On offense, Kent State returns a great deal of experience. The quarterback position is still up in the air, with Jeff Valentino and Ben McDaniels, both sophomores, dueling for the top spot. Although Valentino has size and experience to his credit, McDaniels looked impressive last year before an injury limited his performance. With neither candidate having put up good numbers last year, nor separating himself from the other in pre-season drills, the aerial attack does not look to be a major factor for Kent State, at least in the early part of the season. Expect a game-time decision on the starter here.
Senior tailback Chante Murphy led the team with 800 rushing yards on 199 carries, and reached the end zone 3 times, and figures to be Kent State's leading rusher for the third straight year. His backup, junior Booker Vann, had a terrific spring and looked to take over the starting spot in the backfield, but he has since left the team. A host of freshmen look to split the duties for backup tailback. DeMarlo Rozier, a senior fullback, led the team in rushing in 1998 as a true freshman running back. However, as a fullback, his role in the offense has been minimal at best, accumulating just 32 yards of total offense last year.
The top two wide receivers for Kent State also return, in seniors Jurron Kelly and Matt Curry. Kelly notched 37 receptions for 393 yards last year. Curry, who also returns punts, is more of a deep threat, catching 35 balls for 511 yards, for a respectable average of 14.6 yards per catch, including a 60-yard score in KSU's 24-21 victory over Central Michigan. Freshman WR Reggie Gordon ran a remarkable 4.44 40 in spring drills, easily the best on the team, and could see time as a slot receiver. KSU also has a big target in sophomore receiver Maurio Medley, who stands 6-6, 210, but Medley will probably not see significant playing time. Tight ends Neil Buckosh, a sophomore, and junior Ray Quinn had 9 starts and 46 catches between the two of them last year, and both return this year.
Kent State's offensive line loses 31 starts from last year's squad, but considering the lackluster 268 yards of offense per game they helped post, that may be a good thing. They return two starters, including right guard and team captain Brian Haslett, a senior, who won the MAC championship in the shot put last year. His 480-pound bench press and 600-pound squat put him on par with Iowa's vaunted strength-and-conditioning numbers. The entire starting line averages over 6'4", 280 pounds, including 3 players at 6'4", 295 or heavier.
Kent State's defense returns 9 starters, but is that a good thing? The defense put up unimpressive numbers last year, including an average of 408 yards allowed per game. Furthermore, they only picked off 6 passes all year, and recorded less than 2 sacks per game. They were the only team in the conference to allow more than a 50% conversion rate on third downs over the course of the year. Therefore, the fact that almost everybody from the defense is back this year is a mixed blessing. The KSU coaches are confident enough in their returning squad, however, to switch to a 3-4 defense this year, based on their glut of talent at the LB position. It's doubtful that the Flashes can master the new defense in time to effectively apply it against Iowa, though.
The KSU defensive line is led by senior Mark Strickland, a defensive end who had 46 tackles and 7 tackles for a loss last year. Also starting at end is Alan Williams, a 6-2, 260 sophomore who moved from tackle last year. Williams is in a tight competition for the spot with Shawn Armstead, the ninth leading tackler last year. The other backup end, sophomore Delvin Barker, is a speed rusher. He recorded 27 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and runs a 4.56 40. Aaron Mayer and Roy Attieh will man the nose guard spot, with Aaron likely to start. Attieh had 36 tackles last year, and his 610-pound squat is the highest on the team. Mayer, on the other hand, had only 9 tackles last year in limited playing time, after starting 10 games and amassing 45 tackles in 1999. He has since gained 10 pounds,
The strength of the KSU defense lies in the linebacker corps, prompting the coaches to start 4 of them. The two leading tacklers from 2000 are returning outside linebackers James Harrison and Rashan Hall, both seniors. The two combined for over 200 tackles last year, as well as 13 tackles for a loss and 1 interception. After an impressive spring, Anthony Henriquez has won the middle linebacker spot, over returning role player Heath Hommel, a senior. The last starter is the large Pierre Wilson, who is 6-3 and 270. Wilson originally attended Michigan State, but transferred to Kent and has since completed his required year of ineligibility. This could be the best group of linebackers in the MAC.
Kent State's pass defense in 2000 was less than spectacular, to say the least. They gave up 250 yards through the air in 7 games, including a nauseating 437 yards against the Rose Bowl-bound Purdue squad. Opposing teams threw for 244 yards per game against KSU, at a ridiculous 64% rate of completion. The good news is that they have nowhere to go but up in this category. Everybody returns from the secondary, but whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen. The 4 starters, juniors Nashville Dyer (CB), Jacon Avery (CB), Robert James (FS), and sophomore Desmond Turner (SS) combined for 262 tackles over the course of 2000, which is not a good thing. They figure to improve on those numbers this year, as only one player with any starting experience departs from last year's squad. Look for better, but still below-average, performance from the secondary against Iowa.
Kicker David Pavich is a 4-year letterwinner, and his career 25-35 mark on field goals is commendable. However, he hit just 80% of his PAT's last year, and such inconsistencies are not what a struggling team needs.
Jared Fritz, a junior, is an adequate punter. He averaged over 40 yards per punt, putting him 47th in the nation. KSU hopes to improve on the overall efficiency of their punting game, having allowed 2 blocked punts, a net punting average of just 33.4 yards, and only 13 of the 72 punts ending up inside the 20. Fritz looks to get quite a bit of playing time once again this Saturday as the KSU offense struggles with Iowa's defense.
ADAM'S PREDICTION: IOWA 41, KSU 10. GO HAWKS!