Michael Machen returns at quarterback after having an up and down campaign last year. Machen has the arm strength to be successful but needs to cut down on turnovers. He passed for over 2,000 yards in 2005 while tossing 18 INTs. Anthony Magazu has established himself as the clear #2 prospect, while Jon Brown, a part time starter last year, will redshirt in 2006. Julian Edelman is an athletic junior college transfer who will compete for the backup role in August. KSU ranked 38th in the country last year in passing offense, but just 110th in total offense and 109th in scoring offense (16 points per game).
Running Backs There is no sugar-coating Kent State’s rushing woes last season; they were ranked dead last in the country in rushing offense. Much of that had to do with losing three running backs to injury and having to play less-experienced freshmen. This year, the Golden Flashes have significantly upgraded their talent at running back. Michigan State transfer Tony Howard adds more size and speed (4.41/40) and is expected to be the starter. Eugene Jarvis is his backup and matches Howard’s 4.4/40 speed. Both of these players are difference-makers and KSU has not had this sort of running talent in years. There is quality depth with Jerry Flowers and Jon Drager.
There is depth and talent within the receiving corps led by Najah Pruden, Marcus Hill and Cameron Bobb. This trio combined for more than 120 receiving yards per game last year, and the coaching staff expects even more for 2006. Without a doubt, KSU has added speed and depth within the receiving unit. Pruden has the opportunity to be something really special this year. Mark Woodson, Luke Tillman and Shawn Bayes are proven backups. Martin added, “Pruden is our best threat, Hill is our possession guy while Tillman is just plain fast.” Former quarterback Tom Sitko is the tight end and has all-conference potential. Overall this is a very good receiving unit.
Offensive Linemen A lot of attention in the off-season was devoted to developing the offensive line. Terry Tilghman is the new position coach, and Doug Martin stated, “We finally have some size and depth up front to be effective.” Craig Rafdal, Joe Marafine, Michael Galassi and Kiff Kinkead return as starters but the coaching staff feels sophomore Augustus Parrish may be the best of the bunch. Shawn Donaldson, Jon English, Josh Perry and Travis McGraw all have significant playing experience. The starters average 6-4 306 pounds per man. Overall this should be the most improved unit of the team.
Danny Muir (6-2, 285) leads the defensive front line after earning second team all-conference honors last season at DE. Colin Farrell (6-0, 283) provides experience on the other side, but Pittsburgh transfer Damian Matuschek (6-3, 275) maybe the “X Factor” providing immediate talent and depth to this position. Anthony Dugarte (6-2, 260) and Larry Brown (6-1, 308) alternate at nose tackle with KSU looking to improve a rush defense that gave up 202-yards per game last season, ranking 106th in the country. On paper, this will be a much better D-line.
Linebackers Justin Parrish, the team’s leading tackler, and Jon Sessler both graduated leaving a huge void at ILB within Kent’s 3-4 defensive alignment. In 2005, that duo combined for 177 tackles. The coaching staff is looking for sophomores David Filippi, Jameson Konz and Stevon Moss to step up this fall. Highly regarded true freshmen Quinton Rainey and Anthony Mirando will have an opportunity to play right away. There are a lot of question marks within the LB corps.
Defensive Backs The entire starting defensive backfield returns led by FS Fritz Jacques who is also the team’s best hitter. Jack Williams is a solid cover corner while Usama Young, Andre Kirkland and Rico Murray are proven players. Greg Keys, a starter at running back last season, moves over to FS. Speedy Danny Sadler and true freshmen Kurt Belgrave and Brian Lainhart will see action. There is much more depth here than last year (KSU ranked #24 in the country in pass defense).
Special Teams Reid Macko will handle the punting and do some placekicking while true freshman Nathan Reed will handle kickoffs. Eugene Jarvis and Shawn Bayes will return punts while Bayes and Shawn Lewis will be the specialists returning kickoffs.
Final Thoughts Kent State took a step backwards winning just one game last season after winning five in 2004. That was expected after all-everything Joshua Cribbs, who accounted for over 80% of the offense, graduated and moved on to the Cleveland Browns. However, Doug Martin’s third year should be much better with Michigan State transfer RB Tony Howard providing a rare big-time talent to a program that has limited tradition. QB Michael Machen has a year of starting experience under his belt and should be more comfortable with a system that features perimeter playmakers such as Najah Pruden. The key to success will be the continued development of the offensive line which finally seems to have some depth, Division IA size and continuity. Defensively, there is a huge void at middle linebacker with the graduation of Justin Parrish and Jon Sessler. How quickly their sophomore and freshmen replacements develop will determine just how effective the defense will be, especially against the run. Kent State has young and unproven kickers, and considering that this team lost nine games by ten points or less over the past two seasons, that inexperience may prove to be the difference between a 3-win and 6-win season.
Mark it down! Kent State will bounce back and be a factor in the MAC East Division. They still may be on the bottom half, but unlike last season’s one-win campaign, this year’s team will be much-improved and this improvement will show up in the win column.
Schedule Analysis Kent's schedule is very difficult early on as they host Minnesota, the first Big Ten team to ever visit Dix Stadium, followed by three straight road games before returning home to play the defending MAC champ, Akron. Cross over games are Toledo, EMU and Ball State. Non conference games are Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Army & Temple.
Most Important Game Akron on September 30. After three straight road games, returning home to play their arch-rival will determine if the Golden Flashes will be any factor in the MAC East Division. When you consider that the Zips are the defending MAC champions and really thumped KSU last year, this game will have even more meaning and emotion.