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2022 Non-Conference Opponent Primer: Kent State Golden Flashes

The Flashes don’t back down from brutal schedules, and 2022 once again proves it, as they face several Playoff contenders.

NCAA Football: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl-Kent State at Wyoming Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

The Kent State Golden Flashes might have the most brutal non-conference schedule of any team in FBS.

A tough schedule is not a new thing for Sean Lewis and the Flashes. Lewis has not played a home game against a non-FCS opponent in his coaching career at Kent State.

Kent State has a recent habit of scheduling the toughest opponents that will agree to host them. In Lewis’ five seasons at Kent State, each season has had three power five opponents and one home game against an FCS opponent.

Kent State has played road games against Texas A&M, Iowa, Auburn, Wisconsin, Penn State, Ole Miss and more over the last three seasons, excluding 2020 when no non-conference games were played. Kent State has traded an easier road to a bowl game for game checks from P5 opponents.

The 2022 slate has road games against the Washington Huskies, the Oklahoma Sooners and the Georgia Bulldogs.

Washington and Oklahoma are under new management and Washington is in a state of flux with their roster and program, but Oklahoma wants to compete for a Big XII championship this year. The Georgia Bulldogs are the defending national champions and a fully functioning death star.

The first priority for the Flashes for their first four weeks is to get out healthy. After that, one win is the minimum, but a second would be a lovelyt cherry on top, as it would mean a major upset of one of the three scheduled Power 5 teams.

Saturday, Sept. 3: Kent State at Washington Huskies

NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden Flashes open the season with the Washington Huskies in Seattle. The two programs have never played each other before this season.

The Huskies fired head coach Jimmy Lake after an incident with a player on the sideline that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Not long after, Kalen DeBoer was hired from Fresno State and Washington is moving forward.

The Huskies are their third coach in four seasons, which is tough for roster continuity. Despite that, they return a lot of their offensive production and get some players back that missed time due to injuries.

Former Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is in line to start against the Flashes in week one. He has talented wide receivers to throw to in Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan and the core of the offensive line returns from 2021.

Penix had a great 2020 season at Indiana. The highlight of the season was the stretch two-point conversion against Penn State, but 2021 was very inconsistent while coming back from a torn ACL. The 2020 version of Penix would be a game changer for the Huskies.

The Flashes need to take advantage of a Huskie secondary that sent two players to the NFL. Dante Cephas is the top target returning and caught 82 passes for 1,240 yards and nine touchdowns. Running back Marquez Cooper is back for the Flashes on offense and he was as productive as Cephas from the backfield, rushing for 1,205 yards.

Dustin Crum is a major departure for the Kent State offense, but Collin Schlee is going to start for Kent State and he has a lot of hype coming into 2022. The high-tempo offense is here to stay and the hype around Schlee suggests there might not be a major drop-off between the two quarterbacks.

This game is probably the Flashes' best chance to get the second win with all of the uncertainty and turnover in the Washington program. Washington will have a better roster and a road trip to play in Seattle is never easy.

Wilder things have happened.

Saturday, Sept. 10: Kent State at Oklahoma Sooners

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Oregon at Oklahoma Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma Sooners have more questions coming into the 2022 season than normal for the perennial Big XII contender. How deep is the receiver room past Marvin Mims? Is Dillon Gabriel the answer at quarterback? Is the offensive line improved enough to know if Gabriel is their guy?

Can Brent Venables produce results at the same level as Lincoln Riley did?

The Sooners offense is replacing two quarterbacks from last season, their top two rushers and four of their top five pass catchers. Two wide receivers were added via the transfer portal to support their brand new air attack behind the home run hitter, Mims.

Their defense is 15th in returning production from an up and down defensive unit from a year ago. Venables was the defensive coordinator at Clemson for ten seasons and one of the highest paid, if not the highest paid, assistants in college football. His immediate challenge will be implementing his system with new coaches and new players.

