After a pair of back-to-back MAC East championships by the Bowling Green Falcons, it almost feels like forever ago since the Kent State Golden Flashes were a team that was able to break the top 25 rankings, but it really happened. It was awesome. Meeting up against Northern Illinois in Detroit in a game that ended in a 44-37 double-overtime battle.
A new head coach after Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, star offensive threat Dri Archer had battled injuries the following year and Kent State took a quick two-year slump since then. But now, coming off of a 2-9 (1-7 MAC) season, the Flashes are returning 19 total starters on offense and defense and could very well be the least talked about team in the East that could make the most noise.
|Sept. 4 (Fri.)||@ Illinois||9 pm|
|Sept. 12||vs. Delaware State||6 pm|
|Sept. 19||@ Minnesota||12 pm|
|Sept. 26||vs. Marshall||TBA|
|Oct. 3||vs. Miami||3:30 pm|
|Oct. 10||@ Toledo||3 pm|
|Oct. 17||@ UMass||3:30 pm|
|Oct. 24||vs. Bowling Green||TBA|
|Nov. 5 (Thur.)||vs. Buffalo||7;30 pm|
|Nov. 10 (Tue.)||@ Ohio||8 pm|
|Nov. 18||vs. Central Michigan||8 pm|
|Nov. 27 (Fri.)||@ Akron||TBA|
Kent State has a pair of Big Ten schools that need to be adequately prepared to contest with this year's Flashes. Illinois and Minnesota are two middle-of-the-road teams in an extremely top-heavy conference this year.
The away portion of their in-conference schedule fairly difficult. Toledo Rockets and UMass Minutemen are two teams that might be preseason picks by some to make it to the MAC Championship game this December and the Flashes face both of them in back-to-back weeks. They'll also face the Ohio Bobcats and Akron Zips on the road in November, who both have really promising defenses coming into the season.
The Miami RedHawks, led by second-year head coach Chuck Martin, are the first MAC team that they'll face this year. Heavy MAC East favorites BGSU come to Dix Stadium in late October, which is exactly the situation you'd want if you're a Flashes fan. Then they'll host both Buffalo Bulls and Central Michigan Chippewas, who are experiencing coaching changes of their own with the hires of Lance Leipold and John Bonamego, respectively.
Trying to pick up from where Hazell left off was a tough task for Paul Haynes, but he's been dedicated to making the program that he played in during the late 80's-early 90's into something he can be proud of. In 1987, Haynes was a walk-on true freshman that led the team in interceptions, followed that up with a 116-tackle season and was an All-MAC honoree the rest of the way.
25 years after being a walk-on player at Kent State nicknamed "Ice", Haynes was introduced in December of 2012 to be referred to as "coach" instead. Previously an Arkansas Razorbacks as their defensive backs coach, now helping Kent State's defense to be one of the best teams in the MAC against the pass in his first two seasons. His first season ended with 4-8 record (3-5 MAC) and last year the only team in the MAC they beat was the Akron Zips in the season finale.
Being able to haul in a promising recruiting class with Juantez McCrae and Antwan Dixon shows promise for this Flashes program for years to come.
5 Key Players
SS- Jordan Italiano- One of ten returning starters on defense, Italiano was named to NFL.com's Smartest Player in College Football just a few months ago. The senior's on-field talent earned him a spot on our Top 70 Players Countdown at no. 41. He was second on the team last year with 96 tackles and hauled in three interceptions.
FS- Nate Holley- Junior free safety, older brother of returning leading rusher Nick Holley, was third in the nation with 12.5 tackles per game last year, sixth with 6.8 solo tackles. 174 total tackles in for his two season played, and is a preseason First Team All-MAC pick by Phil Steele.
DT- Nate Terhune- NFL.com said that this lineman was the Toughest Player in College Football last year, has a career 65 tackles, 13.5 for loss (42 yards lost) with 5.5 sacks. Terhune's pretty versatile as a defensive lineman, lining up against tackles and guards as well as seeing some playing time as a nose tackle.
QB- Colin Reardon- More interceptions than touchdowns is pretty bad, but Reardon completed the most passes in a single season with 228. Only James Knapke (483), Andrew Hendrix (458) and Blake Frohnapfel (437) had more passing attempts than Reardon did as a redshirt-sophomore (400) and they've all had their fair share of offensive woes and turnovers. Loses his two top targets in Casey Pierce and Chris Humphrey, but returns two receivers and a slot receiver Connor Arlia could be good helps for Reardon in 2015.
P/K- Anthony Melchiori- He does special teams and more special teams. As a kicker, he was 10-for-18. An unpleasant 55.6 percent in field goals is something to fix heading into his senior season, but made 16 of his 18 PAT kicks. He averaged the best distance in punts with 44.3 yards with 26 punts being downed inside the 20 with three touchbacks.
Golden Flashes' Strong Suit
Returning all of these starters on both sides of the ball makes thing easier for Haynes to work with. The MAC's best passing defense with two of the conference's best safeties with Demetrius Monday and Najee Murray at corner is good to have in a conference where quarterbacks and wide receiver corps are deep on most teams.
Assuming that Reardon won't have the turnovers as much has he did as a second-year starter, he should still be completing his passes with a good percentage. He was near 59 percent his first year and was at 57 percent last year. Connor Arlia is a transfer slot receiver who had seven touchdowns receptions in 2013 at West Virginia Wesleyan.
They return both Nick Holley and Traiyon Durham as running backs, but they saw a 100-yard dip in their rushing attacks last year from 2013. If they can turn things around, that'd be a big help for the quarterback and the rest of the offense, but there's no huge promise that they'll be a threat in this area of the game.
While the passing defense was good, stopping the run was quite the opposite. They allowed 214 rushing yards per game (second-worst in the MAC) but they were 5th in the MAC in rushing scores allowed with 19. If they can lower the 4.7 yards per attempt by opposing ball carriers, then they'll be in good business.
Melchiori absolutely must be better in field goals too. Under 60 percent just won't cut it.
TL;DR: Season Overview
Not the most firepower for Kent State's offense, but it could be good enough if the defense continues to improve. The Flashes didn't receive a first place vote to win the MAC East in the preseason media poll, and understandably so. The schedule they face is favorable for the tools they have to work with, it's just going to take some early wins to earn some respect from everybody else.