Head coach: Doug Martin
Last season: The Flashes began the season with a home blowout loss to Minnesota and a disheartening defeat at Army. Give Martin credit for resurrecting the team and preventing another disgraceful season. Kent State ran off five straight victories after that, including a 37-15 thumping of the Zips (see above). Then somebody whispered, "Hey, you know you're Kent State, right?" Buffalo laid a 41-14 beatdown on the Flashes in Week 9. They couldn't recover to win the MAC East or become bowl eligible, both of which seemed inevitable early in the season.
It's hard to put a finger on only one reason Kent State's season disintegrated. It was a moving target. But the reason for its success is clear: They moved the ball exceptionally well on the ground. Eugene Jarvis and the KSU backs rushed for 270 yards in their pounding of Toledo. Akron could not stop quarterback Julian Edelman's scrambling, particularly on crucial third downs. In the end, it was a 6-6 season that ended in a choke job to Ball State that, if the score had flopped, would've landed Kent State in its first bowl game since 1972.
Best returning player: Senior cornerback Jack Williams
Offense: Edelman and Jarvis will be a powerful combination the next two years, but the team looks pretty thin at wide receiver. The top two for 2007, Shawn Bayes and Phil Garner, combined for 12 catches and zero touchdowns last season. The team should be fairly experienced at offensive line and tight end, however. When Edelman can play a non-flashy (no pun intended) yet smart game, the defense will put Kent State in a position to win each MAC game.
Defense: Kent State lost lineman Danny Muir and cornerback Usama Young. Those were very talented players. Martin's system has found a way to produce playmakers on defense. Williams certainly is one of them. He led the nation in forced fumbles last season and will captain what could be a top-three defense in the MAC. Special teams also is a concern since KSU was 2-10 on field goals in 2006.
How the Zips match up: It's incredibly hard to say which Kent State team we will see in 2007. In 2005, some predicted the Flashes to surprise the MAC. Instead, they laid an oh-fer on the season. Last year, they were two different teams. Akron should be able to quell the Flashes' running game by pushing John Mackey closer to the line until Kent State proves it has receivers worth double covering. Akron's quarterback won't need to be a hero; he just needs to avoid losing the game for his team.
At this point, it's way too early for even a way-too-early prediction. But oh well, I can't be a coward...
Way-too-early prediction: Akron 17, Kent State 13