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Kent State vs. Bowling Green Prediction: Golden Flashes, Falcons Clash for Key MAC East Matchup

BGSU looking to keep pace with the East leaders while Kent State needs a win to keep its bowl chances alive.

Bowl hopes and MAC East title implications are on the line when Kent State takes on Bowling Green in Wednesday night MACtion. The Golden Flashes were among the favorites in the MAC East this preseason but need to win out at 3-6 to make the postseason. In a role reversal, preseason expectations projected the Falcons to be fighting for just bowl eligibility. Instead, coach Scot Loeffler's team is in the mix to win the division, and a victory on Wednesday night would help keep pace with Ohio and Buffalo with just two games remaining after Week 11.

Kent State started its season with one of — if not the toughest — non-conference slates in college football. Coach Sean Lewis' squad had to navigate treks to Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia before MAC play started, so it was no surprise this team was 1-3 going into October. The Golden Flashes are 2-3 in conference action, but two of those defeats came by one score. If Kent State can get by Bowling Green on Wednesday, a home date against Eastern Michigan and a Nov. 26 date at Buffalo are all that would stand between the Golden Flashes and another bowl appearance.

It has been a slow build for Loeffler at Bowling Green. But after a 7-22 start to his tenure, the Falcons are on the cusp of bowl eligibility. Although the path to six wins won't be easy with Kent State and road dates at Toledo and Ohio ahead, Bowling Green has momentum with victories in four of its last five games. Loeffler's team has walked a tightrope in MAC action though, as three of four conference wins came by one score.

Bowling Green holds a 60-23-6 series edge over Kent State. The Golden Flashes have won the last four meetings in this series, including margins of 38 (2020) and 42 ('21) points.

Kent State at Bowling Green

Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Kent State -2.5
Tickets: As low as $6 on*

When Kent State Has the Ball

Injuries have clouded Kent State's offense over the last few games, but this unit is still one of the best in the conference. The Golden Flashes rank second in MAC-only games in yards per play (6.1) and fifth in scoring (29.6). However, the FlashFast offense faces a tough assignment on Wednesday. Bowling Green has one of the MAC's top defenses, limiting conference teams to 5.3 yards per play and 21.2 points a game.

Quarterback Colin Schlee missed the Oct. 22 game against Akron but returned to throw for 183 yards in the loss to Ball State on Nov. 1. When healthy, Schlee — in his first year as the No. 1 quarterback — has the potential to rank among the MAC’s top signal-callers. He's passed for 1,731 yards and nine scores and added 381 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Schlee's supporting cast for Wednesday's game is unsettled. Leading receiver Dante Cephas (47 catches) did not play in last week's loss to Ball State, and No. 2 receiver Devontez Walker left the game due to injury. It's uncertain if either receiver will return in time for Wednesday night's contest. If Cephas or Walker is out, Ja'Shaun Poke (18) would see an increased role against a Bowling Green secondary ranked eighth in the MAC in pass efficiency defense.

With the uncertainty of the weapons at receiver, Lewis may lean a little more on his backfield on Wednesday night. Marquez Cooper (1,013 yards) has rushed for 100 or more yards in four out of the five MAC games for the Golden Flashes and is capable of toting a hefty workload (28.8 carries a contest in conference play). The Falcons are giving up 158.2 rushing yards in MAC games, but the front has been active at getting into the backfield and generating negative plays and sacks. Led by lineman Karl Brooks, Bowling Green has registered 33 sacks over nine games, which figures to challenge a Kent State offensive line that's allowed only nine sacks in MAC games.

When Bowling Green Has the Ball

Bowling Green's offense isn't particularly explosive (just three plays of 40-plus yards this year) and is averaging only 20.4 points a game in MAC contests. However, Loeffler's group has done just enough (5.4 yards per play in league action) to have the Falcons in contention for a bowl and the MAC East title.

Quarterback Matt McDonald (16 TDs vs. 3 INTs) is the catalyst behind Bowling Green's offensive success, as he's completing 60.4 percent of his throws and is tied for third in the MAC in completions of 20-plus yards (29). The Falcons may not hit big plays on the outside, but a solid collection of playmakers helps McDonald execute the short-to-midrange passing game. Odieu Hiliare (35 catches), CJ Lewis (23), Tyrone Broden (20), and tight end Christian Sims (30) are McDonald's top targets and a tough test for a secondary ranked 10th in the MAC in pass efficiency defense.

Sophomore Jaison Patterson (442 yards) is Bowling Green's No. 1 option on the ground, but Loeffler could use a couple of players to carry the ball on Wednesday, including Jamal Johnson (221 yards) and Ta'ron Keith (187). Although the Falcons rank sixth in the MAC on a per-carry basis, the offense could find more running room on Wednesday night. In conference play, the Golden Flashes are giving up 179.2 rushing yards and have struggled to create negative plays.

Defense has been an issue for Kent State in recent years, and the '22 version has struggled to get stops. Through nine games, the Golden Flashes are giving up 31.6 points a game and 6.3 yards per play. This unit has also allowed too many big plays (13 of 40-plus yards) and failed to get enough stops in the red zone and on third downs.

Final Analysis

There's a ton at stake for both teams on Wednesday night. Bowling Green went into Week 11 tied with Buffalo and Ohio for the top spot in the East Division, but with a loss already to the Bulls, the Falcons can't afford to fall further behind. Also, a win over Kent State would give the Falcons bowl eligibility for the first time under Loeffler. The Golden Flashes desperately need a win on Wednesday to keep their bowl and slim division title hopes alive. The status of Cephas and Walker looms large for Kent State's offense. Bowling Green may not be able to keep pace in a high-scoring game, but the defense is capable of creating havoc at the line of scrimmage to keep Schlee and the Golden Flashes in check. Kent State is probably the better team here, but until more is known about the injury report, it's hard to feel too confident in a pick.

Prediction: Kent State 31, Bowling Green 27

*Price as of publication.