COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
MAC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Paul Haynes, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Rock | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian George
New coach Paul Haynes, who took over at his alma mater after Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, inherits an offense that will be led by two of the conference’s most accomplished playmakers. Speedy senior Dri Archer ranked 30th nationally in rushing (102.1 ypg) and bruising junior Trayion Durham ranked 41st (94.0 ypg). Archer scored a school-record 23 touchdowns as a runner, receiver and kick returner to lead KSU to its first bowl game in 40 years. He was an All-American as a kick-returner and gave Haynes an early coaching gift by deciding not to turn pro.
In 2013, the pair may be asked to be even more productive because Spencer Keith, a four-year starter at quarterback, is gone. David Fisher, a junior college transfer in 2012, and redshirt freshman Colin Reardon are vying for the job.
The receiving corps welcomes back senior Tyshon Goode, who has 136 career catches but missed 2012 with a serious hamstring injury.
An area of concern is the line, which lost one four-year starter and two three-year starters. Center Phil Huff and guard Pat McShane are the only holdovers.
Only four starters return from a unit that ranked No. 74 nationally in total defense, allowing 410.3 yards per game. The unquestioned leader is senior lineman Roosevelt Nix, who is trying to become the program’s first four-time first-team All-MAC selection. Nix has 20.5 sacks, 52 tackles for a loss and 10 forced fumbles in his career.
End Mark Fackler is the only other returning starter on the line, but Richard Gray, who plays both end and tackle, and end Zack Hitchens were productive as reserves in 2012.
Linebacker is the unit’s biggest area of concern. Luke Batton and C.J. Malauulu, who finished first and fourth in tackles, respectively, are gone. Their replacements will come from veterans with limited experience and youngsters long on potential. DeVante’ Strickland is the most experienced returnee.
The secondary is solid and experienced. Strong safety Luke Wollet was second-team All-MAC in 2012. Free safety Calvin Tiggle missed the last eight games and all of the spring with a knee injury but is expected to be healthy in the fall. KSU lost both cornerbacks, but Darius Polk (107 career tackles) is ready to take over at one spot.
Archer averaged 36.9 yards on 16 kickoff returns and scored three TDs before teams stopped kicking to him late last season. Haynes is hoping to design schemes so opponents will have a hard time doing that in 2013. Anthony Melchiori was expected to handle both placekicking and punting duties, but redshirt freshman Brad Miller had a great spring and is in line to handle field goals and PATs.
Kent State won a school-record 11 games, captured its first title of any kind (MAC East) since 1972 and spent three weeks in the BCS rankings. Expectations are high once again in 2013.
On offense, Archer and Durham must produce, especially since the Flashes will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. The offensive line, a major asset last season, must develop in a hurry. On defense, the line and secondary are deep and talent-laden. Nix is a force who changes game plans. Much will depend on finding linebackers. Special teams should be strong once again.
The schedule provides Kent State with little help. In non-league games, the Flashes travel to LSU and Penn State in back-to-back weeks. In the league, they play two of the top teams in the West (Northern Illinois and Ball State) and must travel to Ohio. Repeating as East champs will be difficult, but Kent State should reach bowl-eligibility for the second straight season.