Sunday, January 6: GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, AL at 9:00 pm EST
#18 Kent State Golden Flashes (11-2) vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-3)
Two of the best non-major conference teams battle in Mobile.
Vegas line/spread: Arkansas State by 3 1/2 (over/under 61)
The Red Wolves haven't gotten as much attention this year but the oddsmakers favor them by more than a field goal. The line dropped from 4 to 3 1/2 over the last week.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. Spread
Despite their combined 20-5 record neither of these teams rates very high in the Strength power rating, with Arkansas State at #49 and Kent State at #63. That makes the Wolves a slight favorite but the Flashes win the majority against a 4-point spread.
Strength power rating: Arkansas State 35, Kent State 31 by Median: Arkansas St 33-32
The teams both boast above-average offenses and have defenses of lesser quality, leading to a fairly high score estimate. The Red Wolves are #34 in adjusted scoring offense, the Golden Flashes #50. Arkansas State's defense is slightly better, too, ranking #59 while Kent State's D is #70.
Best games: Arkansas St 43, Kent St 23 Worst: Arkansas State 36, Kent St 17
Most of Kent State's game performances were unremarkable. Arkansas State's 45-0 shutout of Middle Tennessee State rates much better than Kent State's win over Rutgers, and if both teams play their worst, the Red Wolves still have a near-20 point edge as Kent State's 47-14 loss to Kentucky was a real stinker.
By yardage it's not even close: Arkansas State ranks #32 in adjusted yardage differential and Kent State is a dismal #104. That translated to an expected 150+ yard edge for the Red Wolves, which in turn translates to a three-touchdown margin. Arkansas State's numbers aren't much different between yards and points; they rank #21 in total offense, #58 in total defense. Kent State is just 88th on offense and 99th on defense, rankings far worse than their scoring offense and defense. A lot of that is due to turnovers, as Kent State ranks #6 in adjusted turnover margin.
Adjustments to yardage estimate: Arkansas State 41, Kent State 23
- Interceptions: Kent State intercepts a LOT of passes—they have 23 on the year. But Arkansas State's Ryan Aplin has thrown just 4. We give the Red Wolves a slight advantage in this area, worth around 1/2 point.
- Forced fumbles: Kent State has the edge here since the Wolves rarely strip the ball and Kent State doesn't cough it up. We give the Flashes about a point.
- Sacks: Kent State ought to have a 2-1 advantage in sacks in the average game between these teams. That's worth about 1 1/2 points.
- Red zone%: Both teams may have some difficulty in the red zone, as both are in the top 25 in adjusted red zone defense. We dock both teams about a point.
- Kicking game: Arkansas State has had some trouble with extra points and has poor punting, while Kent State's punting is above average. The total swing is around 1 point.
- Kick returns: Neither team is great at kick fielding but Arkansas State is particularly atrocious, ranking #113 on kickoffs and #114 on punts. We dock Kent State about 3/4 point and Arkansas State more than a point. Kent State's kickoff return game is a mixed bag; while Dri Archer is #1 in the nation at 38.2 yards and 3 touchdowns, the rest of the team averages 14.5 yards. Archer has handled just 15 of the team's 45 kickoffs, so it appears teams are able to kick away from him to good effect.
Summary: Kent State gains a bit of ground but not enough to overcome the large spread given by the yardage estimate. The Flashes main special situations weapon—interceptions—is largely negated by the fact that Arkansas State is great at protecting the ball in passing situations.
When Kent State has the ball
|Kent State rushing offense: #22
||Arkansas State rushing defense: #39
Kent State is a rare team with two 1,000 yard rushers in 2012. Dri Archer has 1,352 yards and Trayion Durham has 1,248; they combine for 29 touchdowns. What's interesting is that Archer had just 150 carries to Durham's 256; Archer's per-carry average is 9.0 yards, while Durham's is a still-respectable 4.9.
After adjusting for their relatively weak MAC schedule, the Flashes are still in top 25 in rushing offense. Arkansas State's defense is decent, but the Flashes should still have about 190 yards.
|Kent State passing offense: #114||Arkansas State passing defense: #83 per att: #65|
|Kent State interceptions thrown ranking: #77||Arkansas State interceptions picked ranking: #31|
|Kent State quarterback protection rank: #35||Arkansas State pass rush rank: #85|
The passing game wasn't the emphasis of the offense, one reason why Spencer Keith ended up with just 1,864 passing yards and 12 touchdowns for the Golden Flashes. Another is that he completed just 55%. Seven receivers still managed to have over 100 yards, with RB Archer #1 with 539. Arkansas State has had trouble against the pass and even Kent State should manage around 170 yards.
