NCF Nation: Dri Archer

Kent State RB Archer takes aim at the future

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
2:00
PM ET
Days after arriving at Kent State as a true freshman in 2009, running back Dri Archer received a message from assistant coach Jerry McManus that has served as inspiration for his improbable All-America career.

"When I first got to campus, I was really homesick, and I thought a lot about leaving. But, Coach McManus sat me down and convinced me to stick with it," said Archer, a native of Laurel, Fla. "Coach told me that it was only a matter of time until I broke almost every school record in the books. He has truly had my back since day one."

"Dri was probably the most homesick player that I've ever coached," said McManus, who began his career in 1978 and now serves as an assistant at Louisiana-Monroe. "If he would've gone home, Dri probably would've joined the military and never played a down of college football. Instead, he made the decision to stick it out, and that persistence has paid off big-time."

[+] EnlargeDri Archer
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsThe Steelers hope Kent State running back Dri Archer can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Through Archer's freshman and sophomore seasons, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound speedster accounted for more than 1,400 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns as the Golden Flashes' backup ball carrier and returner.

"A lot of coaches told me that I couldn't play D1 ball because of my size," said Archer, whose only FBS scholarship offer came from Kent State. "It was definitely a tough adjustment, but Kent State believed in me when no one else did, and that meant a lot."

With two seasons of experience under his belt, Archer appeared poised to assume the role of starting running back in 2011, until an unexpected academic issue delayed his forward progress.

"Dri retook a class and, for whatever reason, it didn't count towards the credits that he needed," McManus said. "He ended up being forced to sit out the entire season, and that experience really made him grow up a lot."

After a year of being relegated to a scout-team role, Archer returned to action in 2012 and led KSU to an 11-3 record, a BCS ranking and the team's first bowl appearance in 40 years. Along the way, Archer accumulated more than 2,500 yards and 23 touchdowns -- including 1,429 yards rushing and 561 receiving -- and became the first Walter Camp All-American in school history.

"Having to sit out a year made me so hungry for success, and I focused all of that energy into last season," said Archer, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in 2012. "We shocked a lot of people with what we were able to accomplish, and that meant a lot to Kent State."

After spearheading one of the most successful seasons in school history, Archer's explosiveness garnered the attention of NFL scouts, who ranked him as high as a third-round draft pick. But, instead of bolting for the NFL, Archer decided to return to Kent State for his senior season.

"I thought very seriously about leaving, but we lost the MAC Championship and our bowl game," said Archer, who has played for three different head coaches during his college career. "I didn't want to look in the faces of the guys in the locker room and end it on a loss.

"After every touchdown, my guys always pick me up in the air. Every single time I feel like I'm 100,000 feet high and on top of the world. I came back because of that feeling right there. Those moments with my teammates honestly make all of the ups and downs worth it."

Archer returned to the gridiron this year only to suffer an ankle injury on the season's first offensive series.

"This year hasn't played out how we expected," Archer admitted. "But, I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. If I could do it all over again, I'd do everything the exact same."

With only one game remaining in what has been a roller coaster college career, Archer has begun to look forward to what lies ahead.

"My goals right now are to finish the season on a high note, train hard and break Chris Johnson's 40-yard dash record at the NFL Combine," Archer proclaimed.

As for Archer's mentor, his belief in the budding star remains steadfast.

"If he sets his mind on breaking the record, I think it's realistic," said McManus, who coached Chris Johnson at East Carolina. "People are going to say he's crazy, but Dri has been dealing with doubt and proving people wrong his entire life. He knows that 40 time will help determine his NFL future.

"Throughout his journey, Dri has been on top of the mountain and in some very low valleys. I don't know exactly what the future holds for him, but I do know that Dri is incredibly driven. He'll be successful in whatever he does, on or off of the field. As for everything else, only time will tell."

Big Ten predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
9:00
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Three weeks in and we're all square in the season standings. Get ready for a tightly contested race most of the way.

