Conference Championship Preview: Kent State and Northern Illinois are set to clash in Detroit on Friday. Here’s how the teams stack up.
Quarterbacks: Spencer Keith will step under center for Kent State. A four-year starter from Little Rock, Arkansas, Keith ranks third in school history in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and completions. His experience and leadership have been essential to the Flashes throughout the year. A game manager, Keith will be conservative and look to limit turnovers. His counterpart, Jordan Lynch, is the Northern Illinois offense. There is no other way to put it. Mentored by Indianapolis Colts backup Chandler Harnish, Lynch has better offensive numbers alone than some Division I programs. A dual-threat quarterback, Lynch has 1,611 rushing yards on the season, the fourth most in the FBS. That is not a typo. That’s the fourth most rushing yards among ALL FBS players.
Bottom Line: It’s a crime that Jordan Lynch will not be a Heisman finalist. Northern Illinois has the edge.
Offensive Weapons: Kent State’s dual rushing threat of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham account for one of the best ground attacks in the country. Averaging nearly 250 yards a game, defenses struggle to bring down shifty Archer and bullish Durham. Either one is capable of breaking out for a huge day, but they will mostly likely need a heavy dose of both to keep up with Northern Illinois. For the Huskies, senior Martel Moore is far and away Lynch’s favorite receiving target. Moore’s 1,015 receiving yards are more than double any other Huskie receiver, and his 11 touchdowns are second on the team.
Bottom Line: There’s a storm a brewing in Detroit, expect a lot of thunder and lightning. Edge to Kent State.
Defense: Kent State’s defense garnered national attention earlier this season when they forced seven turnovers in a win over an undefeated Rutgers team. Throughout the year, the Golden Flashes are +20 in the turnover margin, one of the biggest reasons they only give up 23.5 points per game. Senior linebacker Luke Batton, who has recorded 119 tackles on the season, leads the unit. Northern Illinois defense ranks 15th among all FBS programs, allowing only 17.5 points per contest. However, they’ve been suspect at times, including allowing 40 points to a struggling Army squad. Senior defensive end Alan Baxter leads the Huskies with 54 tackles and 10.5 sacks.
Bottom Line: Don’t expect a lot of points in this game. Northern Illinois get a slight edge.
Special Teams: Kent State’s Freddy Cortez is perfect on extra points and field goals under thirty yards. However, his accuary drops significantly when kicking from 40+. Northern Illinois’ Matthew Sims has hit 70 percent of his field goals, but has missed a few shorter field goals this season.
Bottom Line: While both solid kickers, Cortez is slightly more accurate. Edge to Kent State.
Intangibles: Kent State may have a slight home field advantage. It is a 3.5 hour drive from from Kent, and about a 5 hour drive from DeKalb…Northern Illinois is playing in its third straight MAC Championship game, having lost to Miami in 2010 and defeated Ohio in 2011, both in dramatic fashion…This is Kent State’s first MAC Championship game. They are looking for their first conference crown since 1972.
Final Verdict: Kent State has the momentum and is playing for a BCS bowl berth. Northern Illinois comes in with a chip on their shoulder as they have been overlooked all season. They have the experience, and more importantly, Jordan Lynch. The Huskies roll to their second straight MAC title, with no drama needed. MAC Commissioner Joe Steinbrecher will forever hold a grudge against NIU.
Player of the Week: Central Michigan RB Zurlon Tipton. A name like Zurlon can be hard to forget, but Tipton has been flying under the radar all season. His 185 yards on Friday against UMass was his sixth straight 100-yard rushing game. In that stretch, the Chippewas have gone 4-2, and are now bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. He also added four scoring touchdowns in the Chippewas 42-21 victory. After scoring 19 touchdowns this season, he’ll be back for more in 2013. I can guarantee no MAC coach will be forgetting this guy’s name.
Goat of the Week: Miami WR Andy Cruse. You think the RedHawks’ special teams would have learned their lesson from the Buffalo game. This time, the blame falls on the returner. After scoring 10 fourth quarter points to claw within a touchdown, the Miami defense stepped up to force a Ball State punt. Only a minute remained in the game, but anything can happen when you have a quarterback/receiver tandem like Zac Dysert and Nick Harwell. But Cruse’s muffed punt meant that Miami’s season would end on a four game losing streak. It’s too bad that Cruse, a redshirt senior, will always remember that fumble as his last play as a RedHawk.
Surprise of the Week: Toledo QB Austin Dantin. Even though I recapped this game last week, Dantin’s performance warrants repeating. This was the perfect “trap” game for Toledo. The Rockets lost any shot at the Marathon MAC Championship a week earlier, and lost starting quarterback Terrance Owens and running back David Fluellen with it. With essentially nothing to play for and facing a dangerous Akron offense, Toledo found themselves in a 10-0 hole after the first quarter. Unfazed, Dantin would go on to throw five touchdowns to lead the Rockets to a 35-23 victory. This season may not have gone the way Dantin expected, as he lost the starting job at the beginning of the year, but he showed a lot of guts in the Rockets’ second-half surge.
Jump of the Week: Last week, Kent State was ranked 23 in both the BCS and the AP Top 25 polls. Any Golden Flash fan would tell you they were ecstatic to be ranked in either poll. But after 11 teams ranked in the top 25 of the BCS lost over the weekend, Kent State now sits at 17. Suddenly, the Flashes will be playing for much more than a Marathon MAC Championship on Friday. A win over Northern Illinois would almost certainly move them up a spot to 16, and a possible BCS Bowl berth. No Mid-American Conference team has ever played in a BCS game. A victory by Kent State would not just mean conference prestige, though the MAC would get plenty of it. It would also mean millions of dollars to not just Kent State, but to every member of the conference. Every athletic director in the MAC will be a Golden Flash come Friday night.
Fashion Update: Bowing Green went with the Dutch look on Friday and broke out the solid orange unis. Eastern Michigan had a nice white and gray combo against Northern Illinois. Finally, Toledo paired blue jerseys and gray pants in a combo not yet seen before.