Are you ready for some #MACtion? For the 10th straight season, a team from the Mid-American Conference finds itself on Penn State's schedule, and for the second time in three years it's the Kent State Golden Flashes. This is their fourth visit to Happy Valley this decade, and fifth since 2003.
2017 was not a fun year for Kent State fans. The Golden Flashes went 2-10 and finished out the season on a five-game losing streak before firing head coach Paul Haynes. Haynes compiled a record of 14-45 in his five year tenure and the Golden Flashes missed out on a bowl in each of those seasons. They went out and hired former Syracuse offensive coordinator Sean Lewis, making him the youngest FBS head coach at 31 years old.
Kent State at a Glance
|Head Coach||Sean Lewis (1st Season; 0-0)|
|Biggest Losses||QB George Bollas, DT Jon Cunningham, CB Demetrius Monday, OL Stefano Millin, LB James Alexander|
|Biggest Returnees||LB Jim Jones, RB Justin Rankin, WR Trey Harrell, WR Mandela Lawrence-Burke, OL Nate Warnock|
|Summary||Kent State hasn't had a winning season since 2012. Can they breakthrough under a first-year head coach and find themselves back in the postseason?|
|Matchup with PSU||The Nittany Lions have won the last four matchups by 78 points and nothing suggests anything will be different in 2018.|
Kent State had a hard time getting anything going on the offensive end. They averaged a mere 12.8 points and 275.2 yards per game, good for second and third worst in all of major college football. With numbers like that there's nowhere to go but up, right?
Quarterback George Bollas is gone, leaving sophomore Justin Crum and former Auburn Tiger Woody Barrett to battle it out for the starting job. Crum didn't exactly show a lot of promise as a passer last year but did end up being the Golden Flashes third-leading rusher. Barrett, a former top-10 quarterback prospect, spent last season at a JuCo in Mississippi. With a new coach comes a clean slate, so any advantage Crum may have had is probably gone. Of the two, Barrett is probably more talented so expect him to be the guy to lead the offense when they roll into Beaver Stadium on September 15.
Thankfully for Sean Lewis, running back Justin Rankin is back for another season. The junior led the team in total touchdowns, rushing yards, receptions, and finished second in receiving yards. Needless to say, the offense goes as he goes. Outside of Rankin, they have their leading receiver Trey Harrell back, giving the new staff some experienced pieces to work with. The offensive line was very shaky, allowing 46 sacks last season, tied for second-most in the nation. From that unit, they lose Nathan Puthoff to graduation and Stefano Millin, who transferred to Pitt. This leaves the offensive line even more inexperienced and depleted than last year.
For how bad the offense was, the defense wasn't much better. The Golden Flashes gave up over 400 yards and 35 points per game last year. No matter how you spin it, that's not great.
Linebacker Jim Jones was a first-team All-MAC selection a year ago after leading the Kent State defense in both total tackles and sacks. He'd be a starter on just about any defense in the Power Five so expect to hear his name called plenty of times during their trip to Happy Valley.
Their second leading tackler, Mandela Lawrence-Burke, is making the switch from safety to wide receiver, leaving a glaring hole in the back half of the secondary. Between him and losing third-team All-MAC corner Demetrius Monday, quarterbacks shouldn't have too many problems throwing the ball against the Flashes.
Up the middle, they lose defensive tackle Jon Cunningham. Cunningham earned second-team All-MAC honors and is currently on the Atlanta Falcons roster. The Golden Flashes did a solid job getting pressure up front, so replacing a player like Cunningham will be no easy task.
It will be three freshmen battling it out to take over the kicking duties but punter Derek Adams is back. Adams was quietly one of the best punters in the country last season, punting a whopping 79 times for an average of 43.6 yards per punt. Mike Carrigan handled the kick return duties while Raymond Jones fielded punts last season. Both return this season and could give the Golden Flashes the spark they need to put up some points.
It's going to be another long season for Kent State. The non-conference schedule is brutal, with road trips to P5 schools Illinois and Ole Miss on top of their trip to State College. Kent State isn't a large threat to Penn State so that game could be great for getting some younger guys experience and determining which of the true freshmen can be used during Big Ten play, or if preserving their redshirt is worth it. Sean Lewis has a big job ahead of him. If he can bring some of that offensive firepower he created at Syracuse, the Golden Flashes could sneak into a bowl game in the next few years.