The Week 4 slate isn't nearly as appetizing as its predecessor, although there are a few sneaky good games on the docket. Big Ten play officially begins at Camp Randall Stadium and 11 league squads are in action (Illinois is off).

Let's begin …

SAN JOSE STATE at MINNESOTA

Brian Bennett: Mitch Leidner could start at quarterback for the Gophers as Philip Nelson is questionable with a hamstring injury. That's not good news against a San Jose State team led by a future NFL draft pick in David Fales. The Spartans are the best team Minnesota has played, and I say they pull off the road upset. … San Jose State 24, Minnesota 20


Adam Rittenberg: A tough one here as the Gophers haven't been tested and San Jose State's Fales could stress a secondary already down one starter (Briean Boddy-Calhoun). There's some uncertainty on offense at quarterback, but I like the fact the Gophers have a full stable of running backs. Minnesota racks up 200 rush yards and three touchdowns to survive with a win. … Minnesota 27, San Jose State 24

FLORIDA A&M at OHIO STATE

Adam Rittenberg: The scoreboard operator will be busy as Buckeyes backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde combine for six touchdowns. The quarterbacks don't have to do much in this one as Ohio State rolls on to 4-0. … Ohio State 59, Florida A&M 7

Brian Bennett: This is a ludicrous matchup. Buckeyes can name their score. … Ohio State 63, Florida A&M 10


WESTERN MICHIGAN at IOWA

Brian Bennett: Oh boy. We get to watch Western Michigan take on a Big Ten team for the third time in four weeks. The first two times didn't go well for the Broncos, and Mark Weisman will add to their misery with 150 yards rushing. … Iowa 35, Western Michigan 7


Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern ran roughshod on Western Michigan and Iowa will do the same. Coach Kirk Ferentz gives Weisman a bit of a breather and spreads the ball around, as both Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri reach the end zone. Iowa pulls away in the third quarter. … Iowa 31, Western Michigan 10

MAINE at NORTHWESTERN

Adam Rittenberg: Expect another vanilla offensive game plan from Northwestern as the coaches save the goods for Week 6 against Ohio State. Five different Wildcats rush for touchdowns, including true freshman Warren Long, in the team's final tune-up before Big Ten play. … Northwestern 48, Maine 13

Brian Bennett: Please don't feed the Black Bears! Ibraheim Campbell makes it six games in a row with a pick as the Wildcats roll. … Northwestern 45, Maine 17


MICHIGAN STATE at NOTRE DAME

Brian Bennett: The Spartans finally have a bit of confidence and stability at quarterback, but Connor Cook still has a ways to go and this is a tough road spot. The Irish jump out early on a special-teams touchdown and manage to hold on in a defensive struggle. … Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State's renewed offense comes in with confidence and scores early. But reality begins to set in on the road, and the Spartans stall midway through the second quarter. The defense keeps it close as always, but Notre Dame rallies late behind Tommy Rees and his receivers. … Notre Dame 19, Michigan State 16

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE at NEBRASKA

Adam Rittenberg: The Huskers rest top quarterback Taylor Martinez (toe), and backups Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong both play and combine for three pass touchdowns. Imani Cross sparks the rushing attack in the second quarter and Nebraska fans can smile a little after a brutal eight-day stretch. … Nebraska 59, South Dakota State 14

Brian Bennett: The Jackrabbits are just what Nebraska needs right now. The Huskers get off to a sluggish start without a healthy Martinez, but Randy Gregory forces a fumble for a defensive score and the running game is too much for SDSU to handle. … Nebraska 38, South Dakota State 10


KENT STATE at PENN STATE

Brian Bennett: I think the Penn State defense comes out mad after last week's performance, and Kent State has had a tough time scoring so far this season. Zach Zwinak scores twice and the defense comes up with three turnovers. … Penn State 28, Kent State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Unless Blake Bortles secretly suits up for the Golden Flashes, Penn State should be OK in this one and takes control in the second quarter. Chalk up two more touchdown passes from Christian Hackenberg to Allen Robinson, and defensive end Deion Barnes finally shows up for the Lions. … Penn State 31, Kent State 20

