While the nonconference schedule for Kent State is certainly daunting (road games at Ohio State and Virginia loom in September), the biggest hurdle facing this year's squad will be trying to fill the void that has been left by all-purpose player, Dri Archer.
The third-round NFL Draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers will now be burning up yards in the NFL instead of in the MAC.
In 2012, Archer was an All-American and he set a Kent State single-season touchdown record with 23 trips to the end zone. However, 2013 was a difficult year for Archer, who was banged up in week one against Liberty, and was unable to capture the same success he carried in the 2012 season. This past season, Archer managed just 527 yards rushing and 11 total touchdowns. Now he's gone altogether.
So, who fills that void? The immediate fill-in is 6-foot-1, 248-pound senior, Trayion Durham. Durham was the "Thunder" to Archer's "Lighting" in 2012, and will carry the weight of the rushing game for most of the season. Durham was last season's leading rusher with 766 yards. If the Durham freight train can stay healthy, he should be able to help Kent State move the chains and take some of the pressure off of sophomore quarterback Colin Reardon.
Reardon will also be an option to help the rushing game. Showing signs of mobility last year, the Kent State quarterback was the team's third leading rusher, totaling 430 yards and two touchdowns. Look for Reardon to run some option plays this year with other potential running back candidate Anthony Meray. Meray carried the ball 54 times last year for 254 yards with one touchdown, and provides a little bit more speed than Durham.
The offensive line will have to gel quickly for the Golden Flashes to have any hopes of running the football successfully this fall. Sophomore Reno Reda and junior Jason Bitsko are the only two returning starters on the offensive line. Bitsko started all 12 games last season at right tackle for the Golden Flashes, and was named to Phil Steele's Preseason All-MAC team. Reda started in six games last season, but he appeared in all 12 games. The rest of the projected line is inexperienced with Alex Nielsen, Wayne Scott and Anthony Pruitt combining for a total of nine starts. Scott and Pruitt did, however, see action in every game last season.
There's no question that filling the void left by one of the most prolific players in Kent State history is going to be a difficult task for second-year head coach Paul Haynes. In 2013, the Golden Flashes rushed for 182.4 yards per game (48th best in the country) and if Kent State can be anywhere near that number and ranking it will be a successful season for the ground game.
As is the case in the Mid-American Conference surprises may come out of nowhere, and if Reardon can escape the pocket he may have success in moving the chains. The weight of the offense will be on Durham's shoulders but if he can stay healthy he should be able to rack up 1,000-plus yards on the ground.