Ohio University (0-0) at Kent State (0-0) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dix Stadium (20,500) -- Kent, Ohio. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Ohio 0-0, Kent State 0-0. Away Record: Ohio 0-0, Kent State 0-0. Neutral Record: Ohio 0-0, Kent State 0-0. Conference Record: Ohio 0-0, Kent State 0-0. Series Record: Ohio leads, 39-25-2.
GAME NOTES: Looking to maintain their string of winning seasons, the Ohio University Bobcats will make the trip to face their intrastate rival, the Kent State Golden Flashes, Saturday in a Mid-American Conference clash at Dix Stadium.
The programs have a long history of conference battles, and the Bobcats hold the head-to-head series advantage, 39-25-2, over the Golden Flashes. The teams met late in the season in 2013, with Kent State coming up as the surprise winner, defeating Ohio handedly, 44-13, to end the Golden Flashes' season.
Despite the drubbing in the final week of the season for Kent State, and the two-game win streak to end the season, the Golden Flashes weren't invited to a bowl game after finishing the 2013 campaign with a 4-8 record, which included a 3-5 mark in conference play. It was a disappointing season after going 11-3 with a narrow loss to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in 2012.
Ohio, meanwhile, had a disappointing 2013 season of sorts. The Bobcats finished with a 7-6 record (which included a 37-20 loss to East Carolina in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl), and a 4-4 ledger in conference play. It was the worst record for Ohio in the team's past five seasons.
Offense wasn't really the problem for Ohio in 2013, considering the team averaged 27.4 ppg behind quarterback Tyler Tettleton's 2,851 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. But gone is Tettleton from the roster, along with tailbacks Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin, and receiver Donte Foster. So the Bobcats have some work to do to get back to form.
Quarterback Derrius Vick is the next up under center for 10th-year head coach Frank Solich. Vick (277 yards, one touchdown and one interception in 2013) didn't see much action last season, and will have a relatively new crew of receivers to work with this year. Chase Cochran (689 yards, four touchdowns) is the only returning starter at the position.
Trying to fill the roles left by Boykin and Blankenship will be difficult too. Daz'mond Patterson (211 yards, two touchdowns) is in line to see much of the work, but freshman Maleek Irons had been running well in fall camp, and will likely carry a heavy workload as well behind three returning offensive line starters.
It turns out defense was the key issue last season, as Ohio surrendered 27.5 ppg to opponents, along with 405.8 total offensive ypg. The Bobcats allowed opponents to score 30-plus points on them five times in 2013, but it should improve for this upcoming campaign.
Eight starters return from a year ago, including the entire defensive line led by nose guard Antwan Crutcher (50 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss). Sophomores Tarell Basham, Brandon Purdum and Kurt Laseak (43 tackles, 1.5 sacks) round out the rest of the group up front.
Leading tackler Ben Russell (88 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) returns at the middle linebacker position for his junior season, joined by senior Nathan Carpenter. Safety Josh Kristoff (72 tackles, five pass breakups) leads a veteran unit in the secondary. Fellow safety Thad Ingol is the leading returner in interceptions, having picked off three passes last year.
Kent State's offense wasn't exactly top-notch last season during the team's 4-8 run. The Golden Flashes managed 20.8 ppg and a meager 182.4 passing ypg behind the efforts of freshman Colin Reardon (1,957 yards, 12 touchdowns, nine interceptions). But the experience could prove valuable for the now-sophomore as he prepares to lead Kent State once again.
Reardon will get some help from top pass catchers Chris Humphrey (613 yards, three touchdowns) and Casey Pierce (364 yards, five touchdowns) this season. Multi-talented running back Dri Archer is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so his dual-threat abilities out of the backfield will be missed.
That shouldn't matter much in the run game, where returning starter Trayion Durham prepares for his senior season. Durham lead the team last season with 766 rushing yards and six touchdowns, also getting help from quarterback Reardon (two rushing scores). The team is reeling from the untimely death of starting center Jake Bitsko, however.
Like Ohio, the Golden Flashes were a bit of a mess defensively in 2013, allowing opponents to score an average of 26.9 ppg and gain 409.9 ypg against them. But with seven defensive starters returning, including five of the top eight tacklers, Kent State should be improved.
Of course the loss of top tackler Luke Wollet hurts, but having a solid linebacking corps of Matt Dellinger (77 tackles, 1.5 sacks), Jordan Italiano (76 tackles, two tackles for loss) and DeVante Strickland (53 tackles) makes the heart of the Golden Flashes defense stronger. Up front, Nate Terhune (five tackles for loss) and Nate Vance (46 tackles, 3.5 sacks) will help a run defense that allowed 198.8 rushing ypg.
The defense as a unit only forced five fumbles last season and registered just nine interceptions last season, so defensive backs Najee Murray (Ohio State transfer) and Nate Holley will be leading a secondary looking to create more turnovers.
Starting with a conference game so early can be a boost in terms of excitement level, since this game truly counts for something greater than a seemingly meaningless decision. Ohio has some offensive questions that need to be answered, but if Kent State can't improve in that area from last year it won't matter. The home advantage could be enough to put the Golden Flashes over the top for a third straight victory over the Bobcats.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kent State 28, Ohio 17Game Date and Time
Saturday, August 30, 6 p.m. (ET)