2016 MAC Record: 2-6 (5th, MAC East)
2017 MAC Media Prediction: 6th, MAC East
Schedule, offense are biggest KSU challenges
In a bit of irony, Kent State will begin a challenging 2017 season
by facing a defending national champion for the second consecutive season when it faces Clemson Sept. 2. The non-conference schedule ends with KSU’s defense trying to contain reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at Louisville.
Kent State’s most pressing questions . . .
The defense is one of the most solid groups in the MAC. Can it stay fresh and avoid getting worn down like a season ago when the offense sputtered?
The MAC regular season schedule brings its own challenges as Kent State
meets three of the top four teams coming out of the West (Northern Illinois and Western Michigan on the road; Central Michigan at home) The Flashes also face the top team in the East (Ohio) and arch rival Akron away from Dix Stadium.
● The running game does looks strong, with sophomore Justin Rankin and junior Raekown James back. Rankin led the Flashes in receiving with 28 catches for 335 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 511 yards averaging 4.7 yards per carry. James had limited carries but was was a prime target as a receiver with 25 receptions for 225 yards.
● The offensive line allowed 33 sacks a season ago. It will be led by senior C Nathan Putoff, junior left tackle Stefano Millin and junior right guard Connor Shinsky. Look for sophomore Mike Marinelli to get the start a right tackle, while Adam Gregoire steps in a right guard. Gregoire, a transfer from West Virginia, has not played the past two seasons due to assorted injuries.
On the plane after the loss to defending National Champion Alabama, Haynes decided on Nick Holley as his quarterback and the offense moved into an option attack. They moved the ball effectively on the run especially Holley, however they struggled in the passing game.
● As the 2017 season begins, both Bollas and Mitchell are healthy and came to camp challenging Holley for the QB starting spot. The trio are part of nine starters returning on the offensive side of the ball. Holley ran for 920 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, he completed just under 50 percent of his passes (79-of-146) for 868 yards with fiour touchdowns and three interceptions.
● The receiving corps will be led by fifth year senior Kris White. He had just one catch last season. That came in the season opener at Penn State, where he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Look for junior Johnny Woods, sophomore Mike Carrigan and another fifth-year senior, TE Ryan Malone, to be part of an improved passing attack in 2017.
● The 2016 defense kept KSU in many games, especially in conference play. Kent State, however, wore down late in some games, such as against Akron, Ohio, and Western Michigan.
● The defensive 11 allowed 386.5 yards per game (4th, MAC) overall but only 196.8 ypg through the air – second best in the conference.
● Kent State backs seven starters, led on the line by senior Jon Cunningham (34 total tackles and a forced fumble) and junior Theodore Eboigbe 22 total tackles, four tackles for losses and a forced fumble). Look for junior Kalil Morris (15 tackles), who had three starts a season ago, to play more this season.
● Senior James Alexander (34 total tackles with a sack, three pass breakups, and a fumble recovery) anchors the linebackers. Junior Jim Jones (37 total tackles – 20 solo) aJd senior Marques Moore could fill out the starters
● The strength of the Flashes defense is its secondary, led by senior CB Demetrius Monday (18 total tackles) and Jarrell Foster (39 total tackles, 11 pass breakups, and three interceptions). An up-and-coming star is sophomore Jamal Parker (28 total tackles-a sack-an interception), while juniors Quan Robinson and Erik Simpson figure at safety.
● The Flashes return both kickers, with junior Shayne Hynes doing the place kicking and sophomore Derek Adams as the punter.
Hynes led KSU in scoring with 73 points going 15-of-22 on field goals while being a perfect 28-of-28 on extra points. Adams averaged 40.3 yards per kick a season ago with 29 of his 78 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.
● James and junior Zaquon Tyson will handle the return game. James was the primary kick returner a season ago averaging 21.6 yards per return while Tyson averaged almost six yards per punt return
This is the final season of Haynes’ contract. He has maturity coming back. However, his non-conference schedule is brutal with Clemson and Louisville on the road, as well as a trip to Marshall. A lot of things have to fall right for the Flashes to contend in the MAC East.