Location: Akron, Ohio
Coach: Terry Bowden (31-44, seventh season)
Record (2017): 7-7 (6-2 MAC)
OFFENSIVE RATING: 2
Offensive averages / national rank (2017)
22.1 / 107
316.0 / 121
105.4 / 123
210.6 / 81
DEFENSIVE RATING: 3
Defensive averages / national rank (2017)
28.0 / 73
442.9 / 103
205.4 / 105
237.4 / 84
SPECIALISTS RATING: 2
Special-teams averages / national rank (2017)
18.2 / 114
2.0 / 126
36.5 / 101
Why you may need the Rolaids
1. The Akron secondary returns all four starters from a unit that finished seventh in the nation last season with 19 interceptions. The Zips have a pair of seniors at the corner spots in Kyron Brown and Darian Dailey, with Brown having a team-best 11 pass breakups last season. Safety Jordan George led the team with five interceptions. Nebraska's talented receivers, and its true freshman quarterback playing a real game for the first time in two years, figure to get a stiff test.
2. Adrian Martinez gets dinged up early and has to leave the game. Nebraska's offense sputters against an experienced defense. The game is close going into the fourth quarter. Memories of 2017 start to creep in. For all the positive momentum and good vibes that have permeated this offseason, the Huskers are a group that still must prove on the field that they've moved past one of the darkest periods in program history and are ready to chart a new course.
3. The last time Nebraska played a MAC team, you might remember, it lost. Tanner Lee tossed a couple of pick-sixes, Northern Illinois defensive end Sutton Smith wreaked havoc on his way to a historic season, and the Huskers' season was off the rails halfway through September. Akron has played in enough big-time environments over the years not to be intimidated by Memorial Stadium's atmosphere. And the Zips surely are familiar with what their conference brethren were able to pull off one season ago.
Why you might chill
1. Nearly every time Akron played a team with a pulse last season, the Zips struggled mightily. Akron lost to Penn State (51-0), Iowa State (41-14), Toledo (48-21, 45-28) and Florida Atlantic (50-3) by a combined 235-66. Those teams combined to go 41-13 last season. Now, it could be argued that Nebraska did not have much of a pulse by the end of last year. But heart rates figure to be plenty high come 7 p.m. Saturday. The Zips have won eight games in a season just once since moving to the FBS in 1987.
2. The NU offense punches in a couple of quick scores to get Akron playing catch-up early on. Nebraska's new-look defense attacks an Akron offense that was among the worst in the nation last season. Kato Nelson gets pressured and throws a few jump balls into a Blackshirt secondary eager to make up for last season's debacle. The Huskers getting up a couple of touchdowns early on could relieve a lot of pressure.
3. Come on. Scott Frost's debut? At night? An offense built to score scads of points against an overmatched opponent? About 90,000 people pulsing with "unity of purpose," to steal a Frost phrase? Akron's strength this season figures to be its defense, but by all accounts, Nebraska should have the offensive talent to move the ball with relative ease against a MAC opponent. Since the Power Five came together in 2013, Akron has one total win against opponents from the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and ACC conferences — a 21-10 defeat of a Pittsburgh team that went 6-7 in 2014. Overall, Akron is 4-55 against teams from those leagues.
By the numbers
The number of days between when Scott Frost, starting quarterback, led Nebraska to a 59-14 season-opening win over Akron, and the day Scott Frost, head coach, will lead the Huskers into Memorial Stadium to face the Zips. It will be 21 years and two days from Aug. 30, 1997, to September 1, 2018 — the only two meetings between the programs.
The years Nebraska defensive line coach Mike Dawson was at Akron as the Zips' linebackers coach. Dawson worked under head coach J.D. Brookhart. Brookhart led the Zips to their first MAC championship and first-ever bowl game in 2005.
The number of career wins for Akron head coach Terry Bowden. That's the most among MAC coaches (15 ahead of Frank Solich's 156) and sixth-most nationally among active coaches.
Steve French is entering his 29th season as the radio play-by-play voice for Akron football.
Northern Illinois came into Lincoln last year and left with a win. Is that something that Akron has talked about at all as far as motivation?
If anything, that may be more of a motivating thing for Nebraska, because I know they had never lost, ever, to a MAC team until that happened to them last season. But obviously, for the Cornhuskers, pretty much everything has changed in terms of quarterback, coaches and everything else. So I really don't think that's a factor. Maybe brought up briefly, but you have to play your game and play to your strengths and see what happens.
What do you see coming from redshirt sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson this year? Is he a guy who's poised to make a big jump after the way he played at the end of season?
It's his third year in the program, he's a two-time state champion in high school, and really has a lot of physical tools. It comes down to decision-making. And he's had to work with almost an entirely new receiving corps this year going back to the spring. But yes, absolutely (the coaching staff) would expect him to make a jump from the backup, which he was for nine weeks last year, to the full-time starter this year.
So many seniors are going to play a lot for Akron defensively. Is that unit the strength of the team?
That's definitely the strength. Not always, because you have a lot of seniors, does it make you a good team necessarily. The statistics from last year don't look great — we ran up against some really good offensive teams; Toledo twice, and Florida Atlantic, and some of those. The big question would be, the way we're built, really, for the MAC is smaller defensive ends who rush the passer, and not a lot of depth necessarily at defensive tackle, and that's going to be an issue with a line the size that Nebraska has. But definitely with that many returning experienced players, that better be the strength or we're going to be in a lot of trouble.
Is the team feeling disrespected at all by being picked fourth in the MAC East Division after winning the division crown last season?
Anymore, I'm not even sure that they know that that happened, to be honest. They've probably heard about it, but it's not a motivating thing from the coaches. I think we were picked to finish fourth or fifth last year if I'm not mistaken, and ended up winning the division. That better not be a motivator, really. You better be able to deal with stuff. And we have some really good teams in the division, so fourth might be about right this year.
Is there any intimidation factor coming into Memorial Stadium for a night game in Scott Frost's debut?
I don't think so. We played Penn State the first game last year, when they had Mr. Barkley at running back and had him returning kickoffs, which is still crazy to think about. If we get beat it's obviously because we made mistakes or the other team is better. It's not because we're intimidated by anything. The one thing, and I think a lot of schools do this, but we only do it for a couple games, is go to the stadium, practice, and turn up the PA system to simulate the crowd noise. And that's something that we have to do in these big environments that we don't have to do in the MAC. So that takes a little getting used too, but we've been through that all before, really.