Kent State may have a topsy-turvy season in its first year under new head coach Kenni Burns. His last assistant head coaching job before Minnesota came in the MAC, so at least he's familiar with the conference.
Burns and then head coach P.J. Fleck led the Western Michigan Broncos to the 2016 MAC Championship game and won it. The Broncos then headed to the Cotton Bowl, where they lost to the Wisconsin Badgers, 24-16. While it's projected that the Golden Flashes won't make it that far right away under Burns, look for a bunch of highs with a few lows as Coach Burns tries to install his culture and vision for the program.
Kent State 2023 Preview
THE CONF: Mid-Atlantic Conference (East Division)
2022 RECORD: 5-7
CONF. FINISH: 4-4 in the MAC
HEAD COACH: Kenni Burns (1st year at school/overall 0-0)
FIVE ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: CJ West, Sr./DL (26 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 Sack); Luke Floriea, Sr./WR (4 catches, 51 yards, 0 TD's); Xavier Williams, Gr./RB (812 yards, 125 attempts, 3 TD's); D.J. Miller Jr., Gr./DB (63 tackles, 0 INTs, 4 PDs); Trell Harris, So./WR (136 yards, 13 receptions, 1 TD.)
THE NEWCOMER: Michael Alaimo, Jr./QB (Purdue transfer, appeared in four games over three seasons, and threw for one touchdown at Purdue). The quarterback position last year was a struggle as the Golden Flashes had no stability at the position having played three quarterbacks throughout the season. With a new head coach, Alaimo brings that Big Ten experience to this MAC squad and hopefully should win the starting quarterback job come September.
After a 5-7 roller-coaster season last year resulting in head coach Sean Lewis leaving to take the OC job at Colorado, expectations are once again rocky under Burns. Having played one of the toughest non-conference schedules last year in all of the country, it doesn't get easier as they start with two Power Five teams (yes don't forget Central Florida is in the Big 12 now) and also Arkansas in week two. With a talented squad and a ton of experience, look for this team to have a wild ride again this season.
The Key Game and Why
The biggest game for the Golden Flashes this year is the big homecoming game against the Buffalo Bulls on Oct 21. It's a big one in terms of one former Bull on the roster receiver, Ali Fisher. After limited playing time in Buffalo, Fisher wasn't happy and decided to leave his former team by transferring to a conference rival. If you ask him, Fisher may say it's just another game. That's very true that it is just another game, but in his heart, he wants to show his former team they're just not that good without him there anymore.
The Toughest Game and Why
The Bobcats look to be one of the superior teams again in the conference and they know they should have not been upset by Toledo in the MAC title game last December. This game will be played on the road in Athens, Ohio and this could be a 50/50 game where either side could win. Or it could be a game where Kent State keeps it close until the end of the fourth quarter and that championship experience out talents Kent State's talented, but unproven track record.
Chances of Making Conference Title Game
On paper, Kent State is going to be a radical team to watch this year because it's unclear which version of the team is going to show up on any given Saturday. They could be either a 6-6 team who barely squeaks into a Bowl game or they could be this year's MAC East darlings and shock the conference by making it to the title game. Give it some time Kent State, but head coach Kenni Burns is a great hire to begin a new chapter of Golden Flashes football.
Again, predicting a team with a topsy-turvy season last year that is coming in with an experienced roster but just hired a new coach back in Dec 2022 is tough. If they can figure out the quarterback position and find a clear starter for the entire season, that would be ideal for this team to improve in year one of the Burns era. This is college football, and even with the strict roughing-the-passer rules, the starting quarterback is always one hit away from being injured.
Look for the Golden Flashes to finish 7-5 overall (5-3 in the MAC East).
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