The Utah State Aggies and Kent State Golden Flashes are set to meet in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl under the Friday night lights of Frisco, Texas. Utah State enters with a 7-5 overall record following a 6-2 run through Mountain West Conference play. Kent State, which finished 6-6 overall following a three-game winning streak to finish the regular season, posted a 5-3 record in the MAC. The matchup is the third between the two schools (though the first since 1974), and it marks the second bowl game of the 2019 college football season.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl: Utah State vs. Kent State
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Toyota Stadium (Frisco, Texas)
Spread: Utah State -6
When Utah State Has the Ball
Quarterback Jordan Love is one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects in the country. Love was outstanding as a sophomore in 2018, but he took a step back as a junior, statistically speaking. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound dual-threat completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 3,085 yards and 17 touchdowns with 16 interceptions during the regular season and added 159 rushing yards on 71 carries.
With one year of eligibility remaining, Love reportedly entertained pursuing a graduate transfer and would have been a hot commodity in the market. However, he instead opted to forgo his senior season and enter the 2020 NFL Draft. Love has accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl to showcase his talents up close for pro scouts. However, he also was recently cited for possession of a controlled substance, along with running back Gerold Bright and wide receiver Sean Carter.
On Wednesday night, a school spokesman confirmed that the three players will play in the Frisco Bowl. They reportedly have a Dec. 30 court date related to the charge of marijuana possession, which is a misdemeanor. Should something change with Love's status between now and kickoff, Henry Colombi would likely step in. Colombi completed 20 of 29 passes (69.0 percent) for 221 yards and two touchdowns with one interception as Love's top backup.
Bright leads the Aggies with 827 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 161 carries. Jaylen Warren has contributed 561 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on 106 attempts and is highly capable of carrying a heavier workload if called upon.
At receiver, Utah transfer Siaosi Mariner emerged as Love's favorite target. He led the team with 56 receptions, 874 yards, and eight touchdowns during the regular season. Wideouts Jordan Nathan (47 receptions, 510 yards, TD), Deven Thompkins (36, 485, 3) and Savon Scarver (22, 259), who is an All-Mountain West standout kick returner, and tight end Caleb Repp (36, 455, 4), who is also a Utah graduate transfer in his only season with the Aggies, round out the primary receiving options. Bright has posted 207 receiving yards and a touchdown on 31 catches, while Warren has 156 yards on 14 grabs.
When Kent State Has the Ball
Auburn transfer Woody Barrett started the season opener for Kent State, but Dustin Crum quickly emerged as the No. 1 signal-caller for the Golden Flashes. In 12 regular-season appearances, including 11 starts, Crum completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 2,333 yards and 18 touchdowns with only two interceptions. He averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, which ranked second in the MAC, and he led the conference with a 156.07 rating.
Crum also leads Kent State with 560 rushing yards and five touchdowns. And though Crum is a talented runner, his spot atop the team leaderboard can mostly be attributed to injuries and suspensions. Jo-El Shaw entered the season as the clear top running back for Kent State, but appeared in just eight games before leaving the team in November. He finished with 320 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Despite missing the first five games of the season, Will Matthews leads Kent State running backs with 514 rushing yards and has scored twice on the ground. Sophomore Xavier Williams, who has played in 10 games, leads the team with three rushing TDs and ranks third with 374 rushing yards. Freshman Joachim Bangda has gained 281 yards with a touchdown in nine games.
At receiver, Crum has largely relied on a quartet of wideouts led by Isaiah McKoy and Mike Carrigan. McKoy is the team's receiving leader across the board with 51 receptions, 767 yards, and seven touchdowns. Carrigan ranks second with 534 yards and five scores on 38 catches. Kavious Price recorded 504 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 47 catches in the regular season, and Antwan Dixon chipped in with 29 receptions and 234 yards.
Both teams are very evenly matched offensively. In fact, Utah State ranks No. 73 nationally in yards per play (5.76), and Kent State ranks No. 75 (5.75). However, there is a wide gap between the two defenses. The Aggies allowed 5.55 yards per play, which ranks 60th in the country. The Golden Flashes rank 109th at 6.31 yards per snap. The biggest issue? Kent State has allowed 249.3 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks No. 127 out of 130 FBS schools.
The Aggies will be without All-American linebacker David Woodward, who still leads the team with 93 total tackles despite suffering a season-ending injury seven games into the 2019 campaign. Woodward, a junior, has since announced his intentions to enter the 2020 NFL Draft.
Utah State head coach Gary Andersen hopes to finish the first year of his second stint with the Aggies on a good note and now that Love's and Bright's status for this game has been clarified, his team certainly appears to have a clear advantage when it comes to talent. Utah State ranks No. 92 nationally in CFB Winning Edge Roster Strength, which accounts for injuries and possible suspensions. Kent State ranks 115th.
Kent State head coach Sean Lewis has done a remarkable job in his second season, rebounding from a 2-10 record in 2018, and a victory on Saturday would give the Golden Flashes their first winning record since 2012. Lewis, who is the youngest head coach at the FBS level, has a bright future. But his Golden Flashes are underdogs for good reason.
Prediction: Utah State 34, Kent State 24
(Top photo courtesy of @KentStFootball)