The 2012 season was outstanding, even though Kent State finished with two losses - NIU in the championship game and Arkansas State in the bowl game. The Golden Flashes rolled off 11 wins, riding a diverse running attack led by Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, and an opportunistic defense that got all the right bounces. At the end of the year, head coach Darrell Hazell cashed in his "Next Big Thing" chips and headed to the B1G and Purdue, with alumnus and Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes replacing him.
Last season, Haynes first season at the helm, didn't go so well. A sluggish win over FCS Liberty was followed by a 1-8 stretch, where only one loss (Ball State) was by less than one score. Beating Miami and Ohio in the last two games offered some hope for the future, but 2013 was a huge disappointment. Learning new coaching systems, along with key personnel issues and injuries to Archer and Durham were the primary reasons, making 2013 a season to forget. The Flashes were by no means awful, and there is hope for the future.
Most teams lament the loss of a four-year starter at quarterback, but Spencer Keith never fulfilled his freshman promise, having a mediocre career. His replacement in 2013, redshirt freshman Colin Reardon, had an okay season, flashing ability at times, but also looking like the freshman he was at others. Reardon has improved greatly in spring camp, in part due to competition with well-regarded Nathan Strock, and should be a better quarterback in 2014.
Injuries did a better job shutting down Archer and Durham in 2013 than opponents did the previous year, and Archer is gone. If Durham is 100 percent healthy—and slimmer—he'll be able to wear down opponents with his brutal running style. Also around is Anthony Meray, who had some bright moments in limited duty, and should be due a few extra carries. Incoming recruit Miles Hibbler is a track star who could help offset the loss of Archer in the backfield.
Chris Humphrey is a decent receiver, catching 51 passes last season, but he wasn't always on the same page with Reardon. That should change this season, and could lead to some big numbers for Humphrey. Also back is tight end Casey Pierce, who provided another useful target for Reardon. Josh Boyle will be asked to step up this season after contributing 47 receptions mostly as a reserve over the last two seasons. Expectations are also high for Earnest Calhoun, who is small but quick, and could be a dynamo in the slot. Oh, and don't forget former Kent State small forward Darren Goodson is using his last semester of eligibility as a tight end on the football team. He provides the Flashes with a potential end zone threat.
The offensive line was inconsistent in run-blocking last season, but did an excellent job keeping Reardon upright, allowing just 14 sacks. Both tackles, Reno Reda and Jason Bitsko return, while Wayne Scott and former defensive lineman Anthony Pruitt both started some games at left and right guard respectively, and should take over full time. Center is the potential weak spot, with both contenders, Alex Nielsen and Tad France, yet to take a snap in a collegiate game. This has the makings of a good unit if they can sort out the man in the middle.
Kent State's defense was in shambles against the run last season, giving up nearly 200 yards per game despite playing some teams with less than stellar running attacks. Even a defensive line that boasted all-everything tackle Roosevelt Nix, among others, couldn't stem the flow. Now the line needs rebuilding, but things don't look too bleak.
The player most likely to replace Nix is Nate Terhune, a tough guy who made some big plays despite a broken ankle hindering his season. Beside him should be big Chris Fairchild, who has the bulk to keep the linebackers clean. At defensive end, Richard Gray is back after missing all of last season (ineligible), and Terence Waugh, a reserve. Hopefully this group can improve on last year's 21 sacks, as well as getting a push against the run.
At linebacker, Matt Dellinger returns in the middle, and he'll be joined by either DeVante' Strickland or Darius Redmond on the weakside. This should be a decent unit, but they lack size, and if the line can't hold up, they'll get run over.
The secondary wasn't bad last season, holding opponents to 211 yards, at a 54.1 percent completion percentage. They had a couple of bad days, but were generally reliable. Three starters are back, but all-MAC strong safety Luke Wollet and corner Darius Polk graduate, leaving some big holes. "Star" Jordan Italiano will likely move back to replace Wollett, while one of last year's free safeties, Keenan Stalls or Nate Holley, will move to Star, with the other staying at free. Dylan Farrington returns at corner, with Kerrick Rhone and Adam Maxie fighting for the other spot.
Anthony Melchiori pulled double duty last season, hitting 9 of 14 field goals (47 long), but making the all-MAC team as a punter. He should improve in both departments in his junior year, giving the Flashes an excellent weapon. Calhoun returned both kicks and punts, but didn't come close to replacing Archer, although he didn't get much help from his blockers. The punt coverage was top-notch last season, but the kicking unit could stand to improve.
|Sept 6||South Alabama|
|Sept 13||@ Ohio State|
|Sept 27||@ Virginia|
|Oct 4||@ Northern Illinois|
|Oct 25||@ Miami (Ohio)|
|Nov 12||@ Bowling Green|
|Nov 19||@ Buffalo|
That's not a particularly kind schedule, but there are wins to be had. Opening against a similarly rebuilding Ohio, could be a boon, but the Bobcats will be itching for revenge after getting spanked in the last game of 2013. South Alabama have to come to Dix Stadium this year, but they play hard and this won't be an easy contests. A three-game road trip follows. Ohio State are a sure loss, but playing hard and keeping the Buckeyes' starters in longer than expected will be a moral victory for Kent State. Virginia were a mess last season, but they're hard-nosed defense and tough running game will test the Flashes. Not a sure loss though.
A visit to NIU could be a heads up to the rest of the MAC slate. A win could propel Kent State to a bowl year; a loss may rule them out. Massachusetts are getting better, but should be a home win, and Army are tough to predict, although it's at home. A trip to Oxford to play Miami should result in a win, but I think the Redhawks will be improved this year. Toledo will likely win the West, and the Flashes will have their hands full, as will the following trip to Bowling Green. Buffalo in the frigid north will be tough, although the Bulls are replacing some stars. The Flashes finish with Akron in Dix, but the Zips are a tough call this year, but homefield advantage should tip the game in Kent State's favor.
To recap: the offense should be pretty solid, health and interior line permitting, but the defense isn't quite there yet. The special teams should be a bonus if the return game can improve (greatly). What does this all mean? Well, the team is on the verge of becoming a player in the MAC in 2015, but will likely have an improved, but still unsatisfactory season this year. They open with a difficult five-game stretch, but Kent State should be able to handle the guts of the MAC season. If everything clicks like it did in 2012, they could pull off nine wins, but five is more probable.