Keith has thrown 9 interceptions, and Arkansas State's defense has 12 picks. Both these numbers are average, but Kent State has played poor pass defenses while Arkansas State has played against teams that have few interceptions. When adjusted, the Red Wolves look like they have an advantage. But Kent State has the advantage in quarterback protection, allowing just 16 sacks on Keith, while the Red Wolves have tallied just 18.
When Arkansas State has the ball
|Arkansas State rushing offense: #34
||Kent State rushing defense: #43
Arkansas State's spread is run-based, and enabled featured back David Oku to have a strong year with 1,024 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rocky Hayes added 481 and QB Ryan Aplin had 443 net. Kent State has a pretty good rush defense, so this will be a good matchup. The Red Wolves will have around 180 yards on average.
|Arkansas State passing offense: #36||Kent State passing defense: #122 per att: #99|
|Arkansas State interceptions thrown ranking: #5||Kent State interceptions picked ranking: #4|
|Arkansas State quarterback protection rank: #26||Kent State pass rush rank: #20|
The Red Wolves still throw the ball quite a bit, too. Ryan Aplin threw for 3,129 yards and 23 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. J.D. McKissic led with 909 receiving yards. Kent State's pass defense has been terrible and there are a lot of targets to cover; Aplin should have nearly 350 yards. This is the biggest potential mismatch of the game.
Normally Kent State keeps the opponent's passing game in check by getting interceptions; 13 different players on defense have an interception, and 23 total. But Aplin has been so interception-free that the Flashes will be lucky to get more than one. If they have several it could turn the game around, of course, but their main weapon is more likely than not to be subdued. Another way Kent State slows down passing teams is with sacks as they have a strong pass rush, but Arkansas State is good at QB protection, too.
Kent State's season (11-2)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (4)
Wins vs. SR Top 25 teams (1)
Losses (2) to losing teams (1)
- Towson 41-21
- @ Kentucky 14-47
- @ Buffalo 23-7
- #20 Ball State 45-43
- @ Eastern Michigan 41-14
- @ Army 31-17
- Western Michigan 41-24
- @ Rutgers 35-23
- Akron 35-24
- @ Miami (OH) 48-32
- @ Bowling Green 31-24
- Ohio 28-6
- = #15 N. Illinois 37-44 2OT
Kent State played a very consistent season. They generally beat decent teams by a few points, and below-average teams by a few touchdowns, and in the end fought nearly to a draw with the other undefeated MAC team, Northern Illinois.
There were only a few aberrations. The 35-23 win at Rutgers, a landmark victory that got the college football world's attention, was somewhat better than their other performances. And the following week's win over Akron was weak, probably due to emotional deflation after the previous win. But the big aberration was in week two when the Golden Flashes were dominated and destroyed by lowly Kentucky, 47-14. How did an 11-2 team get beat so badly by a 2-10 team? Is the SEC that much better than the MAC?
Well, yes they are, but Kentucky wasn't a 2-10 team in its first three games. Their quarterback, Maxwell Smith, was productive before being injured early in the year. And against Kent State's poor pass defense he had a field day. Kentucky might have still been 2-10 if Smith hadn't been hurt, but they would have been a lot better. And Kent State would not have been beaten 47-14 by the Kentucky team that played out the rest of the season.
Arkansas State's season (9-3)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (3)
Wins vs. SR Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (3) to losing teams (0)
- @ #5 Oregon 34-57
- Memphis 33-28
- @ Nebraska 13-42
- Alcorn State 56-0
- Western Kentucky 13-26
- @ FIU 34-20
- South Alabama 36-29
- @ Louisiana-Lafayette 50-27
- @ North Texas 37-19
- Louisiana-Monroe 45-23
- @ Troy 41-34
- Middle Tennessee 45-0
The Red Wolves had a tough pre-conference season but after 7 games they didn't look like they'd be repeat Sun Belt champs.
