The Inaugural Patriot Bowl matches the Army Black Knights (108) and the Akron Zips (94.) Both teams had difficult seasons last year as Army was 3-9 and the Zips were 5-7. The most wonderful thing about this game is that one team will leave 1-0, with bright hopes for 2007. Army brings back 6 starters on both sides of the ball. The Zips bring back 3 starters on offense and 7 on defense.
The good news for Army is that the new comers to the offensive line are all 300 lbs. Additionally they bring a prep-school, Army's version of Red-Shirt, Running Back – Patrick Mealy, who may be a game breaker that no one knows about…yet. Additionally, the Knights have added Ted Bentler, a transfer from Iowa, who has been completely unstoppable in the Spring and Fall practices. They also bring the kick return team, led by Jeremy Trimble – one of the few highlights from last year. This will be Stan Brock's first game as head coach. There has been a noticeable change in attitude Army and it has everything to do the new coach.
The Zips returns a strong defense. However, with graduations and departures from the team, they are inexperienced on the offensive side of the ball for the exception of the running back position. They will start Redshirt Sophomore Chris Jacquemain at quarterback, it will be his first.
It is important to note that Akron is predicted to come in third in the MAC East. Akron will not be bigger or faster than Army – it will be a game of execution…or lack thereof.
Army has far more depth and talent in their front seven than anyone realizes. The Bentler brothers, 6' 9" sophomore defensive end Alejandro Villanueva will also make his debut in the defensive line rotation, while seniors Brandon Thompson and 300 lb. Tony Fusco return to anchor the unit. Although they still may not have the athletes on defense to compete with Georgia Tech or Rutgers, nobody should be tempted to put Akron in that class of opponent.
Who is favored?
By nature of the pre-season ranking and the fact that the game is being played in Cleveland, Akron is a 5 ½ point favorite.
What to look for?
Both teams are very comfortable on defense. In fact, I would not be surprised to see the winner of the coin toss to defer. Both teams will be hesitant stretch their offenses early and will be reluctant to do it at all. Look for a steady stream of off tackle runs and designed scrambles from Akron. Look for some significant wrinkles from Army. David Pevoto will throw a couple of deep passes early to keep the Zip linebackers honest, but the onus of the game on their new offensive line. Brock is looking for them to wear down the Akron Defense and then open up the short passing game for David Pevoto.
How it will unfold?
I look for the Army Defense to dominate this game. Last year Army couldn't handle teams that ran the spread, or quarterbacks who could stretch their defense with vertical passing. No such concerns in this game. Akron will keep it simple and try not to make mistakes. As long as Army contains the QB run, they should hold Akron in check. I don't see Akron turning the ball over until trailing late in the game and they are forced to throw; this is when Caleb Campbell is at his finest.
Army will move the ball sporadically. The left side of the offensive line is suspect, with 6' 2" 256 lb. senior Ray Zeleniak manning the left tackle position. This looks like a scary mismatch in favor of almost anyone Army will face this year. I would look for a big run by Patrick Mealy and maybe a long pass completion once Mike Viti and the O-line begin to take control. Additionally, I look for the Army special teams to help with the field position battle - which will be very important.
Final Score – Army 21 – Akron 3