PURDUE at WISCONSIN

Adam Rittenberg: No officiating blunders in this one as Wisconsin starts a bit slowly before getting Melvin Gordon and the run game going in the second half. Gordon records his first 20-carry performance and racks up 180 yards and two touchdowns. Purdue jumps out to an early lead but once again struggles in the fourth quarter. … Wisconsin 34, Purdue 21

Brian Bennett: Purdue hasn't been able to stop the Wisconsin running game the past couple of years, and it's no different in this one. Gordon and James White each eclipse 100 yards and the Badgers take out some frustration on the Boilermakers. ... … Wisconsin 42, Purdue 14


MICHIGAN at CONNECTICUT

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines haven't been quite the same team on the road as they have been at home for Brady Hoke, but Rentschler Field ain't exactly the Horseshoe. UConn doesn't have enough offensive talent to do much damage, and Devin Gardner bounces back with four total touchdowns and just one turnover. … Michigan 38, Connecticut 9


Adam Rittenberg: Last week's near disaster against Akron will heighten Michigan's focus. So, too, will a road game under the lights (even if it feels more like a home game). Gardner delivers a turnover-free performance, and Fitz Toussaint has a big game on the ground (130 rush yards, 2 TDs). … Michigan 35, Connecticut 17

MISSOURI at INDIANA

Adam Rittenberg: This should be the most entertaining game of the day, as both offenses will put up points. Maybe I'm buying into Indiana too much after last week's impressive performance, but I like what I saw from the defense, which does just enough against Mizzou and records a game-ending takeaway. Expect another balanced offensive performance as Tevin Coleman rushes for two more touchdowns. … Indiana 41, Missouri 37

Brian Bennett: I expect a wild shootout where the punters can probably chill out on the sidelines. Ultimately, I don't have enough faith in the Hoosiers’ defense and think James Franklin and Henry Josey will be too much to overcome. But take heart, Indiana fans: I've been wrong on your team each of the past two weeks. … Missouri 48, Indiana 42


You've heard from us. Now it's time to see what this week's guest picker has cooked up. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

We felt a little sorry for this guy after what happened last week in Tempe, Ariz. Garret Olsen from Madison, Wis., the floor is yours:
I am a born-and-raised Wisconsin fan and 2010 University of Wisconsin Grad in complete shock this week. I'm in need of a win. I attended my first Badger football game with my grandparents when I was 5 years old and have attended many more Badger games over the years with them. I never missed a home game during my time as an undergrad and traveled to many of the B1G stadiums and followed the Badgers to Indy and Pasadena. Each week my former Mifflin Street college roommate and I have a friendly pick-off between us and I can proudly report that I have beaten him the last two years. The blog is a daily read for me and I would be honored to pick alongside you and Adam and I promise not to botch any last-second pick situations.

Here are Garret's Week 4 selections:

San Jose State 35, Minnesota 34
Ohio State 45, Florida A&M 7
Iowa 28, Western Michigan 14
Northwestern 55, Maine 10
Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10
Nebraska 42, South Dakota State 21
Penn State 33, Kent State 24
Wisconsin 49, Purdue 17
Michigan 34, Connecticut 13
Missouri 42, Indiana 38

SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 31-5
Brian Bennett: 31-5
Guest pickers: 27-9

Video: Desmond Howard's top playmakers

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
6:01
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Desmond Howard looks at his top five playmakers in college football.

It's your move, Dri Archer. Akeem Hunt is waiting.

Hunt, Purdue's senior running back and return man extraordinaire, watched and admired Archer from a distance last season as the Kent State dynamo earned consensus All-America honors as an all-purpose player in 2012. The 5-foot-8 Archer led the nation in kick return average (36.9 ypr), led Kent State in both rushing and receiving yards, set the single-season team touchdowns record (23) and finshed fifth nationally in all-purpose yards (184.1 ypg).

