Sunday, June 08, 2014

Even the Losers: Kent State

Over the past three seasons, 210 teams have participated in bowl games. 47 of those teams had losing records in the years immediately preceding their bowl game. This semi-regular piece will showcase the losers from 2013 who just might find themselves participating in Capital One Bowl Week in 2014. For our fourteenth installment, we will finally touch on the Mid-American Conference and the Kent State Golden Flashes.

Kent State

2013 Record: 4-8 (3-5 MAC)

Fresh off their first bowl appearance since the Nixon administration, Kent State began 2013 with a new coach as Paul Haynes took over for Darrell Hazell, who migrated to Purdue after the successful. 2012 campaign. The Golden Flashes opened 2013 in rather inauspicious fashion, edging IAA Liberty 17-10. The Golden Flashes quickly turned their attention to MAC play the following week, when they hosted eventual MAC champion Bowling Green. The Falcons dimmed the Flashes 41-22. Even a Kent State homer realized the next two games would be ugly. And said homer would have been eerily prescient as LSU and Penn State beat the Golden Flashes by a combined score of 79-13. The Golden Flashes returned to MAC play the following week and unloaded their frustrations on Western Michigan in a 32-14 win. Entering October, the Golden Flashes were 2-3, but with a 1-1 league mark, still had designs on a solid finish and potential bowl bid. Alas, they would not win another game until after Veteran's Day, losing five consecutive games with three coming by double-digits. At 2-8, the Flashes had every right to phone it in and prepare for 2014, but they bludgeoned Miami of Ohio and Ohio by a combined score of 68-19 to end their season on a positive note.

What Did the Golden Flashes Do Well?
Not much. Kent State was not a terrible team in 2013, but they were embarrassingly mediocre in the MAC and nationally on both sides of the ball. As a cop out, why don't we go with make extra points. The Golden Flashes converted on each of their 29 extra points in 2013, becoming one of 37 teams to finish with a flawless extra point game. As an added bonus, they were also successful on both their two-point conversion attempts, proving that on untimed plays, the Flashes were fantastic.

What Didn't the Golden Flashes Do Well?
Kick field goals. While Kent State's kickers Anthony Melchiori and Brad Miller made all their extra points, they did not do so well when it came to making kicks worth three times as many points. As a team, the Golden Flashes made just 10 of 18 field goal attempts on the season. Their field goal percentage, just south of 56%, ranked 113th nationally in 2013.

The Golden Flashes Over the Past Four Years:
The following table lists Kent State's performance (in conference play only) in a few key categories and their respective conference rank in those categories. To help you read the table here is a handy translator.
Conf: The Conference Kent State played in. With the ever-changing college football landscape, this is helpful.
Coach: Who was leading these yahoos into battle?
Rec: Conference Record
YPP: Yards per play. The number of yards per play the Golden Flashes averaged in conference play.
YPA: Yards per play allowed. The number of yards per play the Golden Flashes allowed in conference play.
Net: Yards per play net. The difference in YPP and YPA. Higher is better.
OTD: Offensive touchdowns. Touchdowns scored by the offense (no kick, punt, interception, or other returns are counted) in conference play.
DTD: Defensive touchdowns. Touchdowns allowed by the defense (no kick, punt, interception, or other returns are counted) in conference play.
Pythag: Adjusted Pythagorean Record. Take offensive touchdowns and defensive touchdowns and plug them into a handy formula to estimate the number of conference wins. For a full rundown of the APR, continue reading here.
In 2010 and 2011, first under Doug Martin, and then under Darrell Hazell, the Golden Flashes fielded a phenomenal mid-major defense, but could not get over the proverbial hump thanks to some major incompetence on offense. The Golden Flashes fielded those strong defenses with the aid of just a single (thus far) NFL player, Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, a defensive lineman. That number may soon double with Roosevelt Nix, an undrafted defensive lineman who was signed by the Atlanta Falcons. In 2012, the offense roared to life, and while the defense regressed from superb to solid, the Golden Flashes enjoyed a dream season. As you can tell by the numbers though, the Golden Flashes were not quite as good as their undefeated record would indicate. A host of factors conspired to allow them to contend for a BCS bowl. For starters, they boasted an in-conference turnover margin of +9 which was second in the MAC. They also scored six unconventional (or non-offensive) touchdowns in their eight conference games. The electrifying Dri Archer (who makes defenses quiver) returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in MAC action (he added a third against Towson), the defense returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns, and also a pair of fumbles, giving the Golden Flashes an additional three quarters of a touchdown per game over their MAC schedule. While huge plays by special teams and defense are certainly vital to winning football games, they are highly volatile and unpredictable events. Case in point, the team scored just one non-offensive touchdown in 2013 (another kickoff return by Archer). Thus, while the Golden Flashes were certainly a worse team in 2013, the drop off from their magical 2012 season was not as pronounced as the won/loss record would indicate.

The 2014 Schedule:
In non-conference play, the Golden Flashes can prepare for at least a pair of losses, as they travel to Ohio State and Virginia. The Ohio State game is a lost cause, and while a MAC team did beat Virginia in Charlottesville last year, the Cavaliers should be improved this season, and it would be hard to imagine it happening in consecutive years. Plus, the Golden Flashes are just 2-19 against BCS conference opponents in the last decade. In their other two non-conference games, Kent State will host Army and South Alabama. Kent State and Army have played three times in the past eight years, with Kent State winning the most recent edition in 2012. They have also played the Jaguars from South Alabama twice in the past three seasons, losing to them last season in Mobile, and beating the Jaguars (when they were still a IAA team) in 2011. Kent State should be favored over Army, but the South Alabama game is intriguing. In just their second year of IA football, the Jaguars finished 6-6 last season, with wins over the aforementioned Kent State, as well as bowl bound squads Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette. The game is in Ohio, but Kent State will likely not be an overwhelming favorite. A 2-2 record in non-conference action should please even the most optimistic Kent State supporter. In conference play, the Golden Flashes host Akron, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Toledo. As far as home schedules go, that one is pretty solid. A 3-1 mark at home would not be surprising. However, their road schedule is a different matter. The Golden Flashes face last season's two MAC title game participants (Bowling Green and Northern Illinois) on the road, as well as another bowl participant (Buffalo), and Miami. The Golden Flashes will likely be underdogs, and perhaps prohibitively, in three of those games.

Reason for Optimism:
The Golden Flashes weren't that bad last year. Sure Kent State was noncompetitive against LSU and Penn State, but most MAC schools would struggle just as much against those two teams. In conference play, based on the number of touchdowns scored and allowed, the Golden Flashes should have finished with an additional conference win. Plus, the Golden Flashes did all this with a freshman under center and with Dri Archer limited by injuries. Last season's Kent State squad was on par with the 2010 and 2011 teams, so its not like they have a huge hole to climb out of to return to contention.

Final Prognosis:
We'll know early on in 2014 if Kent State has legitimate bowl aspirations in 2014. They open with a pair of home games, against Ohio and South Alabama. Win them both and a bowl game appears a likely proposition. Split the pair, and the Golden Flashes probably top out at 6-6. Lose them both, and it is probably time to start looking forward to 2015. The big key for 2014 will be how Kent State plays at home. The Golden Flashes play six home games, and if they can sweep both Army and South Alabama in non-conference play, they would only need to get win four league games to qualify for a bowl. I'm thinking in the ten games not involving Ohio State and Virginia, the Golden Flashes win six of them. That will get them to bowl eligibility, but a bowl bid will depend on how the other MAC schools perform.

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