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Boise, Idaho • When the University of Akron went in search of a new leader for its downtrodden football program in 2011, school officials turned to one of coaching's first families.

Four years later, coach Terry Bowden and the Zips play Utah State in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Tuesday afternoon at Albertsons Stadium.

If that last name doesn't ring a bell, it should.

Bowden's father, Bobby, was a head coach for 40 years. He spent 34 years at Florida State, where he won 12 Atlantic Coast Conference championships, two national championships and put his stamp on the college game that few others can match.

"When you're a Bowden in coaching," his son said recently, "the best you can be is a distant second."

The fact Akron reached its first bowl game in 10 years — and the second in history — indicates many lessons handed from father-to-son have been learned.

Heading into their game against Utah State, the Zips are 7-5, including four straight wins. Between 2009 and 2011, which was Bowden's first season, they were a combined 3-33.

Akron, it seems, has made a bigger comeback than Star Wars.

"It's been a great experience," Bowden said. "This is my fifth head coaching job, and it's been as rewarding as anything I've ever been part of."

Bowden was an assistant at Akron in 1986. He become the head coach at Salem (W. Va.) University and Samford (Ala.) before moving to Auburn, where the Tigers won his first 20 games. He resigned after a 1-5 start in 1998, however, and became an analyst for ABC television.

"I enjoyed the heck out of it," Bowden said. "I thought I might never get back into [coaching]."

Eventually, he did.

Bowden took over at North Alabama and went 29-9 over three seasons before Akron called. He inherited a team which had lost 31 of its previous 36 games — never recovering from an NCAA ruling in 2008 that stripped scholarships for failing to comply with graduation rate policies.

"They asked if I'd come up and help them revive the program," Bowden said. "I was excited about their interest in me. … I thought it would be a great place to build a new tradition. Northeast Ohio is a great traditional area for football, and I thought it would be a great place to build something."

Bowden also liked the idea of returning to the Mid-American Conference.

"The MAC is a meat-and-potatoes, blue-collar, strong football conference," he said. "Right now, it's probably the best it's ever been. … This is the midwest, where football began as far as the NFL is concerned. There's a great football IQ and great football passion in his area. We're now poised to take advantage of the situation."

This season, Akron went 5-3 in conference play and is coming off a 20-0 win over rival Kent State.

"We've moved away from that lower level of the conference," Bowden said. "We're now where we feel like we can compete with anybody. … Getting to a bowl game is a big part of that."

Said Utah State coach Matt Wells: "With Akron, you see tough guys in a tough program. They've done a very nice job there. They're hot right now. They've played well down the stretch."

What's a Zip?

Akron's athletic teams are nicknamed the Zips. The school's original nickname was Zippers — after a popular rubber shoe manufactured by the Akron-based B.F. Goodrich Company in the early 1900s. It was chosen after a campus-wide contest conducted by the school newspaper. In 1950, athletic director Red Cochran officially shortened the nickname to Zips.

Twitter: @sluhm Idaho Potato Bowl

P Utah State vs. Akron

Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.


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