"He's very explosive," Hunt told ESPN.com. "When he gets the ball, he can make one cut and just be out."

The same can be said of Hunt, who averaged eight yards per rush, 15.7 yards per reception and 22.2 yards per kick return, including a 100-yard scoring return against Ohio State, for the Boilers in 2012. Hunt recorded four scoring plays of 50 yards or longer last fall.

When Darrell Hazell, who coached Archer at Kent State last season, took the same post at Purdue, the drumbeat soon began for a showdown between two of the Midwest's fastest college football players.

"[Purdue's coaches] always say they would like to see us race," Hunt said.

As for Hunt?

"I would do it," he said, smiling. "I'd race him."

Perhaps Hunt-Archer I becomes a reality sometime this summer, but until then, Hunt will continue working toward the role Archer had for Kent State in 2012 -- a speed threat, but so much more. Hunt set out this spring to show Hazell and the new staff that he could be an every-down back after playing behind Akeem Shavers last season, and Shavers and Ralph Bolden in 2011.

He undoubtedly strengthened his case during the 15 spring practices, taking the lion's share of the reps with the first-team offense. Purdue had only three running backs in the fold this spring, but Hunt separated himself and capped the session with 134 rush yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in the spring game.

"I have a lot of confidence in him," Hazell said after the scrimmage. "I think he’s a marquee guy in this league because he does have some balance. He has some inline quickness and he has some top-end speed to take it the distance. And he is showing some toughness. ... The key for him is to get stronger in the offseason and continue to learn the game.

"But where he is right now, I think he's going to be pretty special if he keeps working at it."

Hunt is working hard to mold himself into a complete Big Ten running back. He added five pounds during the winter and checks in at 190, not massive by any chance but a bit sturdier than he was as a junior.

"I feel like I can run through tackles now," he said. "[The coaches] get onto me about that every day, that if I'm going to be that No. 1 guy, I can't get broken down by just one person. I have to be broken down by a group of people. ... I feel like I can run between the tackles now instead of just doing sweeps. I feel like I can run power and zone much better."

There’s no doubt Hunt will continue to play a big role for Purdue on special teams, an area Hazell stressed throughout his first spring in West Lafayette. But Hunt has bigger goals for his senior season. Running back David Yancey enrolled early at Purdue and went through spring ball, and three more backs -- Keith Byars II, Keyante Green and Dalyn Dawkins -- arrive this summer. It’s clear, though, that Hunt is the man to beat.

Hunt tried to go full speed on every drill this spring, particularly in pass-blocking, a potential area of concern because of his size. After full days of football, he spent 20 minutes every night studying and reviewing the playbook.

“In his ideal world,” Hazell said, “he’d like to carry it 25 times a game.”

New offensive coordinator John Shoop will have the backs line up in the slot and even out wide in addition to the backfield. The primary goal, Hunt says, is to “get us in open space to make plays."

"Akeem is a super fast guy," Shoop told ESPN.com. "He shows electricity."

Few Big Ten players are as dangerous in space as Hunt, who has been clocked at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash and aims to eclipse that time this summer. Hunt comes from a family of runners: his parents, siblings and grandmother all competed in track at the middle school and high school levels. His mother, Sophia Lewis, ran track at Southwestern Christian College in Texas.

Akeem competed in the 100- and 200-meter dash for Newton High School in Covington, Ga., and also did the long jump and triple jump. He grew up playing baseball and only started football after moving to Covington.

Hunt knew he'd have enough speed to succeed at the college level, but developing game speed proved to be a challenge.

"Game speed is very different from just being fast," he said. "You have to know the plays. Instead of thinking, you just have to react and play."

Hunt is soft-spoken and polite -- he begins many answers with "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" -- but he's honest and confident about his speed.

"Can anyone catch me in the open field? No, I don’t think so," he said with a smile.

