KENT — For the second consecutive season, the Kent State football team will tackle three rugged Power Five foes in its 2019 nonconference schedule. Once again, the first opponent appears to be the most vulnerable.

Last year the Golden Flashes led a rebuilding Illinois squad 17-3 at halftime before the Fighting Illini rallied to pull out a 31-24 victory in Sean Lewis' debut as KSU coach.

Thursday night the Flashes will make the program's first-ever trek to Tempe to battle Arizona State, which is in year two under former NFL head coach and popular ESPN analyst Herm Edwards. The Sun Devils were widely considered overachievers after finishing 7-6 last season, but lost their star quarterback and wide receiver to graduation and will have a true freshman behind center Thursday night.

But “vulnerable” is certainly not a word Lewis is using to describe the Sun Devils.

“Talent all over the place. Very fast, very physical. Very well-coached team in all phases,” said Lewis of Arizona State. “One of the things I always peek at when I'm scouting is the field-goal block team or PAT block team. You get a good indicator of how hard a team is playing by how hard that unit is rushing.

"With Arizona State, it doesn't matter if they're in a close game, up 40, or they happen to be down, they are getting after it in that unit. That tells me it's a group that loves to play, and is playing the game the right way.”

Arizona State features an elite running back in junior Eno Benjamin, who rushed for a school-record 1,642 yards with 16 touchdowns and averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season. He'll run behind a veteran line that includes all redshirt juniors and seniors, headed by 2018 All-Pac-12 senior left tackle Cohl Cabral.

Since the Sun Devils will have a freshman at quarterback, the Flashes will likely load the box to stop the run. But Jayden Daniels is no ordinary freshman quarterback. The San Bernardino native was rated the No. 2 duel-threat quarterback recruit in the country after throwing for more than 14,000 yards and rushing for 3,645 as a four-year starter at California’s Cajon High.

Daniels (6-3, 175) will be the first true freshman to start at quarterback in Arizona State history.

“I'm sure they're going to play a lot of the game through Eno and the offensive line, let [Daniels] kind of get settled in and maybe not lean on him too much,” said Lewis. “But they also have a talented group of wide receivers that can certainly make the quarterback right, all upperclassmen who are very viable weapons.”

The Flashes offense also faces an uphill battle against an Arizona State defense that returns eight starters, anchored by junior cornerback Chase Lucas.

Kent State has not held up well against programs from elite conferences, dropping 13 in a row — all but two by double-digits — since the 2012 squad upset nationally ranked Rutgers on the way to a school-record 11-win season. But the Flashes played two of their closest games during that stretch last year under Lewis, who will not hold anything back even when he's a heavy underdog.

“Not to steal Herm Edwards' quote, but you play to win the game. We prepare that way, and that's what we're going there to do,” said Lewis. “We need to play our brand of football, control the things we can control. Give us a slingshot and a rock, and we're going to take our shot and see where the chips fall.”