Most Interesting Modern Group of Five Conference Champions: 2005 MAC Champion Akron

During the off-season, Forgotten Five has decided to do some research. We launched a multi-part series looking at some of the Group of Five’s most unique conference champions.

Teams such as Boise’s great teams, the 2004 and 2008 Utah teams, and Hawaii’s 2007 team receive so much attention as the Group of Five’s greatest teams in recent memory. Forgotten are the teams that had dream seasons or overcame odd circumstances but did not have a major bowl to show for it. This series tells their tales.

Some of the best stories each year comes from the MAC.

Whether it was the 2016 Western Michigan Broncos, or Jordan Lynch’s run to Heisman finalist status, college football is a better place because of #MACtion.

What makes the MAC even better is the parity it boasts. Teams seem to be powerful on a cyclical basis and that reflects in the conference standings as the last five years have had five different winners.

Despite this, there comes a team that is such a surprise that not even the tendencies of the MAC can explain it. One of these teams was the 2005 Akron Zips.

#MACtion Jackson Was Expected, But Not from the Zips

The MAC was fresh off one of their greatest seasons ever, with five of their 13 schools making bowls, an unprecedented amount at the time. Most of these schools returned the pieces that made them so good, especially on the offensive side.

Bowling Green had Omar Jacobs, who threw for an 4,002 yards and an insane 41 to 4 TD/INT ratio, as well as 1,000 yard rusher PJ Pope and 1,000 yard receiver Charles Sharon.

Miami (OH) had the duo of 3,000-yard passer Josh Betts and receiver Ryne Robinson, who was also one of the nation’s leading punt returners. Out west, Toledo had quarterback Bruce Gradkowski launching rockets.

Because of this alone, no one expected the Akron Zips to make any noise despite coming off a 6-5 season. It’s not like Akron had the history to encourage any optimism anyway.

Since joining Division 1-A in 1987, the Zips had only mustered five winning seasons and zero bowls. It took five years of 1-A membership for the MAC to bring in the Zips despite being in the conference’s footprint.

The 2005 season started with little excitement as they got off to a 3-4 start. There were moments of optimism however, mostly provided by a thrilling win over Northern Illinois (we’ll talk more about them later).

In that game, the Zips nearly blew a 42-21 4th quarter lead, needing a Brett Biggs one-yard run in overtime to escape. Luke Getsy and Phil Horvath each eclipsed 400 yards and combined for 11 passing touchdowns.

For every elite performance like the Northern Illinois game, there were head-scratching doses of ineptitude. They needed 13 4th quarter points to beat a Buffalo squad that would finish 1-10, and had only nine wins in six FBS seasons coming into the year. In that game, Getsy came down to earth with an awful 12-for-32 for 145 yards passing line.

Arguably, the worst performance was a 20-0 shutout loss to a 4-7 Army team at the Rubber Bowl. The offense was punchless against a defense that allowed 27 points per game on the year, with Getsy turning in another erratic line, going 21-for-45 for 186 yards.

Luck of The Zip-rish?

Yet, for all these pitfalls, Akron was a lucky squad; sometimes in life its better to be lucky than great. The first case of Akron’s good luck came in their game against Bowling Green, as they did not have to face Omar Jacobs, a big reason why they won 24-14 over the Falcons. The win put them at 4-4 on the year with a glimmer of hope for a MAC East title.

After splitting the next two games, luck once again came to the aid of the Zips, and Bowling Green played the victim again. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the Falcons just had to win and they were in the MAC title game.

Bowling Green looked like they were on their way, leading 31-24 late in the 4th quarter, but a Bruce Gradkowski TD tied the game with 1:46 left. The Rockets prevailed in double overtime on a 22-yard Bruce Gradkowski touchdown and just like that, Bowling Green’s fate depended on Kent State.

The Falcon’s loss set up a surprising win-and-in scenario for the Zips on Turkey Day. All that stood in theor way was 1-9 Kent State. In one of the weirdest games imaginable, the Zips punched their ticket to Detroit 35-3.

Brett Biggs carried the Zips, accounting for 207 of their 227 yards, including a 27-yard completion, in the Thanksgiving snow. Despite only throwing for 47 yards on 5-of-16 passing, Luke Getsy had two punts for 88 yards.

Arguably, most impressive was the defense, who held Kent State to 116 total yards and Michael Machen to 4-of-12 passing for 7 yards and an interception. Yes, you read that right. The Zips defense also blocked a punt and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

Already, this was a great story even if they didn’t beat a stronger Northern Illinois team. Just two years earlier, the Huskies beat Alabama, Maryland, and Iowa State, and had only lost to Sun Bowl-bound Northwestern by one. Surely, the Zips miracle would end in Detroit.

For three quarters, it looked like time had run out on the Zips, as they entered the fourth quarter down 24-10 and had not been able to stop Garrett Wolfe, who ran for 270 yards by the game’s end.

Yet, the Zips fought back with a chance to win the MAC crown with under two minutes to go. A 36-yard desperation heave from Getsy to Hixon with 10 seconds left gave Akron their first MAC title and a return trip to Detroit for the Motor City Bowl.

The 7-4 Memphis Tigers awaited the Zips at the Motor City Bowl, and sadly Akron had no more magic left, losing 38-31. They almost overcame a 38-17 deficit with three minutes to go, but Getsy’s 455 touchdowns and four scores were not enough.

The 2005 Akron Zips are a testament to the power of luck. Sure, it’s great to have a dominant team, but if there’s no excitement, what fun is it for the fans? The Zips may have came out of nowhere, but they provided one of the most memorable title runs in MAC history, even if they were a little lucky.

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