They did relatively well against Oregon, mostly due to scoring a lot of points when the game was already decided. They actually looked worst in beating Memphis by just 5 points, and new-FBS-team South Alabama by just 7. Beating awful FCS team Alcorn State 56-0 meant nothing, FIU turned out to be bad, and the Wolves lost to Nebraska handily, as well as Sun Belt upstart Western Kentucky. At 4-3 and 2-1 in conference, they had yet to face the Louisiana teams or MTUS, teams that looked like the best in the conference, nor perennial winner Troy.
But the Red Wolves beat ULL 50-27, then ULM 45-23, then edged Troy and finished the season with an amazing 45-0 win over Middle Tennessee State to win the Sun Belt for the 2nd straight year. After adjusting to another coaching change, Arkansas State found its footing in the 2nd half of the season.
Neither team is injury-plagued, and with so much time between the end of the season and this January 6th bowl game, they have time to heal. Kent State's Dri Archer should be 100% for the bowl game, for one.
- Kent State's season: +6 wins; Arkansas State's season: -1 win
- Kent State's momentum: +0 wins; Arkansas State's momentum: +3 wins
- Kent State won final game: NO; Arkansas State won final game: YES
- Kent State glad to be there? YES; Arkansas State glad to be there: YES
- Kent State time zones from home: 1; Arkansas State time zones from home: 0;
- Kent State coaching situation: coach left*; Arkansas St. coaching situation: coach left
Kent State made a huge turnaround, winning 6 more games than last year's 5-7 season; Arkansas State made a big turnaround from 2-3, winning 6 in a row to close out the year. Both teams should be very motivated by these scenarios.
But the Flashes lost a double overtime heartbreaker that would have put them in a BCS bowl, while Arkansas State finished with their best game of the year, beating MTSU 45-0. I'm sure that going from 5-7 to 11-2 offsets most of the disappointment for Kent State, since the BCS scenario pretty much came out of nowhere in the later weeks. The Red Wolves have no such qualms, and their season ended with excellent play.
Both Darrell Hazell of the Flashes and Gus Malzahn of the Wolves left for greener pastures (if Purdue and Auburn count as greener) once the season was over, but the difference is huge: Hazell is staying on to coach the bowl game while Arkansas State will be led by defensive coordinator John Thompson. This makes Kent State's situation more like a "retiring coach" situation than an "abandonment", especially since the team seems to understand Hazell's move. It's also telling that he's the only departing coach in the country that stayed on for the bowl game.
Arkansas State lost to Northern Illinois in this very bowl game last season. Meanwhile Kent State hasn't been to a bowl game since 1972. That gives Arkansas State the experience edge, and Kent State might have more pre-game jitters. But it also could add to their enthusiam.
The range of possibilities for this game is pretty high, with Arkansas State on the winning end most of the time. If they play like they did against MTSU there's probably nothing Kent State can do to win the game. Or if Kent State reverts to its Kentucky-game form. We discount the latter, however, and assume Kent State will at least put up a good fight on offense and defense.
One key to this game is Arkansas State's passing ability. It's where the biggest edge exists between the two teams, since Kent State's pass defense has been atrocious, ranking #112 in yards per game, or #122 when adjusted for their foes' passing games. On a per-play basis they're #99 in the nation. They give up a lot of yards but not nearly as many point because they tend to stop drives with sacks or interceptions; they have 32 sacks on the year and 23 picks. But Arkansas State has given up just 13 sacks and 5 interceptions all year. If Kent State wants to win, they have to impose their will on the Red Wolves and get to the quarterback, and try to create opportunity by going for the ball on pass plays. Without that, it seems, Arkansas State's offense will convert their inevitable yardage gains into points.
Kent State hasn't been to a bowl game in 30 years. Does that make them super-enthusiastic, or green and ready for a fall? I think it's very key that their coach is with them for the game. Without him, they'd probably fall apart due to lack of experience. The team seems to have great respect for Hazell and will want to send him out a winner.
Meanwhile Arkansas State has a one-and-done coach for the 2nd straight year. The Flashes will have to make a lot of big plays on defense to get the upset, but we'll go out on a limb and pick a Kent State win in an unexpectedly low-scoring game.
Prediction: Kent State 23, Arkansas State 21
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2012-2013 bowl game schedule.