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October 31, 2012

Wagon Wheel Preview: Akron

Follow KentStateReport.com on Twitter | Givler | Birmingham

As November approaches, Kent State's football team finds themselves in what can only be described as an unusual position. The Golden Flashes (7-1, 4-0 MAC) are in first place in the MAC's eastern division, and have their best record since 1973, and have won six straight games - and 11 of their last 13 - for the first time since 1940. The win on the road against Rutgers last week was the first ever win against a ranked opponent, as if you needed any more evidence to support the theory that as far the navy blue and gold goes, 2012 has been something special.

Despite all the oddities that have come with this year's success, there is one pattern that's emerging lately, and it's most likely the one that's most important to the average fan of Kent State: dominance against rival Akron. Kent State has beaten the Zips in consecutive years for the first time since the 1987-1988 seasons, and with another Wagon Wheel win this Saturday, would have toppled their interstate rivals three straight times; a feat that hasn't happened since 1952-54.

The last two seasons, Kent State has taken advantage of a very bad Akron team, and this year looks to be heading in the same direction, barring a serious let-down from a team that needs to avoid their own press clippings.

Akron is under the tutelage of first year Zips' coach Terry Bowden, who has no doubt encountered a bigger challenge than he had imagined. The Zips (1-8, 0-5 MAC) scored their only win against Morgan State, an FBS opponent, on September 15th - a 66-6 win - and have struggled mightily to stop FCS teams from scoring points. Akron has allowed 41.25 points per game against FCS foes, which puts them 115th in the nation in scoring defense; Kent State is averaging just below 34 points a game, good for 38th nationally.

Akron's offense showed signs of promise early in the season, highlighted by the 49 points they scored in their loss to Miami (Oh.), but has struggled in recent weeks, scoring only 21 total points in their last two contests. For the Zips to have a chance at an upset, they will rely on the arm of Dalton Williams, whose 299 yards per game passing makes him the 13th in the FBS. Kent State's defense has struggled against the pass, and it's an area that the Zips could exploit if Williams gets time to throw.

Akron's record is a bit deceiving, and Kent State fans or players walk into this weekend's contest a bit too optimistic. In their eight losses, Akron has twice been knocked off in overtime, and held a second half lead against Miami and also led against Tennessee. Their offense, while pass heavy, still possesses a running threat in Jawon Chisholm, who is 47th nationally in rushing with 5.5 yards per carry.

The game will likely hinge on what most football games hinge on: turnovers. Kent State is the nation's best team with an incredible turnover margin of plus-19, and after forcing 13 in their last two weeks feel that any play can be one that swings momentum in their favor. The Golden Flashes have intercepted 16 passes on the season, which also tops the nation's statistical leaders. Akron on the other hand, finds themselves with a minus-11, which ranks in the bottom ten nationally.

The Skinny
Kick Off: 2:00 PM at Dix Stadium, in Kent, Oh.
TV: The game will be televised on the SportsTime Ohio and is also available on www.mac-sports.com
Radio: Kent State's new partnership with 640 WHLO and iHeartRadio means that 640 is the official home of Kent State football and basketball. Ty Linder works the booth and the game be heard on iHeartRadio on a PC, smart phone or tablet.

All-Time Series: Kent State trails the all-time series vs Akron 30-22-2. Kent State won ten straight matchups between 1942-1954.

The Wagon Wheel: Introduced in 1946 the wheel has been awarded to the winner of the meeting between these two schools, separated only by 11.6 miles of highway. The roots of the wheel are not entirely known, but it's rumored that John Buchtel (the founder of Buchtel College) was looking for a location for proposed college around Kent (Oh.) when his horse-drawn carriage got stuck in the mud. The wheel remained stuck in the mud until it was found in 1902 as just a single piece of wood that remained.

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