Sean Lewis has a tough road ahead. He is inheriting a program that is not used to winning as Kent State has won 12 games in four years under former head coach Paul Haynes. The 2018 roster is lacking in size, which can be problematic against established MAC East programs like Akron, Miami, and Ohio. Lewis’s first recruiting class (which tends to be one of the more inferior classes of a coach’s tenure) was the highest-rated class for KSU since 2009. However, there are a few things in Lewis’s favor that can help facilitate the turnaround for the Golden Flashes.
Despite being the youngest head coach in college football, Lewis has a tremendous amount of experience he can draw upon in his first year at the helm of KSU. He was a four-year player at Wisconsin under the tutelage of head coach Barry Alvarez and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, which is as good as an offensive football education as it gets. After coaching stops at Richards High School (IL) and Division II Nebraska-Omaha, he made his first stint in the MAC as a graduate assistant at Akron in 2011 before moving on to coach tight ends and inside receivers at Eastern Illinois from 2012-13. From 2014-15, he worked alongside Dino Babers to coach one of the most prolific offenses in MAC history at Bowling Green before coordinating the offense at Syracuse over the past two seasons.
Schematically, Lewis will be making some changes at KSU that will eventually make it a hard team to play in the MAC. On offense, he plans to run the up-tempo offense that was made famous at BG and Syracuse, which could be interesting in 2018 due to the inexperience at QB. JUCO QB Woody Barrett could be intriguing down the road, as well as JUCO RB Jo-El Shaw. They have some veterans in the receiving corps with Mike Carrigan, Trey Harrell, and Kavious Price, so this offense has some potential in the later stages of 2018.
Defensively, Kent State will be transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which will put it in better positions to make plays against the spread in theory. Defense was never really an issue under the Haynes regime; it was just put in bad situations by its offense on numerous occasions. The 2018 Flashes boast some experience on this side of the ball, highlighted by Jim Jones and Jamal Parker. However, the pace of play can be a double-edged sword for KSU; an up-tempo offense creates more opportunities to score, but inefficiency can result in more possessions for an undersized defense.
Getting to .500 would be a tremendous accomplishment for Lewis with the schedule they got on tap in 2018. They open the season with three out of four games on the road at Power 5 teams (Illinois, Penn State, and Ole Miss). Then, the crossover games with the MAC West will be against an improved Ball State as well as back-to-back games against Toledo and Eastern Michigan to close out the season. I can see five wins at the most (Week 2 against Howard obviously, at BSU, a regressed Akron at home, at a down BG on ten-days rest, and at Buffalo) and Lewis will need some time to lay the foundation before Kent can compete for a MAC East title.