The Akron Zips football team seems to be a program loaded with potential. The facilities the Zips possess are easily the finest in the MAC, and perhaps as good or better than many other larger and more storied programs can boast. Mike Shanahan called the Zips new indoor practice field one of the best facilities he’d ever seen when his Denver Bronco’s used the Stiles Fieldhouse to practice for their appearance in the Hall of Fame Game a few years ago. Infocision Stadium is a state-of-the-state football jewel, easily the conference’s nicest stadium.
Newly hired head coach Rob Ianello not only brings a ton of experience as an assistant coach at many big-name programs to the table, such as Arizona, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame, he’s also known as a crack recruiter. It’s no coincidence that Notre Dame has had several consecutive years of top recruiting classes under Ianello’s watch. Well known college recruiting guru Tom Lemming went as far as calling Ianello “One of the top ten recruiters of the past 30 years”.
So, now what? What should the Akron Zips football teams goals be? Boise State seems to be the apotheosis of success that mid-major programs like Akron hope to emulate, but is that a realistic aspiration for the Zips?
Boise State’s ascension in the college football World is legendary. The Bronco’s moved from Division II to Division 1-AA in 1978, and achieved instant success, despite the increased difficulty of their schedule. In fact, Boise seemed to actually excel at the higher level, achieving consecutive 10-win seasons in 1979, 1980 and 1981. In 1996, they decided to make the ultimate leap and joined the ranks of D-1 (now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision) in what was then known as the Big West Conference.
Fast forward to 2004. BSU finished 12-0, and notched wins against respectable opponents BYU and Pac-10 member Oregon State. Boise’s success did not go unnoticed, and they were invited to play #8 ranked Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. Boise lost in a tough fought shoot-out 44-40 in a game where just about every single prognosticator wrote them off. Although they didn’t win, the Bronco’s showed the World they could play some football. The next year they lost a close contest to #19 Boston College in the MPC Computers Bowl, which gave them all the credibility they needed for what was about to happen the following season.
In 2005, Boise posted yet another undefeated record, beating a couple quality opponents in Oregon State and Utah along the way. This year was different, though. Their recent record of good showing against perceived superior foes paid off as Boise State, although not from a BCS conference, was awarded a trip to the BCS Fiesta Bowl, where they faced off against #8 football hyper-power Oklahoma. Although practically no one outside the state of Idaho gave them a chance in the game, they managed to shock the Sooners (and almost everyone else, for that matter) and win one of the most exciting games in recent memory, a contest where both teams combined for 22 points in the final 86 seconds.
Boise opens the 2010 season ranked as high as #2 in some polls, despite playing in a non-BCS conference. There is serious talk of the Boise State Bronco’s playing for the national championship game this year if they can survive a couple tough early-season opponents in #10 Virginia Tech and #25 Oregon State.
So how does Akron figure into this equation? Can the Zips hope to achieve that kind of ascension? More importantly, should they hope for a Boise-type Cinderella story?
(Part two will answer these questions)