Know Your Penn State Football Enemy: Akron Zips

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 10: Thomas Woodson
MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 10: Thomas Woodson /

The Penn State Nittany Lions open the 2017 season at home against a MAC foe. 

Penn State will start its 2017 campaign with a home matchup on September 2  against the Akron Zips. It will be the first of three consecutive non-conference games for the Nittany Lions. With in-state rival Pitt visiting Happy Valley in Week 2, it will be important for Penn State not to overlook the Zips.

Akron is coming off a 5-7 season in 2016 that included losses to ranked opponents Wisconsin and Western Michigan. The Zips went 3-5 in the MAC and struggled to a third-place finish in the MAC East.

The Zips struggled on both sides of the ball last year, ranking 73rd with 27.4 points a game and 98th with 33.6 points allowed per game.

A positive for the new year is the fact that Akron returns its starting quarterback and both top running backs from last season.

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Quarterback Thomas Woodson threw for 2,079 yards last year with 18 touchdowns to six interceptions. He ran for 603 yards in 2015, but became more of a pocket passer last year and ran for just 34 yards.

Woodson missed three games last year due to injury and had shoulder surgery this offseason. It’s expected that he will be ready for the start of the season, but if he’s not, a name to watch will be junior college transfer and former University of Virginia player Nick Johns.

Running the ball this year for the Zips will once again be the combination of Van Edwards Jr. and Manny Morgan. Edwards Jr. led the team in 2016 with 100 carries for 492 yards. He scored three rushing touchdowns. Morgan rushed the ball 81 times for 417 yards with no touchdowns.

Top receiver Jerome Lane is no longer around, so Austin Wolf should take over his spot this year. Wolf was second on the team last year with 35 receptions for 550 yards and five touchdowns.

Former quarterback Tra’Von Chapman, who threw for 700 yards and five touchdowns while Woodson was hurt last year, has made the transition to wide receiver for 2017. He’s a speedster who ran for four touchdowns a year ago and could turn out to be a dangerous playmaker for the Zips.

On defense, linebacker Ulysses Gilbert III leads the way. He recorded 121 total tackles last year with four sacks.

Cornerback Alvin Davis finished second on the team in 2016 with 87 tackles. Fellow cornerback Kyron Brown could make things difficult on opposing quarterbacks, as he led the team with three interceptions a year ago.

When looking on paper, the Zips look outmanned by the Nittany Lions, especially considering how potent the Penn State offense could be. Still, it’s college football, so anything could happen.

Next: Penn State's Greatest Seasons: 2016

The matchup in Week 1 will be the sixth all-time between the two schools, with all of them taking place in Happy Valley. Penn State holds a 5-0 record, including a 21-3 victory in the last meeting during the 2014 season.