Kent State may have gone 2-9 last season but bad injury luck and even other more tragic circumstances can at least be considered contributing factors. Now, with a little better luck, some improvement, and a wide-open division there’s no reason why the Golden Flashes can’t go from zero to hero (and by hero I mean saving Coach Paul Haynes’ job in the process).
Since most of the bad fortune occurred on offense, let’s start this by listing the things that went wrong before the season even started: Coach Haynes missed most of spring practice with pneumonia, starting RB Trayion Durham was lost for the year due to injury, and starting C Jason Bitsko died from complications related to an enlarged heart. Losing your coach and running back for a stretch hurts, but having a teammate die is enough to cast a shadow over a whole season.
Now, in 2015, this team has a real opportunity to take a step forward with Durham back and healthy, but they aren’t going to improve that much if Colin Reardon can’t throw fewer than 16 interceptions this season. That looks even worse when compared to his 14 touchdown passes. A 14-to-16 TD-to-INT ratio is going to be the hallmark of a bad or worse team 99 times out of 100.
With Durham back, and the return of his replacement Nick Holley, plus the potential use of do-it-all player Ernest Calhoun, there just might be enough of a running game here to ease Reardon’s passing load and allow him to get comfortable and make fewer mistakes. Look for Calhoun and Holley to contribute at receiver too, with Calhoun in the slot and Holley catching the ball on the outside. Kris White should be the top threat on the outside though.
Line play should be at least decent too, with eight players on the line with starting experience and three with more than 10 starts. The left side of the line should be particularly strong with T Reno Reda and G Wayne Scott having a combined 33 starts between them.
Oh, and even if the offense isn’t scoring they do have All-MAC punter Anthony Melchiori to ensure they at least won’t give their opponent good field position.
In the MAC, it’s mostly more beneficial for the defense to be strong against the pass rather than the run. Granted, if you can have both you obviously want it, but given the choice of one or the other I’d take the strong pass defense. However, that may leave you susceptible in a MAC championship game against strong ground-and-pound teams like Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, or Toledo. The East, though, is mainly comprised of pass-heavy offenses, so if you can stymie the passing attack often enough you give yourself a chance.
Kent State has the strongest defensive backs in the division, and it gives them a chance to win it. All-MAC FS Nate Holley leads this unit after racking up over 100 tackles a season ago, but his counterpart Jordan Italiano has also received some preseason All-MAC recognition of his own in some places. They might overshadow the corners, but Najee Murray and Demetrius Monday were two of the most highly recruited players on the team for a reason. Murray only played in 7 games last season, but with a full season of work he could end up with some postseason awards.
The linebackers and line aren’t as strong maybe as though defensive backs, but it can never hurt to return your top seven tacklers and get another top tackler who missed all of 2013 due to injury back. On experience alone, the front seven should at least be good enough to not bring down a good secondary.
Prediction: 7-5 MAC East Champs
Honestly, there is no team that could win this division and it come as a surprise. (Buffalo would surprise me some, but others think they have an opportunity to compete). Bowling Green seems to be the favorite, and Ohio has been .500 or better for five consecutive years, but I tend to bearish on both of these teams opening the door for somebody else. Why not Kent State? They managed to avoid Northern Illinois and Western Michigan on the schedule, and they get Bowling Green at home. This might look stupid in three months or less, but I’m rolling with the Golden Flashes to win a weak MAC East.
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