Hunt, by his own admission, is Purdue's fastest player. Wide receivers Raheem Mostert and B.J. Knauf come close, and cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Frankie Williams like challenging him.

"He's so competitive, it makes no sense," Hunt said of Allen. "Frankie Williams is competitive, too. Me and Frankie, we raced last year, and it wasn't fair to him."

Hunt needs a challenge. Dri Archer, we're waiting.

Arkansas State won the GoDaddy.com Bowl with a 17-13 win over Kent State on Sunday night in Mobile, Ala. The Red Wolves finished with a 10-3 record after winning the surprisingly low-scoring affair. Here’s how Arkansas State earned the 10th bowl victory in program history:

How the game was won: Physical defense from Arkansas State. The Red Wolves were able to corral Kent State’s dynamic duo of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, who each rushed for at least 1,200 yards this season. Archer was hampered by a knee injury for much of the game, losing his explosiveness after scoring an early touchdown and Durham was generally bottled up by the Arkansas State defense.

It was over when: Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith was stopped short on a fourth-down run as he tried to lead the Golden Flashes to a game-winning touchdown. It was yet another example of the strong defensive effort from Arkansas State on Sunday night.

Stat of the game: 3.4. That’s the yards-per-carry average for Durham, who entered the game averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 96 rushing yards per game. He finished the GoDaddy.com Bowl with 20 carries for 68 yards.

Game ball goes to: Qushaun Lee. The Arkansas State linebacker was all over the field, finishing with 13 tackles including the final fourth down stop on Keith. He was a key playmaker as the Red Wolves slowed a Kent State offense that entered the game averaging 34.6 points per game.

Unsung hero of the game: J.D. McKissic. Playing in his first bowl game, the redshirt freshman receiver was outstanding with 11 receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown for Arkansas State. He provided a dynamic target for senior quarterback Ryan Aplin throughout the night.

What it means: Arkansas State will enter the Bryan Harsin era with momentum. The former Texas offensive coordinator takes over as head coach after Gus Malzahn left for Auburn. The Wolves lose Aplin but running back David Oku, their leading rusher with more than 1,000 yards and McKissic, their leading receiver, return to form a solid foundation for 2013.

GoDaddy.com Bowl keys

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
12:30
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Three keys for today's GoDaddy.com Bowl between Kent State and Arkansas State:

1. Who will stop the run?: Each team ranked in the top 21 in the country in rushing this season. Kent State is 10-0 when outgaining its opponents on the ground and has rushed for at least 300 yards as a team three times. The Golden Flashes didn't just do it against MAC opponents, either, as they ran for more than 240 yards against an outstanding Rutgers defense. They have two 1,000-yard backs in Dri Archer and Trayion Durham. Arkansas State ran for more than 217 yards per game and has a 1,000-yard runner in Tennessee transfer David Oku. Kent State's rush defense numbers are a little better, but Arkansas State had to play both Oregon and Nebraska this year. Will either defense be able to slow down these rushing attacks? The Red Wolves have a far better passing game than Kent State with quarterback Ryan Aplin, whereas the Golden Flashes might run out of options if they can't run it.

2. Turnovers: This is always a major factor in any game, but especially one involving Kent State. The Golden Flashes were second in the nation in turnover margin and tied for the most takeaways with 38. They had 23 interceptions this season by 13 different players, including six by defensive linemen. Safety Luke Wollet leads the way with four picks, while two other players have three. Kent State has scored four defensive touchdowns this season. On the flip side, Arkansas State showed good ball security this season, turning it over only 14 times. Still, Aplin -- who threw only four interceptions in 376 pass attempts -- will have to be very wary of the aggressive ball-hawks on the other side.

3. The kicking game: Both teams run the ball well, play good defense and take care of the ball. That's why Arkansas State won the Sun Belt and Kent State came within a double-overtime loss in the MAC title game of making a BCS bowl. The difference, then, may come down to special teams. And the Golden Flashes appear to have an edge there. Archer is one of the nation's most dangerous return men, and the Red Wolves would be wise to kick it away from him. Arkansas State was last in the nation in punting and was also bad in the return game. Those extra yards of field position could mean a lot in a game that figures to be close.

