Akron brings new players, a new system and a new coach on their first trip to FIU on Saturday. But the program should be recognizable to those following football in South Florida or the state of Florida. And not just because there’s a Bowden involved.
Akron 2012 resembles FIU circa 2007-08.
There’s the recent unpleasantness on the field: Cristobal took over FIU in 2007 the midst of a 23-game losing streak. Akron has lost 23 games since 2010, enduring consecutive 1-11 seasons and a 56-14 blasting by Central Florida in its 2012 opener.
The schools can relate on environment. Not the weather, but having to coexist with traditional college football powers and other mid-majors in an area corpulent with football talent. The roles UM, FSU and UFplay with FIU are essayed by Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, West Virginia and Pittsburgh with Akron.
Actually, Akron’s in a better position now than FIU was then. As FIU Stadium was being finished, Akron’s two-deck, 30,000-seat stadium was being finished. And the Zips have some success in their past, whereas FIU barely had a past when Mario Cristobal took over in 2007.
Also, Akron’s coaching staff comes with some credentials. Head coach Terry Bowden ran Auburn for six seasons a generation ago. After two decades as a fixture on Bobby Bowden’s Florida State staff, defensive coordinator Chuck Amato had the head coaching job at Florida State.
“Right away, with guys like Chuck Amato and [cornerbacks coach] Terrell Buckley on board, those are guys who have won championships at the highest level,” Cristobal said. “So they’re going to instill that mentality. You watch on tape, besides running 80 to 90 plays, they’re running to the football, playing at a high level from an effort standpoint.”
Asked the first thing to do in this situation, Cristobal said: “I think he’s already done that. Now, we had scholarship restrictions, I don’t think they have any, [but] he’s really changed their roster quickly. That is not the same Akron team we saw last year. There’s a lot of athletes on that field, a good chunk from the state of Florida.”
For example, fifth-year senior cornerback Avis Commack transferred from Florida State, where he got a degree while spending three seasons and a redshirt injury season as roster filler. Freshman wide receiver Imani Davis, out of Miami Belen Jesuit Prep, came into training camp second on the depth chart. Starting quarterback Dalton Williams transferred from Stephen F. Austin with one year of eligibility left.
Mining Florida, the South and Texas for talent should come as a natural considering the staff’s background in those areas. The trick will be getting a stronger footing in their own state and Western Pennsylvania. Perhaps they can sell Ohio kids the way Cristobal sold South Florida recruits, such as fifth-year senior linebacker Winston Fraser, on coming to a place that really had not found its place yet.
“What really got me out here was starting off with this program,” Fraser said. “The main thing he told me if I come to FIU, I have the opportunity to start my own program. A lot of guys going to UM and all those other big schools, they’ve been around for hundreds of years. FIU, we’re a fresh new school.”