The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 114 Kent State.
Previewing Kent State’s Offense for 2014:
This unit must show major improvement in order to avoid a second consecutive disappointing season under coach Paul Haynes. In 2013, Kent State ranked 88th nationally in total offense, with injuries and inconsistency often being the culprits. A fresh start in 2014 comes with no promises unless quarterback Colin Reardon makes progress, bruising back Trayion Durham returns to form and a young group of receivers and linemen can fill significant voids.
Reardon was a redshirt freshman last season when he took over for four-year starter Spencer Keith. His numbers (58.9 percent completions, 12 TDs and nine INTs) reflected his inexperience. The job is his again, and Haynes and offensive coordinator Brian Rock believe great strides will be made in 2014.
The 250-pound Durham was slowed by injuries and gained only 766 yards rushing in 2013 after having 1,346 in KSU’s bowl season of 2012. He was limited in spring drills with a foot injury, but the hope is that he will be ready in the fall — and ready to return to his former self.
Reardon will be throwing to receivers Chris Humphrey (No. 1 on the team in catches with 51 for 613 yards) and Josh Boyle (19 for 210 yards) as well as tight end Casey Pierce (33 for 364 yards). William Woods, Kris White and James Brooks lead the list of young prospects.
The line, a major question mark, will be dominated by underclassmen. Tackles Terrell Johnson and Jason Bitsko are the only returning starters.
Previewing Kent State’s Defense for 2014:
The departure of the celebrated Roosevelt Nix, a four-time first-team All-MAC tackle, is part of an overhaul of the front line that concerns coordinator Brian George. Nate Terhune and Chris Fairchild will be asked to fill the middle after decent but uneven seasons in 2013. The hope is that end Nate Vance will be healthy by the opener after a shoulder injury limited his time in the spring.
Linebacking should be an area of strength with Matt Dellinger (77 tackles) in the middle and DeVante’ Strickland (53 tackles) on the outside. The development and reliability of Elcee Refuge and Darius Redmond allowed the coaches to move Jordan Italiano (76 tackles) to safety.
With Italiano patrolling the back end, and experienced corners in Dylan Farrington and Malcolm Pannell (who combined for five of the team’s nine interceptions in 2013), there is reason to be optimistic about the secondary. Sophomore transfers Najee Murray (a corner from Ohio State) and Nick Cuthbert (a safety from Georgia Tech) add talent and potential to the mix.
Previewing Kent State’s Specialists for 2014:
Placekickers Anthony Melchiori and Brad Miller are back after combining for 59 points last season. Melchiori (44.5-yard average) returns as one the MAC’s best punters. Much improvement is needed on the return teams, which ranked 110th nationally in punt returns and 118th in kickoff returns last season. Speedy Ernest Calhoun is expected to be the primary threat in those areas.
No one was quite ready for last year’s fall from grace. The 2012 season was marked by a school-record 11 victories and the first bowl game since 1972. Then coach Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, and Haynes, a former Kent State player, replaced him. With a new quarterback and a new coach, KSU stumbled to a 4–8 record overall and a 3–5 mark in the MAC.
That was a collective shock to the Kent State faithful, and now comes the uncertainty about whether the program just suffered a temporary setback or whether the bad old days of the past are back.
This promises to be an interesting season around the confines of Dix Stadium. Whether it will be a successful one is far from assured.