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2019 Kent State Golden Flashes: Key Storylines

Can Kent State escape its 6-year run of misery?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 15 Toledo at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kent State has been at the bottom far too long.

The Golden Flashes may have finally found their guy at the head coach. Sean Lewis, 33, is the youngest head coach in the FBS and enters his second year at the helm after serving as an assistant on Dino Babers’ staffs at Bowling Green and Syracuse. In his first season, Kent State finished 2-10 but signs of promise and improvement were visible throughout last fall. With a returning cast of characters, Kent State is expected to improve upon its disappointing 2018. But the Golden Flashes will have to endure a tough non-conference schedule before attempting to exact vengeance on seven MAC opponents.

Here are the storylines which will guide Kent State through its 2019 season:

How far can Woody Barrett progress his development?

Woody Barrett has one year of experience as the lead signal caller of a college football team. Despite finishing 2-10, Barrett is still the most talented quarterback Kent State has utilized in quite some time. The former 4-star recruit and Auburn transfer projected his dual-threat capabilities last season by throwing for 2,339 yards and 11 touchdowns while running for 503 and seven. He completed passes at a 58.7% clip and became the first Golden Flashes quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards since Colin Reardon did in 2014.

Furthermore, Barrett is the first player from the program to eclipse the 2,000-yard passing mark while throwing more touchdowns than interceptions since Kent State nearly crashed the BCS party in 2012. Accuracy and arm strength are important qualities of Barrett that Kent State can build its program around. The MAC lost several talented quarterbacks this offseason including Tyree Jackson, Gus Ragland, and Jarret Doege. By repeating the results of 2018, Barrett is already progressing toward the conference’s upper echelon of quarterbacks. With improvement, Barrett could be close to the mountaintop. He’ll be working with nearly an identical offensive line and receiving corps, so entering 2019 having increased chemistry with these units could bode well for the junior from Orlando, FL.

Could Kent State field the best receiving corps in the MAC?

This honor has belonged in Toledo in the past few seasons. But now that Cody Thompson, Diontae Johnson, and Jon’Vea Johnson have left campus, there is no clear frontrunner for the 2019 Wide Receiver U claim in the MAC.

Western Michigan appeared to have the makings of an elite receiver corps entering the offseason, but losing Jayden Reed and Keishawn Watson to the transfer portal weakened the Broncos’ receiver depth.

Miami (OH) lost James Gardner, but the RedHawks retain Jack Sorenson, Luke Mayock, and Dominique Robinson (1,217 yards and 10 touchdowns) on a formidable receiver depth chart. But the team that looks in best shape resides in Muncie, IN. Ball State’s trio of Riley Miller, Justin Hall, and Yo’Heinz Tyler finished with 1,859 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018.

Kent State’s crew is definitely one of the contenders, especially when factoring in the talented arm of quarterback Woody Barrett. Mike Carrigan led the team with 597 yards and five touchdowns on 45 receptions a season ago, while Antwan Dixon added 52 receptions and 532 yards. The third option, Isaiah McKoy, produced 42 receptions and 423 receiving yards. All together, the trio scored touchdowns through the air.

Miami is working in a new quarterback while Ball State is heading into its first season with Drew Plitt as the definite starter. With Barrett the most experienced of the aforementioned quarterbacks, Kent State’s receivers could benefit from stability and rank among the best in the MAC.

Can Kent State add three wins?

From 2-10 to bowl eligibility seems like a giant leap, but 5-7 should be feasible for a Kent State team with a myriad of returning veterans in the second year of the new coaching staff. Kent State lost four games by one possession in 2018 and two of those defeats were by one point. With stronger discipline (16th in penalty yardage in 2018) and more experience on the offensive line and in the secondary, Kent State could easily swing these one score games into victories going forward.

Kent State’s non-conference schedule is no cakewalk. The Golden Flashes travel around the country to Arizona State, Auburn, and Wisconsin, with a home game against Kennesaw State sandwiched in the middle. Kent State showed progress against the FCS last year by blowing out Howard by 40 points just one year after edging the same team by seven points. Despite Kennesaw State ranking among the top FCS teams in 2018 with an 11-2 record, it lost to 2-10 Georgia State, so the Golden Flashes should be expected to prevail against the sole FCS foe on their schedule.

Kent State also faces a handful of MAC teams that failed to qualify for bowl eligibility last season. League play opens up with Bowling Green, the team responsible for Kent State’s only conference victory in 2018. The Golden Flashes also face Ball State and Akron, two programs that haven’t finished with winning records since 2013 and 2015, respectively. Surprisingly, Kent State nearly beat a 9-4 Ohio team last season, so the Flashes have shown the potential to stun a contender such as a Buffalo or Toledo on the schedule.

Five wins marks a successful Kent State season. The program hasn’t seen a record better than 4-8 since 2012 and a record better than 3-9 since 2013. If Sean Lewis can add two or three wins to the schedule after finishing 2-10 in his inaugural year, Kent State will be trending in a favorable direction. Perhaps the team could even use its veteran talent to take a leap similar to 2017 New Mexico State and rally to the program’s first-ever bowl victory.