Pregame: GoDaddy.com Bowl

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
12:00
PM ET
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.

AT&T ESPN All-America Team

December, 8, 2012
12/08/12
3:00
PM ET
With the regular season in the books, it’s time to hand out some All-America accolades. Heisman candidate Johnny Manziel leads the team as the SEC placed nine players on the squad. Watch The AT&T ESPN All-America Team Show on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on ABC.

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Kenjon Barner, Oregon
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
WR: Marqise Lee, USC
WR: Terrance Williams, Baylor
TE: Zach Ertz, Stanford
OT: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
G: Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
C: Barrett Jones, Alabama
G: Chance Warmack, Alabama
OT: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
DE: Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
LB: Jarvis Jones, Georgia
LB: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
LB: Michael Mauti, Penn State
CB: Dee Milliner, Alabama
CB: Bradley Roby, Ohio State
S: Phillip Thomas, Fresno State
S: Eric Reid, LSU

P: Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech
K: Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
KR: Reggie Dunn, Utah
All-purpose: Dri Archer, Kent State

Coach: Bill O'Brien, Penn State

GoDaddy.com Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
10:55
PM ET
Kent State Golden Flashes (11-2) vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-3)

Jan. 6, 9 p.m. ET, Mobile, Ala. (ESPN)

Kent State take by WolverineNation's Chantel Jennings: When Kent State coach Darrell Hazell went 5-7 in his first year, bringing the school four conference victories, it was considered a success. But if that was impressive, then what he did this season was downright Cinderella-like. Hazell led his team to the MAC championship game, and mounted a 21-point, fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime before falling to Northern Illinois. On top of that, Hazell was named MAC coach of the year.

Defensively, Kent State held opponents to just more than 25 points per game, holding strong up front while giving up 277 yards per game through the air, putting the Golden Flashes at 11th in the MAC in pass defense. Those struggles were evident throughout the season, especially in a 33-point loss to Kentucky.

But it was Kent State’s offense that got it done this season, and no surprise since Hazell comes from an offensive background. Kent State’s run game was able to more than make up for an up-and-down passing season from senior quarterback Spencer Keith. The Golden Flashes featured two 1,000-yard rushers: junior Dri Archer and sophomore Trayion Durham. The two accounted for 29 touchdowns and 88 percent of Kent State’s rushing attack. With that production, Kent State finished 17th in the FBS in rushing yardage per game.




Arkansas State take by SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: Under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Red Wolves captured their second straight Sun Belt Conference championship for the first time since 1985-86 with a season-ending 45-0 win against Middle Tennessee.

Malzahn and his explosive offense guided Arkansas State to a 9-3 season after starting 2-3. Arkansas State ranked second in the Sun Belt and 17th nationally in total offense, averaging 481.8 yards per game. Quarterback Ryan Aplin broke his own school record for touchdown passes in a season with 23, and finished second in the Sun Belt with 3,110 passing yards.

Running back David Oku’s 1,043 rushing yards made the Red Wolves the only other team in the Sun Belt other than Troy to have a quarterback throw for 3,000 yards and have a running back rush for 1,000.

Arkansas State finished the season on a seven-game winning streak.

Big East weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
10:00
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Down goes another undefeated. Here's the best, the worst and everything in between of the weekend that was in the Big East.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals remain the final undefeated team in the Big East after their overtime win over Cincinnati.
The good: The ball is in Louisville's court. The Cardinals are the lone undefeated Big East team after withstanding Cincinnati in overtime Friday night and watching Rutgers lose the next day. Louisville is the Big East front-runner, and it would be in the conference's best interest to see a team like the Cardinals win out and carry its flag nationally.

