In a week where everything wrong with college sports was exposed, one game Saturday made me proud of the NCAA again. While Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! reported stories of big schools from Alabama to Oklahoma State cheating to get ahead the tiny Akron Zips proved there are some good things left.
Akron entered the largest stadium in the country against one of college football’s most prestigious programs in Michigan. Michigan had just defeated Notre Dame while Akron had not won against a FBS school since 2010. Needless to say Michigan was a huge favorite. A 37 point favorite to be exact.
The game was an obvious candidate for the budget games as I was pretty sure it was guaranteed win for the Wolverines. Michigan’s coach Brady Hoke thought so too apparently calling it a glazed donut game. It was more about how the school was giving away donuts to entice students for the early kickoff against a poor opponent but still.
Michigan scored quickly in the first to take 7-0 lead, but that was all the points it mustered in the first half. Akron had a chance to kick two field goals before halftime but bad clock management made them tough kicks. Both were missed and came back to haunt the Zips.
Akron then had two first and goals in the fourth quarter where it came up empty. One was a poor pass intercepted in the end zone and the other a turnover on downs as time expired. If the Zips had made one of those two previous field goals it would have only needed another one down 28-27. Instead it was 28-24 forcing a touchdown. In summary, Akron had four great chances to win the game and all slipped away.
Michigan had superior size clogging up the running game of Akron. Yet the skill positions, such as receiver, were even. The Zips ended with more passing yards (311-248) and more first downs (21-19). This was a team that was pounded at Central Florida and could barely beat FCS James Madison for God sakes!
Those passing stats from a MAC school should never happen against a Michigan team loaded with prized recruits. The players on Akron probably couldn’t get a scholarship offer anywhere else in FBS.
Michigan has blown games to inferior teams before at home. There was FCS Appalachian State, and then came Toledo out of the MAC. Saturday would have been the worse though. It should have been the worse as Akron deserved to win this game. Michigan did not.
The faces of the Michigan fans told the story. What was supposed to be a three-hour party for Michigan that involved boosters pledging money turned into a horror movie. Losing here would scar Michigan yet again. Ohio State fans would have new ammo to ridicule their rivals with for another decade. “Hey, remember when your boys lost to the last place MAC school at home in 2013?”
Akron reminded us what is great about college sports. While some schools will cheat to score recruits, some build programs the right way. It is why I love the lower levels of college football so much. Scandals occur in the MAC and FCS too but they are smaller and less frequent. The players are there because the big name programs did not want them. Agents and boosters are in no hurry to throw money at their way. A football scholarship means a lot to these kids.
So when an Akron with their zipper helmets (love the look) takes the lead in the fourth quarter against Michigan I was loving every second of it. It was more compelling than Alabama at Texas A&M. I wanted to see the Zips make history.
Thank you Akron. Thank you for reminding us what is right with college football.