Kent State is Oklahoma’s second opponent, playing a week after UTEP plays in Norman. The biggest improvements teams make are usually between weeks one and two and this will be enhanced on the Oklahoma side with as much turnover the program has seen during the offseason.

The Sooners are a difficult matchup for any team, but especially for Kent State. The Kent State defense needs to make major improvements over 2021 to attain their goals for the season. The Flashes' defense broke down too often against MAC opponents. Even with Oklahoma’s offensive turnover in players and scheme considered, major improvements probably don’t contain the Sooners.

Even if the offense clicks immediately behind Collin Schlee, getting the number of points they need to score off an experienced Sooner defense to hang around is unlikely. A win for Kent State can be defined as good health, a couple of offensive drives that end with points and no mental errors on defense.

Saturday, Sept. 17: Long Island University Sharks at Kent State

NCAA Football: LIU at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Kent State finally gets a home game in Week 3, when they host the Long Island University Sharks. The Sharks are heading into their fourth season at the FCS level and it’s been a tough transition.

In 2018, the D-II LIU Post Pioneers went 10-0 in the regular season and made a first-round exit in the playoffs. The next season saw them combine athletic programs with LIU-Brooklyn, which was already at the Division I level. The program selected a new mascot and made the jump to FCS.

The Sharks went 0-10 in their inaugural season. The best way to get better at a new level is to continue to compete and learn, but they were deprived of that opportunity in the 2020 season. They did get their first FCS wins in the shortened 2020 season with a 2-2 record, and went 2-8 in 2021, an effort which saw their long-time coach Bryan Collins, who had been with LIU since their D-II days, stepped down at the end of the year.

Former EMU head coach Ron Cooper is the current head coach, making his return to head coaching after five seasons in other roles. Cooper has some work to do. The FCS SP+ rankings have the Sharks in 123rd out of 128 teams, with a defensive rank of 122nd and the 82nd ranked offense.

Kent State is a front-runner in the MAC East and will want to show that here. LIU should be getting its roster up to FCS standards in year four and under a new head coach. These teams are in different places in their growth cycles and it should be the first glance at what is coming in MAC play from Kent State.

Saturday, Sept. 24: Kent State at Georgia Bulldogs

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia is the cherry on top of the non-conference sundae for the Flashes.

What is there to say? They’re the defending National Champions, the only roster that competes with theirs is Alabama and a two-loss season would be a major disappointment for them.

“The Mailman” Stetson Bennett is returning for his senior season, and all three of his top targets from a year ago are back as well. Brock Bowers is Bennett’s favorite target, playing from the tight end position, with 56 connections in 2021 for 882 yards and 13 touchdowns. The offensive line has three starters back for 2022 and will open running lanes for fresh faces at running back.

Zamir White and James Cook were both selected in the NFL draft, and the three running backs behind them combined for 170 rushes and 851 yards. That’s an easy 5.0 yards per carry average. They’re good in the running back room.

Three starters on the defensive side of the ball remain from the best defense in the nation, but there won’t be a major drop-off from last season. Georgia recruited five five-star players in the 2022 class and four of the players are defensive players. The last five-star recruit is listed as an athlete and is sharing a number with a quarterback. Someone on the Georgia sideline is going to make sure they never walk on the field at the same time or he’s playing defense. The Bulldogs are going to reload the defense with incredible talent.

These two teams have met once before in 1998, with Georgia winning that matchup 56-3. The 2022 version of Kent State is much better than the 1998 version, but still, the 2022 game could end in a similar result.

Any positive outcome for Kent State, be it a close game, a close game for too long or an improbable win, will inevitably be seen as a failure by Georgia and not an indication of Kent State’s quality.

Nevertheless, once the final horn sounds on this game, the Flashes will focus all of their attention on the Ohio Bobcats and the rest of the MAC schedule. The bills will be paid, now it’s time to win some games.