Akron arrives in Happy Valley a better team than in '04
Anthony Morelli makes his first start at quarterback for the Nittany Lions.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- It's tough enough for a team to play five of its first six games on the road, regardless of the opponents.
That wasn't enough for Akron, though. For good measure, the Zips kick off 2006 with today's game at No. 19 Penn State.
At least some of the Zips should be familiar with the atmosphere in resurgent Happy Valley, where football rules.
Quarterback Luke Getsy, of Munhall, Pa., transferred from Pitt after the 2003 season to enroll at Akron. He followed J.D. Brookhart, who also left Pitt as an assistant to take the Zips' head coaching job in 2004. The Zips' roster is peppered with other Pennsylvania natives.
Brookhart's first game on the sidelines two years ago was memorable, though more so for Penn State after the Nittany Lions drubbed Akron 48-10.
The Zips have improved. They won a Mid-American Conference championship and earned a trip the Motor City Bowl last season.
With eight starters returning on both sides of the ball, Akron is a favorite to win the MAC again this season.
"I think the biggest thing is, we're two years into the system," Brookhart said about the difference between now and his last trip to Penn State. "We're a little more experienced team. I would hope we would have a better showing than last time."
Zips play lots on the road
While a win over reloading Penn State will be tough, it would add loads of confidence and momentum for the road. Akron's only home game until late October is a Sept. 23 date with North Texas.
Getsy leads Akron's offense, having thrown last season for 3,455 yards and a school-record 23 touchdowns.
All five offensive linemen return, though there are new faces at wideout and in the backfield. Further complicating matters is that Zips' backup running back Alex Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno said he's not taking Akron lightly, even with next week's showdown at No. 2 Notre Dame looming.
"Sure we have tough teams coming down the road, but the first one we have is this Saturday," Paterno said.
"I think our guys are pretty zeroed in on that."
After a month of drills, both squads are ready for live hitting.
"It's exciting to be playing somebody else. We've been beating on each other," Brookhart said.
Anthony Morelli, a junior, will start at QB for Penn State. He was a backup the last two seasons and watched Michael Robinson lead the Nittany Lions to an 11-1 season, a Big Ten co-championship and a No. 3 ranking in the final poll last year.
Morelli said he isn't rattled by his first start.
"It's another football game," he said. "I've done it before."