With a 489–504–36 record, Akron does not rank among the top 50 most victories among NCAA FBS programs. Akron was originally classified as a Small College school in the 1937 season until 1972. Akron received Division II classification in 1973, before becoming a Division I-AA program in 1980 and an Division I-A (now FBS) program in 1987. The Zips were the first team to move from Division I-AA to Division I-A. In 2005, the Zips won the Mid-American Conference championship for the first time in the program's history.
The University of Akron football team was established in 1891 when the team, then called Buchtel College, defeated Western Reserve University by a score of 22-6 in Hudson, Ohio. Buchtel went on to finish its first season with a 1–3 record. The following year, Buchtel hired Frank Cook as the school's first ever head coach. Cook lead Buchtel to a 3-4 record during his only season has head coach. In 1893, the college hired John Heisman to become the football and baseball coach. Heisman lead Buchtel to their first winning season with a 5-2 record in 1893, and then led them to their first undefeated season, albeit a single game season in which they defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes. While at Buchtel, Heisman also helped invent the snap, which is still used in modern day football. The early years for Buchtel saw many coaching changes, as the program went through 9 different coaches in the 22-year span.
In 1961, the Zips hired Gordon K. Larson, who had been an assistant coach under Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Larson helped the Zips finish 2nd in the Ohio Athletic Conference 3 times in his first five seasons, going 26-8 in conference play during those five season. In 1966, the Zips left the Ohio Athletic Conference, and became an Independent football program. During its Independence era, the Zips put together the best run in school history, winning 38 games from 1968 to 1971, also going to the 1968 Grantland Rice Bowl. In 12 season, Larson had a record of 74-33-5. At the time of his retirement from coach, Larson was the all-time wins leader in Akron history. Larson remained at the university as the athletics director.
In 1985 Akron President, William Muse fired coach Dennison, and replaced him with former Notre Dame head coach, Gerry Faust. Muse wanted the program to have "instant credibility" during its transition into a 1-A school in 1987. The Zips became the first ever program to transition from 1-AA to 1-A.
An on-field ceremony at the Rubber Bowl after 324th and final football game on November 13, 2008.
The Akron Zips football team played their first game in the stadium on October 5, 1940, getting their first win in the facility November 9 of that year. Prior to playing at the Rubber Bowl, the Zips football teams played at Buchtel Field, a 7,000-seat facility that opened in 1923. The Zips recorded their first sellout in the Rubber Bowl on September 30, 1961. In 1971, the university purchased the stadium for $1 from the city. An artificial surface was installed in 1983, which was replaced with AstroPlay in 2003. The Zips played 324 games at the stadium, which included their first-ever appearance on ESPN in 1986. Other notable games include the highest-scoring game in the stadium's history, a 65–62 victory over Eastern Michigan in 2001, as well as a 65–7 Akron victory over Howard University in 2003. In 2005, the Zips clinched their firest Mid-American Conference East Division title and spot in the 2005 MAC Championship Game with a 35–3 win over arch-rival Kent State in that year's Wagon Wheel game. Akron would go on to win the 2005 MAC Championship with a last-second 31–30 win over Northern Illinois at Ford Field in Detroit.
In 2003, the university began exploring the feasibility of building an on-campus stadium to replace the Rubber Bowl, which was in disrepair and several miles away from campus. In 2007, plans were announced for a new stadium, later known as InfoCision Stadium – Summa Field, with work beginning in January 2008 and opening in September 2009. The final Akron Zips football game at the Rubber Bowl took place on November 13, 2008 against the Buffalo Bulls. The game was nationally televised on ESPN and featured the two teams tied for first place in the Mid-American Conference's East Division with identical 5-4 (3-2) records entering the game. Buffalo defeated the Zips 43-40 in four overtimes in front of a crowd of 18,516. For the Zips, it was both the first four-overtime game and the first overtime loss in school history. After the game, a special ceremony with current and former players and coaches was held to honor the 68-year history of the stadium.
InfoCision Stadium - Summa Field (2009-present)
A parachuter descends with American flag in tow onto the surface of Summa Field as part of the opening day festivities.
InfoCision Stadium was constructed as part of a building initiative undergone by the University of Akron called the "New Landscape for Learning." The $300 million construction program included the construction and renovations of numerous buildings on campus, including the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences building, an honors complex, a student recreation center, and a student union. The Rubber Bowl, the former home of the Zips football team, was located 6 miles (9.7 km) away of the Akron campus. Due to the high maintenance costs for the facility, the decision was made to construct an on-campus stadium.
To build the new stadium, several dormitories had to be demolished and the properties of local tenants were acquired using eminent domain. In order to house the displaced students, the University spent $22.6 million to purchase Quaker Square, a former Quaker Oats Company oat silo that was converted into a hotel.
In 2002, the University instituted a new athletics logo featuring the kangaroo as well as a custom font for "Akron Zips." The logo replaced the former Akron logo which featured a flying "A". The football program adapted the alternate logo for their helmets which featured an "A" and a profile view of a kangaroo. The first year of the logo change, the football helmets had the alternate logo with a navy colored oval around it. The following year, the navy oval was dropped. Additional changes that also came with the re-branding included the uniforms altered to change the yellow to gold.
Kent State – Akron and Kent State University, located 10 miles (16 km) apart, first met in 1923 and have played 55 times through the 2012 meeting. Akron went 11–0–1 in the first 12 meetings in the series between 1923 and 1941, with no games played from 1924–27 and 1937–39. Kent State started a 10-game winning streak in 1942 through 1954, though no games were played during the World War II years of 1943–45 when neither school fielded teams. After the 1954 meeting, the rivalry was scrapped due to a lack of competition. It was reinstated in 1972 and has been an annual contest since 1983. In 1992, Akron joined the MAC and the rivalry became a conference game.
Since 1946, the two teams have played for the Wagon Wheel. The story goes that John R. Buchtel was searching for a site to start a new college in 1870 near what is now Kent State University when his wagon became stuck in the mud. The horses pulled the wagon apart and one of the wheels ended up being buried. Buchtel would eventually settle on a site in Akron for Buchtel College. In 1902, while digging for a pipeline in Kent, the wheel was discovered and eventually came into the possession of Kent State dean of men Dr. Raymond Manchester. It was he who suggested in 1945 that the wheel be used as a trophy for the winner of the Kent State-Akron football game.
Youngstown State – The Zips have played the Youngstown State University Penguins 35 times in football. They played for the Steel Tire, named for the products that both cities were known for. In 1995, the series was discontinued with Youngstown State holding a 19-14-2 edge.
The Zips football program has had several assistant coaches who went on to make notable achievements, from longevity in their tenure as collegiate coaches to becoming head coaches at the NCAA FBS level.