No. 25 Kent State Golden Flashes vs. Arkansas Red Wolves
January 6, 9:00 PM, ESPN
Ladd-Peebles Stadium (Mobile, Alabama)
Line: Arkansas State -3
On the night before Alabama plays Notre Dame down on South Beach, the penultimate game of the 2012 football season will be played featuring two non-automatic qualifiers in the state of Alabama. Okay, so it is just a coincidence, but the game features one BCS buster who fell short,one team playing without the head coach who led the team during the 2012 season, and a contrast in styles that could make for an interesting matchup.
Sexiness: Danica Patrick. Okay, so a game in early January featuring a MAC team and a Sun Belt team doesn't seem like it should line up with Danica Patrick. But as Go Daddy and Danica have toned down the sexiness to focus on their respective businesses more, this game also isn't as sexy as it could have been if both head coaches were around.
A Word About Our Sponsor...: Go Daddy is a privately held company that focuses mainly on internet hosting and domain registration. The company was founded as Jomax Technologies in 1997 and the name Go Daddy was selected in 1999 as the result of a brainstorming session. Seriously.
Aces: Kent State played good, old fashioned football this season, relying on a strong running game with the explosive Dri Archer (150 carries, 1352 yards, 15 TDs) and the thunderous Trayion Durham (256 carries, 1248 yards, 14 TDs) and an opportunistic defense. Kent State is second in the country in turnovers forced (38) and is tied for first in turnover margin (+21).
Deuces: The Golden Flashes needed that opportunistic defense because they have to keep games close. The Flashes are not built to come back from huge deficits, as the passing game is suspect at best. Quarterback Spencer Keith is a game manager, not a game changer at quarterback, throwing for less than 2000 yards this season. Running back Dri Archer is the team's leading receiver with 539 yards.
Wildcard: Keith. Arkansas State knows what Kent wants to do, which is run downhill, inside and outside at the Red Wolves. Arkansas State has had plenty of time to gauge ways to stop the rushing attack, which means that Keith will have to play a bigger role in any kind of (nominal) upset.
Aces: Ryan Aplin has had a wonderful career in Jonesboro. The two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year has thrown for 10,545 yards so far this season. He will end his career as the Sun Belt's all-time leading passer. He also can run a little bit, and he was good at protecting the ball, throwing only four interceptions this season.
Deuces: Arkansas State does not take advantage of their special teams opportunities. They have only tried to return 10 punts this season for a total of 23 yards, and average less than 20 yards on their kickoff returns. Otherwise, there are very few holes for the Red Wolves, and with a slightly different schedule, the Red Wolves could only have one loss.
Wildcard: John Thompson, defensive coordinator. Thompson is serving as the interim coach for this game, as Bryan Harsin, the new coach, will take over on Monday. Thompson has served as a head coach before, compiling a 3-20 record at East Carolina in 2003 and 2004. But having an interim coach is always a tenuous situation at best. It helps that Arkansas State was in this game last season, so the nerves should not be there for the Red Wolves. Thompson was not with the program last season.
So You Don't Forget...: Hazel has been named the head coach at Purdue University, but was given the chance to coach Kent State in this game. Arkansas State's coach this season was Gus Malzahn, but he accepted the same job at Auburn and took over there immediately. Also, Kent State has not been to a bowl game since 1972 (!) and has not won a bowl game since 1954 (!!).
Crystal Ball: It will be an interesting night in Mobile. The Kent State team and community wanted Hazel to coach them in this game, and he has been pulling double duty at both of his institutions. Arkansas State made a clean cut with Malzahn, but the returning players know that their new regime comes in Monday.
On the field, though, the players have to play. Look for a ball-hawking Kent State defense to force the Red Wolves into a couple of turnovers. However, Ryan Aplin has enough left at the end to bring Arkansas State down the field a seal a victory in his final game.
Arkansas State 31, Kent State 30.