2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: Following an 11-3 season in 2012 in which the Kent State Golden Flashes made a bowl appearance, the program took a couple of steps backward in 2013, finishing with a 4-8 overall record and a 3-5 mark in Mid-American Conference play.
The 11-3 season in 2012 broke up three straight campaigns for Kent State in which the team went 5-7. The 4-8 record is the team's worst in the past five years, and the struggle was largely due to an ineffective offense that averaged just 20.8 ppg.
Colin Reardon was the team's top quarterback, completing 186-of-316 pass attempts for 1,957 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Golden Flashes started 2013 strong with a win over tough FCS opponent Liberty, but dropped three straight contests after to Bowling Green, LSU and Penn State before picking up another win against Western Michigan.
The team lost five straight following the WMU clash, but won the final two games in the regular season against Miami (Ohio) and Ohio. Coach Paul Haynes, who was in his first year ever as a head coach in 2013, returns for another stint at the helm of the Golden Flashes.
OFFENSE: Reardon comes back for his sophomore season at quarterback to try and improve on his passing stats and to help his offense improve in terms of scoring. He nearly reached 2,000 passing yards a year ago, but had a touchdown-to-interception rate that was nearly 1-to-1. He did show his versatility in the run game by gaining 430 yards on 88 carries with two touchdowns.
The primary running back duties will fall on returning tailback Trayion Durham, who is one of seven returning starters for the Golden Flashes on offense. Durham ran for 795 yards and six touchdowns last season, which tied the team high with Dri Archer, who is now at the NFL level.
Reardon gets top target Chris Humphrey back at the wide receiver position, as well as touchdown leader in tight end Casey Pierce. Pierce caught five touchdowns in 2013, while Humphrey hauled in 51 receptions for 613 yards and three scores. Reardon will need as many weapons as possible to better a passing offense that averaged 186.5 yards per game, and totaled just 14 passing scores all season.
The offensive line returns three of its starters from a year ago, and will likely look to junior Anthony Pruitt and sophomore Alex Nielsen to fill those holes.
DEFENSE: Kent State's defense, which returns seven starters to its squad for the upcoming season, did its best to make up for the offensive shortcomings in 2013. The Golden Flashes averaged 26.9 ppg to opponents and surrendered 409.9 ypg - an average of 6.1 yards per play.
Kent State allowed six teams to score more than 30 points in a game, but the defense started to come together in the final weeks. In the last three games, the Flashes gave up 16 points, six points and 13 points to the opposition. Leading tackler Luke Wollet is gone, but four of the next five in that category come back for another season.
Linebacker Matt Dellinger is the top returning tackler after notching 77 stops a year ago, but fellow linebacker Jordan Italiano was right behind in the category with 76 tackles. They are two members of a linebacking corps that returns all four starters from 2013.
Nose tackle Nate Terhune is the only remaining starter on the defensive line, while the Golden Flashes retain two members of 2013's starting defensive backfield. The defense as a unit only forced five fumbles last season and registered nine interceptions. Kent State will no doubt be looking to create more turnovers in 2014.
"You can see it, the guys are working really hard," defensive lineman Nate Vance said. "They got their butts kicked this offseason. I think just the mentality, the whole attitude has changed. People are really loving playing football, and they just want to work at it."
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kent State won't have to replace starting place kicker Anthony Melchiori, who hit 9-of-14 field goal attempts last season, but the incumbent is expected to get a serious push for a starting gig by freshman Shane Hynes. Melchiori is expected to handle the full-time punting duties after splitting then last year with Andrew Horning. Horning is still on the roster as well.
OUTLOOK: It was a big dropoff from the 2012 season to the 2013 season for the Golden Flashes, who must now try to bounce back from a losing season without the top playmaker Archer and the top defensive stopper in Wollet. But at least there's enough experience to go around that won't completely knock the team down and out.
Having a quarterback that played significant snaps last year is a big plus, along with a running back that surpassed Archer's statistical numbers. But that doesn't necessarily translate into more points and better scoring opportunities, especially when you take into consideration the difficulty of the team's schedule.
Kent State opens the season with a contest against in-state and MAC rival Ohio, who the Golden Flashes beat in the regular season finale last year. Then the team takes on South Alabama, Ohio State, Virginia and Army to fill out the non-conference portion of the slate. Other conference clashes include Northern Illinois, Toledo, Bowling Green and Buffalo. Not the easiest of opponents.
"I think our whole message from the very beginning has been in order for us to be a good football team, we have to come out here and compete every single day," defensive coordinator Brian George said. "We have to come out here with the attitude that we're going to give our very best every single day."
Clearly Kent State took the route of "to be the best, you have to beat the best." It may not translate, however. The team should be better than its 2013 counterpart, and will likely accumulate more than four wins. But to expect a postseason berth might be setting sights a little too high.