against the defending champion Oregon Ducks, an away game in Nebraska, and a neutral site game against Notre Dame.
When looking at this schedule, reader Josh (Meany_Vizzini) had the following analysis:
“My season preview: Hawaii is a rematch of the most lopsided game in Coach Luke’s tenure: 75-13. This could be Coach Luke’s 10th win against Kent Read, Kent Write, Kent State. Oregon is a redemption game to avenge last year’s only loss against the defending champs. And Notre Dame is the 5th meeting in an emergent rivalry – tied 2-2 over the past 4 years. Pittsburgh, Michigan, and Nebraska are new opponents for Coach Luke – #58-#60.”
I love these deeper dives into our statistics here!
Twitch stream at 8 PM EST tonight!
The new tradition is that I will be streaming games every Tuesday and Friday night. They are nights without other nationally televised football games (typically).
Tonight’s stream will go through the first few weeks of the season. Here is a link to my Twitch channel if you’d like to watch it.
This is the official streaming schedule for the season if you’d like to pop in and join at times:
Tonight’s stream should be a fun night, as always! We’re on a first-name basis on the channel and are a big happy family. You can join our family too.
Either way, I really feel like this might be an epic year for the Zips, y’all. You just never know until the games are actually played though.
In other news, we had a piece of fan art created in Minecraft by reader Jake. This was no small task on his part and I absolutely love it.
If this incredible Minecraft art doesn’t get you hyped for a potential championship season then your heart must be made of stone.
Let’s get this season started on the right foot tonight, y’all!
Also, join the Discord to chat about the team and share music and cooking recipes if that’s your kind of thing!