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Kent State Golden Flashes vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Preview and Prediction

Nick Saban

Nick Saban

The Mid-American Conference will be looking for another Central Michigan over Oklahoma State miracle finish when Kent State visits SEC juggernaut Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

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The Chippewas unlikely, and wrongly officiated, 30-27 road win over Oklahoma State in Week 2 and Western Michigan’s 22-21 defeat of Northwestern in Week 1 may have Kent State dreaming. The Golden Flashes are coming off a 3-9 record in 2015 where they showed some scrappiness against other FBS teams. Kent State took Minnesota to the wire before falling 10-7 and gave Marshall a bigger scare before giving way 29-26 in double overtime but also got walloped by Illinois 52-3.

Kent State touches down in Tuscaloosa coming off a 27-7 win over FCS member Monmouth, its first of the season after losses to Penn State (33-13) and North Carolina A&T (39-36 4OT). The Flashes should be a salty bunch with 17 starters back but have not played the likes of an Alabama since losing 66-0 to Ohio State in 2014.

The Crimson Tide return home from a 48-43 come-from-behind win in Oxford against Ole Miss. Alabama benefited from two defensive touchdowns and an 85-yard punt return in the victory against the Rebels, something that cannot be counted on as the Tide inch closer to a tough five-game conference stretch that starts with Arkansas (Oct. 8), ends with Mississippi State (Nov. 12), and is dotted by an angry LSU squad (Nov. 5).

The Tide’s offense essentially has two more games to find its rhythm or could be in trouble in the heart of its SEC schedule. Expect head coach Nick Saban to hand out some more “ass chewing(s)” to offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and staff if Alabama enters and leaves the Kent State game flat.

Kent State at Alabama

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: SEC Network

Spread: Alabama -43.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Kent State’s Mylik Mitchell Managing the Offense vs. Alabama’s Defense

Mitchell, a redshirt freshman, has been solid in the early portion of the season. Hitting 60 percent of his passes, the dual-threat quarterback has five touchdowns tossed against one pick. If a play breaks down, expect Mitchell to run. He is second on the team behind Justin Rankin (178) in yards on the ground with 113 net.

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Nick Holley is Mitchell’s favorite target. Holley caught two touchdown passes against Monmouth but has a modest 110 yards off 12 receptions for the season.

Can Mitchell maintain his exposure and make the most out of running opportunities when available?

2. Jalen Hurts in the Pocket

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows that Hurts is a playmaker, but can he push the young quarterback’s development as a passer? Hurts hit 19 of 31 pass attempts for 158 yards against Ole Miss. The saving grace was Hurts’ team-high 146 yards on the ground on 18 carries. A scrimmage against live Kent State bodies could go a long way towards Hurts developing a needed connection with his talented targets like Calvin Ridley, Gehrig Dieter and O.J. Howard.

The running game will set the tone but the passing game needs as much time in as possible against Kent State.

3. Get the First String Off the Field... Fast

In a breather-money game, about the worst thing that can happen for players on either side is an injury. Kent State has everything in the world to gain from a win or just a strong showing against Bama. But Alabama has everything to lose if a top player falls due to injury. If the Crimson Tide can force an early lopsided score, making Kent State one-dimensional by passing every down to get back into the game, Alabama is golden. With any luck for the Tide, the first string will be on the sidelines midway through the third quarter.

Final Analysis

Kent State does not have the luxury of being viewed as a trap game with Kentucky up next; that is something the Wildcats get with a road trip to Arkansas looming for Bama.

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The Golden Flashes have an opportunity to lay it all out on the line with the hopes of catching a disinterested gridiron beast. Alabama will look to put the MAC team away quickly, but can Kent State withstand the early brute force of the rolling Tide to make it a game?

When the game clock hits triple-zeroes, the score may be closer than the USC final of 52-6 if Nick Saban goes easy on his alma mater.

Prediction: Alabama 49, Kent State 7

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.