A preview of Akron, the first opponent of the Scott Frost era.

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2017 record: 7-7

Offensive yards per play: 4.88 (T-118th nationally)

Defensive yards per play: 6.02 (T-91st)

Turnover margin: 0.71 (19th)

Penalty yards per game: 62.4 (T-103rd)

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Coach

Terry Bowden (31-44 at Akron)

Two things have been constant for the son of former Florida State coaching legend Bobby Bowden in his six years at Akron — losing tough nonconference games and contending for bowl games. Akron is 1-8 against Power Five programs under Bowden, including blowouts last year against Penn State and Iowa State. But Bowden has turned the once-moribund program around, helping it to its first bowl victory in 2015 and breaking a 12-year division-title drought in the Mid-American Conference last season. Once an ABC Sports broadcaster in the early 2000s — he worked Bill Callahan's first game at Nebraska in 2004 — Bowden is in his fifth head coaching stint (Salem 1983-85, Samford 1987-92, Auburn 1993-98, North Alabama 2009-11).

Offense

Type: Spread

Coordinator: A.J. Milwee

Once known for being the second-youngest FBS coordinator when he was promoted as a 26-year-old in December 2012, Milwee has since settled into his role with mixed results. The Zips were among the worst rushing offenses (105.4 yards per game, 124th nationally) and scoring units (22.1 points per game, 108th) and merely subpar in the passing game (210.6 yards per game, 81st) last year. Akron shifted former special teams coordinator Jeff Bowden into a new role as passing coordinator while Trent Boykin assumes a running game coordinator spot after coaching running backs and tight ends at the school previously. The staff believes sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson is talented enough to build the offense around going forward.

Defense

Type: 4-3

Coordinators: Todd Stroud, Joe Tresey

Longtime coach Chuck Amato retired following six years as Akron's defensive coordinator, and Bowden replaced him in the offseason by splitting his role between a pair of assistants. Stroud worked as the Zips' defensive line coach the last six years while Tresey joins the program after two years on staff at Kent State. They take over a veteran unit that will start 10 seniors — including nine returning starters — and is anchored by first-team all-MAC linebacker Ulysees Gilbert (141 tackles and a team-best five sacks last year). The downside is the group struggled mightily in stopping the run and the pass, though it made up for some of that yardage by allowing red-zone scores just 80 percent of the time (36th nationally).

Players to watch

Kato Nelson, quarterback: The former three-star recruit started the final five games last year after the suspension of departed starter Thomas Woodson and performed well enough to keep the job this fall. He ran for just 198 yards on 95 carries across 10 games a season ago but has added 10 pounds in the offseason in anticipation of a more dual-threat approach. Akron also believes the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Nelson can be more efficient after completing 70 of 140 attempts for 989 yards and eight scores against two interceptions. Terry Bowden has said he believes the Florida native can be the spark in the Zips' offense for years to come.

Ulysees Gilbert, linebacker: From a two-star recruit with three total scholarship offers to a two-time first-team all-MAC performer, Gilbert has been a playmaker from his outside spot. His 141 total tackles were 58 more than the next Zip defender last season and he had three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Now on multiple preseason watch lists as a 26-game starter, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior is primed for another campaign as a threat to both rush the quarterback and cover receivers in space.

They said it

"He's gonna miss the Nebraska game so he can watch us play Morgan State the next week. He's no dummy." Bowden, on whether his hall of fame father would travel to Lincoln this weekend.

"You know the other team is highly favored and you go out there and do the best you can do. I believe Northern Illinois went out there (to Nebraska) last year. ... I mean, y'all are familiar that's not that long ago (and) this is a completely different team. But you know things can happen." Bowden on his team's chances to win.

Three stats

106: Akron's national ranking out of 130 FBS teams last season in rushing yards allowed per game (205.43).

11: Times the Zips broke off rushing gains of 10-plus yards in 14 games last season. They made just four runs of 30 yards or longer. Senior Van Edwards (343 yards on 94 carries) is the top returning back.

1: Time Akron and Nebraska played previously. That was the 1997 season opener, when then-NU quarterback Scott Frost and the Huskers began their eventual national championship season with a 59-14 win.

Schedule

Sept. 1 at Nebraska

Sept. 8 Morgan State

Sept. 15 at Northwestern

Sept. 22 at Iowa State

Oct. 6 Miami (OH)

Oct. 13 at Buffalo

Oct. 20 at Kent State

Oct. 27 Central Michigan

Nov. 1 Northern Illinois

Nov. 10 at Eastern Michigan

Nov. 17 Bowling Green

Nov. 23 at Ohio​

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