Now that summer is winding down, football season winds up. While NFLers were negotiating, college programs have been practicing and filing down their depth charts in preparation for Labor Day weekend when the season begins. The weather outside is heating up and that must mean it's time for us to begin previewing the MAC, one team at a time...
Here's another team fighting its own history. They've sent quite a handful of memorable names to the NFL: Jack Lambert, James Harrison, Josh Cribbs, Julian Edelman ... anybody with a "J" name, honestly. They even groomed coaches: Nick Saban, Lou Holtz and Gary Pinkel played there.
But team-wise, there's just not much history to crow about. Their last winning record was 2000 (6-5) and even then ... meh. Their last back-to-back winning records came in 1976-77. In school history they have a 310-499 record, and an even worse one in MAC play (174-314).
You don't talk about them much as a pathetic football team because their other sports are quite competent. So they could conceivably go onward as a good basketball, baseball, wrestling, golf, gymnastics and mixed doubles badminton and few souls would point at their football and say, "hey, at least they try hard."
Last Season: Everything in preseason was set for them to make a push through the MAC with a good defense and perhaps just enough offense to win the division. And a decent showing at Boston College, followed by a 3-2 start in the conference wound up to be iron pyrite. Following that was a three-game skid which put them out of contention and gave Doug Martin no choice but to put in his resignation. They salvaged the season by spoiling Ohio's MAC East championship and crowning Roosevelt Nix as Defensive Player of the Year, the school's first such honor since Lambert and the first ever MAC freshman to win the honors.
Truth be told the offense wasn't completely inept, failing to score 20 points only twice in conference action, but the defensive unit really struggled at times, which was more than surprising. Still, as a defensive unit they allowed the fewest yards of anybody in the conference (306.7 per game). Main points which killed them were penalties (12th in the MAC) and third down conversions (13th — 30.6%).
Returning Players: Nix, obviously, thank heavens. He's undersized for a d-lineman — they say 6'0", which is probably a reach unless he had a growth spurt. And more than you think is back on offense. Center Chris Anzevino is yet again a Rimington Trophy watch list member. Spencer Keith will probably be the quarterback again, this time with another year of experience. He doesn't have a bunch of skill but with another year hopefully his decision-making improves. Leading rusher and yards-from-scrimmage tailback Jacquise Terry comes back. So do main wideout options Tyshon Goode and Sam Kirkland.
Also count on Matt Rinehart, one of the MAC's best, punting well this year.
New Faces: We'll start with the coaching staff. Darrell Hazell comes from Ohio State as one of Jim Tressel's longtime right-hand men, which sounded a lot more impressive in December. And it still is, to be frank. His claim to fame was working with wide receivers like Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez and making them impact players at the college and NFL level. This may be the best news for Goode and Kirkland. (And Keith).
Joining him on the staff is offensive coordinator Brian Rock, previously at Purdue and a 14-year veteran of the WMU coaching ranks. Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock took a year off after heading the Youngstown State team for nine years, but the footsteps left by Tressel were too much to fill and he eventually resigned.
But while the offense tries to flourish, one of the keys is replacing five starters on defense, mostly at linebacker and safety. Luke Wollet is going to try to replace Brian Lainhart at safety and transfer C.J. Malauulu might get some reps at linebacker.
Games to Circle: If Kent State wants to make any noise in the MAC, they'll want to do it in their road opener at Ohio on October 1 or their homecoming game against Miami on October 15. The season opener at Alabama will be a cool experience for everybody to play in front of an SEC crowd, but that's about it. Their Wagon Wheel game against Akron is Saturday, November 12.
Did You Know: Before they were the Golden Flashes, Kent State was once nicknamed the Silver Foxes back in the '20s. They did not — but probably should — be nicknamed the Black Squirrels, as the city of Kent has taken the rodent as their unofficial city mascot ever since 10 black squirrels were imported from Canada in the '60s as an ecological project. You can't find them everywhere, thank the world, but Northeast Ohio has one of the densest populations of black squirrels in the United States.
Prediction: Probably 4-8 as Hazell's first year at the helm, with wins over Lousiana, South Alabama, Akron and EMU. They do seem to have enough offensive pieces intact to do better, though, and I'd be willing to go as high as 6-6, provided they change their name to the Kent State Black Squirrels.