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Kent State vs. Texas A&M Football Prediction and Preview

Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M Aggies Football

Isaiah Spiller and the Aggies open the season at home against Kent State out of the MAC

The No. 6-ranked Texas A&M Aggies and the Kent State Golden Flashes will meet for the first time ever on Saturday night at Kyle Field in a matchup between two teams trending in the right direction.

Related: Ranking All 84 College Football Games in Week 1

Texas A&M's bid to become a nationally elite program under head coach Jimbo Fisher appears to be inching closer to fruition. Fisher led the Aggies to a 9-1 record, an Orange Bowl victory over North Carolina, and the school's highest final national ranking (4th) since 1939. For his efforts, Fisher was rewarded with a contract extension and a pay raise, making him the second-highest-paid coach in the country behind only Nick Saban. Now entering Year 4 at A&M, Fisher's Aggies appear poised to take the next step in their quest to become a staple among the SEC and national elite. And they do so with a wealth of talent and a bit of a chip on their shoulders after being snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee last season. There are a couple of question marks with a new quarterback behind center and a revamped offensive line. But if those questions are answered, it could be a banner season for the Aggies.

Kent State head coach Sean Lewis also was rewarded with a contract extension for his efforts in turning that program around. Lewis guided the Golden Flashes to a 3-1 record last season, giving them back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1976-77. Also entering Year 4, Lewis hopes to lead Kent State to its first-ever MAC championship. And with most of the starters returning on an offense that produced an FBS-best 606.5 yards and 49.8 points per game, it's not an unreasonable goal. The real challenge will be getting the defense up to speed after giving up 38.0 points per game and far too many rushing yards in 2020. If that happens, this team could very well make a serious run at the MAC title. That said, Lewis and his Golden Flashes will more than have their hands full trying to contend with the Aggies and a raucous crowd under the lights at Kyle Field.

Kent State at Texas A&M

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas A&M -28.5

When Kent State Has the Ball

On paper, there wasn't a better offense in the nation than Kent State's "FlashFast" offense. Granted, it was in a small sample size of only four games, all against MAC competition. But there is no question that this offense was a force to be reckoned with and should be even better in 2021.

Quarterback Dustin Crum is one of the top Group of 5 players in the nation and the engine behind the Golden Flashes' high-octane attack. He completed 73.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,181 yards with 12 touchdowns against just two interceptions on a ridiculous 10.5 yards per attempt. He also showcased his dual-threat abilities by rushing for 240 yards and four scores.

Despite losing leading receiver Isaiah McKoy, Crum has no shortage of weapons at his disposal for the '21 season. Speedy wideouts Ja'Shaun Poke and Dante Cephas return following solid 2020 campaigns. The Golden Flashes also added Syracuse transfer Nykeim Johnson, a proven pass catcher who earned second-team All-ACC honors as a return specialist last season.

The Kent State ground game should once again be strong as well. The top four rushers return from a backfield that averaged 283.0 yards per game on the ground, including running backs Marquez Cooper (56 carries, 282 yds. and 5 TDs), Bryan Bradford (6.9 ypc), and Xavier Williams (8.0 ypc, 3 TDs).

You can't have an elite offense without a stellar offensive line, and the Golden Flashes are fortunate to return all five starters up front, including all-conference talents in Bill Kuduk and Nathan Monnin.

While the Kent State offense is undoubtedly dangerous, the Golden Flashes will definitely have their work cut out for them against a star-studded Texas A&M defense that ranked among the best in the nation last season and returns mostly intact. The Aggies did lose leading tackler Buddy Johnson and All-SEC defensive tackle Bobby Brown III. Additionally, standout defensive linemen Micheal Clemons and McKinnley Jackson have been suspended indefinitely. Regardless, this defense is still loaded with talented playmakers across the board — most notably defensive linemen DeMarvin Leal and Jayden Peevy to go along with defensive backs Myles Jones, Jaylon Jones, and Demani Richardson.

When Texas A&M Has the Ball

All eyes will be on freshman quarterback Haynes King on Saturday night as he makes his collegiate debut as a starter. King managed to beat out redshirt sophomore Zach Calzada with a strong fall camp to earn the starting nod. However, King remains a question mark with only four career pass attempts under his belt. He also has huge shoes to fill, replacing Aggies' all-time leading passer Kellen Mond. Fisher, who clearly has a good eye for quarterbacks, cited King's consistency, pocket presence, accuracy, and decision-making as reasons for winning the starting job. King also brings plenty of speed and athleticism to the table.

Related: College Football Starting QB Rankings for 2021 (Top 130)

The other concern facing the Aggies' offense is an offensive line that will see four new starters in the lineup on Saturday night. That said, All-American offensive lineman Kenyon Green does return, and Tennessee transfer Jahmir Johnson brings a veteran presence after starting 17 games for the Volunteers. There's also no shortage of potential talent among this group despite the overall lack of experience.

The Aggies bring back a wealth of talent at the skill positions. Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane might be the best one-two punch in the nation at running back. Spiller returns after rushing for 1,036 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games last season. Meanwhile, Achane showed flashes of greatness, averaging 8.5 yards per carry and earning Orange Bowl MVP honors for his 140-yard, two-touchdown performance in the win over North Carolina.

The Aggies have plenty of quality options returning in the receiving corps too. All-SEC tight end Jalen Wydermyer returns after hauling in 46 catches for 506 yards and six touchdowns a season ago. Do-it-all receiver Ainias Smith also returns after leading the Aggies last season with 564 receiving yards and six scores of his own. Talented wideouts Caleb Chapman and Chase Lane are back as well, among others.

The Aggies will face an experienced Kent State defense that returns most of its starters and eight of its top nine tacklers from a season ago, including standout defensive end Zayin West. That said, this was a defense that tied for 113th in scoring defense last season and struggled mightily against the run, giving up 262.0 rushing yards per game. That bodes extremely well for the Aggies' rushing attack on Saturday night.

Final Analysis

Kent State was dominant on the offensive side of the football last season. But there is a big difference between facing a MAC defense in an empty stadium versus facing an elite SEC defense in one of the most hostile environments in college football. Dustin Crum is a legit talent at quarterback, and the FlashFast offense is potent enough to string together some nice drives, even against the mighty Aggie defense. However, the Golden Flashes do not have a defense that can contend with the Texas A&M run game. And if King lives up to his lofty billing in his debut, it will be a long night for the Kent State defense. Aggies win comfortably, but the Golden Flashes cover by the narrowest of margins.

Prediction: Texas A&M 49, Kent State 21

Podcast: Week 1 Preview, Predictions & Spread Picks

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.