The Akron Zips are in the middle of a dream. With a Mid-American Conference East Division record of 3-0, they're looking at the possibility of their first-ever MAC title.
Akron joined the MAC in 1992. The highest it has finished in the MAC is in a tie for third in 1992 and 1999. The Zips also covet their first-ever I-A bowl game.
They've played three bowl games at the Division II level -- the 1968 Grantland Rice Bowl and the 1976 Knute Rockne Bowl and Pioneer Bowl.
Needless to say, Saturday night's match-up against Marshall is the biggest game of the year, especially considering who the Zips play after that.
All that's left on their schedule is a home game against Buffalo and a road game at Kent -- two schools who have a combined 2-13 overall record.
"This is the biggest game of my career," Akron quarterback James "Butchie" Washington said. "We all know how big this game is. They slipped by us a couple of years ago."
If the Zips don't win the MAC East?
"The year would be wasted," Washington said. "It would be all for nothing. We have to make it to The Game -- the MAC Championship."
Washington is one of the MAC's top passers. Along with Marshall's Byron Leftwich and Buffalo's Joe Freedy, he's thrown 12 TD passes -- No. 1 in the MAC. Only Leftwich has more passing yards (1,816); Washington has 1,749.
Like Marshall, Akron has lost its fair share of games this year with a 4-4 overall record.
The season started with losses to nationally-ranked Virginia Tech and MAC foe Central Michigan -- for the Chippewas' only victory so far this year.
Then the Zips rattled off four straight victories, only to drop two in a row to Northern Illinois and Connecticut, which is where they stand now.
But also like the Thundering Herd, none of their losses count toward the East Division title. Because of a change in MAC divisional format, only games played within the division count in determining who plays Dec. 2 in Huntington.
This is something Washington favors.
"It hurts to lose," he said. "We had two tough losses in a row. But in the back of your head, you know the games don't really count."
Washington is hoping for a football career beyond the ranks of the NCAA in the NFL. And with his stats, he just might make it. He's Akron's all-time leader in completions, passing yards and total offense
Although he acknowledges that at 6-foot, 210 pounds, he's the right size for the NFL, it's not something he's thinking about in the middle of the divisional race. And his greatest chance will come if Akron wins the MAC.
"That will all sort itself out," Washington said. "But I have to prove that I can lead the team to the championship."
Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com