Flashes to be a serious contender this season

Joey Simon

Laugh if you’d like or chuckle at the mere mention of Kent State football if you want, but the Flashes are going to make some noise in the Mid-American Conference this season.

I know Josh Cribbs, who was basically the entire offense last season, is gone. I know we have an unproved starting quarterback and a player, who started out camp as wide receiver, as our starting running back. And yes, I know I picked them to lose to Michigan State tomorrow.

But believe me when I say there’s reason for optimism.

Kent has two major areas that will be the strengths of the football team this year: the defense and the offensive line.

Those two areas are how you build a winning team. I don’t care how great your quarterback is, if you don’t have a stout offensive line, he’s going to be pulling dirt off his helmet all day long.

If you can control the line of scrimmage, you can command and dictate the pace of the game. Not controlling the line causes you to solely rely on big and trick plays to contend — just ask Cribbs. That’s not how you win football games, evident by Kent State’s 17-27 record during Cribbs’ tenure. A game, as they say, is won or lost in the trenches.

Furthermore, it’s especially important to win the battle up front when you’re attempting to change the style of the offense from a run-oriented system to a pass-happy, aerial attack, which the Flashes are in the process of doing.

Passing the ball to set up the run, which Martin said the team will do this year, is uncharted territory at Kent State, but with four returning starters and eight lettermen back on the line, the Flashes will be able to make the adjustment.

On defense, the Flashes will look to maintain the same dominance as last year when they reigned No. 1 in the MAC. A swarming defense, something that was missing for most of Cribbs’ tenure, returns seven starters and 16 letterwinners, led by senior leader Justin Parrish. After finishing in the top five in the nation with 14 sacks, Parrish said it’s time for a new look at Kent: having the defense as the team’s strength.

The one question mark for the Flashes will be at the skilled positions. With the Flashes’ leading passer, receiver and top two leading rushers all gone due to graduation, Kent State has some glaring holes to fill.

Darrell Dowery, last year’s leading receiver, caught 40 more passes and gained 424 more yards than the No. 2 receiver. So, to say the team needs a new No. 1 wide out is a severe understatement. Cribbs and 2004 starting running back David Alston combined for 1,565 of the Flashes’ 1,695 rushing yards last year.

So, Machen and the receiving corps is what will make or break the Flashes. There’s no doubt Machen has a strong arm. He has the intangibles to be a great quarterback — he was contending for the starting job at Alabama, a storied college program, before he left for junior college. How he responds to the pressure of transforming a historically bad football team into a contender in an up-and-coming conference is another question.

The receivers are a different story. They have experience, but the talent is the question. The Flashes have four receivers who caught 20 or more passes last season returning.

However, none had more than 28 catches and defenses were keying on Dowery, leaving the team’s weaker corners on the other receivers.

With all of that said, there’s enough talent on the team for the Flashes to win.

The MAC is no longer a “quarterback conference.” In fact, it’s quickly becoming one of the better conferences in the nation.

Will Kent State follow and become a major player in that conference?

I say yes.

Contact sports editor Joey Simon at [email protected].