- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Kent State (11-2, 8-1 Mid-American Conference) vs. Arkansas State (9-3, 7-1 Sun Belt)
WHO TO WATCH: Kent State's Dri Archer. He became the school's first ever consensus All-American, earning a spot as the returner/all-purpose player after leading the nation in kickoff returns at 38.2 yards per attempt. He has returned three of his 15 kicks for touchdowns. But Archer, who stands just 5-foot-8, is more than just a special-teams ace. He ran for 1,352 yards while averaging 9 yards per carry and piled up 15 rushing touchdowns. He's also caught 35 passes for 539 yards and four scores. Quite simply, Archer is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch.
WHAT TO WATCH: The offenses. Both teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing. Trayion Durham joined Archer as a 1,000-yard rusher for Kent State, which averaged more than 228 yards per game on the ground. Arkansas State piled up more than 217 rushing yards per game and has its own 1,000-yard back in David Oku. But the Red Wolves also have a strong passing game with Ryan Aplin, who threw for more than 3,000 yards with 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season. While the Kent State passing defense is vulnerable, the Golden Flashes were second in the nation with 23 interceptions.
WHY TO WATCH: These might not be name-brand programs, but this game features two good teams. Kent State won 10 games in a row before losing to Northern Illinois in double overtime at the MAC title game. Had the Golden Flashes pulled that game out, they likely would have made a BCS game instead of NIU. Arkansas State brings a seven-game winning streak into the game and won the Sun Belt title. In fact, both teams were so good that their head coaches got hired by bigger schools -- Kent State's Darrell Hazell by Purdue, Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn by Auburn. Hazell will still coach in this game, while defensive coordinator John Thompson will serve as interim coach for the Red Wolves, who also lost head coach Hugh Freeze before last year's GoDaddy.com Bowl. Kent State is playing in its first bowl game in 40 years. Both teams have exciting offenses. Purdue fans will want to get a look at their future coach. And this is the second-to-last college football game we'll see until next August. Enjoy it.
PREDICTION: Kent State 31, Arkansas State 28. The Red Wolves have a more balanced offense, but the Golden Flashes faced better competition in a terrific year for the MAC. They also have had more stability during bowl preparation as Hazell admirably stayed aboard to finish off this historic season for the program. Kent State has been great at coming up with turnovers all year and will do the same in Mobile, Ala. That and some big plays from Archer will be just enough.