The bad: Munchie Legaux will want that overtime interception back, especially in light of his comments earlier in the week about being better than Teddy Bridgewater. Temple's second straight 20-plus-point loss has knocked the Owls off the high of a two-game winning streak to start Big East play. And what else can we really say about USF at this point?

The ugly: Gary Nova, the reigning Big East offensive player of the week, threw six interceptions, and Rutgers turned it over seven times in a 12-point home loss to Kent State for its first defeat of the season. They don't make them much uglier than this one.

First-half quarterback play, anyone? What's up with the slow starts from some of the conference's best signal-callers? Four of Nova's six picks came in the first half. Legaux and Bridgewater combined to go 13-of-37 for 208 yards with three picks and no touchdown passes in the first half of Cincinnati's tilt with Louisville. Ryan Nassib threw all four of his touchdown passes in the second half, which began with his team in a 20-point hole.

Uni watch: Kent State's all-everything back Dri Archer had to change jersey numbers after his uniform was ripped to shreds during a second-quarter play. He came back in as No. 26 and reached the end zone for the 16th time this season. Pitt players, meanwhile, get names on their jerseys this coming weekend after beating Temple.

#MACtion: Kent State's 35-23 win at undefeated Rutgers helped the Mid-American Conference improve to 4-4 against the Big East this season. It's worth noting, as Andrea did Sunday, that Temple made the jump from the MAC to the Big East this year and couldn't keep up with Rutgers at home one week earlier.

USF collapse: Another week, another Bulls collapse. USF has now dropped three games with the final possession on the line, the latest a home loss to Syracuse that saw the Bulls surrender a 20-point halftime lead. USF has now lost six straight games.

Rutgers implodes in loss to Kent State

October, 27, 2012
10/27/12
7:08
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Everyone is counting on you now, Louisville.

The Big East is down to one unbeaten team after Rutgers imploded in a 35-23 home loss Saturday to Kent State.

Yes, Kent State.

Yes, from the Mid-American Conference.

The same MAC that has now beaten the Big East four times this season, including two wins that ruined perfect seasons.

One week after watching Cincinnati fall at Toledo, the Scarlet Knights turned the ball over seven -- yes, seven -- times in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated.

Gary Nova, the conference's reigning offensive player of the week, had a nightmarish performance, throwing six interceptions -- including four in the first half -- that put his team in an early 21-3 hole. Mark Fackler picked off two of those first-half throws, returning one 25 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Nova finished with 313 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-46 passing, and coach Kyle Flood will surely get questions about not switching to Chas Dodd.

Jawan Jamison carried the Rutgers' offense with team bests of 15 rushes, 84 rushing yards, eight catches and 88 receiving yards.

The Golden Flashes got 131 yards on 22 carries from Trayion Durham, and Dri Archer added 136 all-purpose yards and a rushing touchdown on what was a rather quiet day for the do-it-all phenom.

Like Toledo, Kent State is a very good team, one that improved to 7-1 on the season. And, well, Rutgers' conference title hopes were not ruined with a MAC loss. But the Scarlet Knights did the conference absolutely no favors, as the Big East will now likely be left with just one ranked team come Sunday night's unveiling of the BCS standings.

A seven-turnover performance like this one is simply inexcusable, and Rutgers now gets an extra week to think about what it just did before facing Army in two weeks.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what's worth keeping an eye on Friday and Saturday in the Big East.

1. Does Munchie put his money where his mouth is? Munchie Legaux took a step back in Cincinnati's loss at Toledo, but it hasn't hurt his confidence, as he said this week that he is better than Teddy Bridgewater. He gets the chance to quiet the critics and turn the Bearcats into a legitimate Big East title contender in Friday night's game at Louisville.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Munchie Legaux
Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIRECincinnati's Munchie Legaux said this week he was better than Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.
2. Louisville's defensive consistency. The Cardinals surrendered a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to USF, nearly blowing the game before Bridgewater saved them. They surrendered five touchdowns at Pitt one week earlier. Louisville is fourth in the Big East in both total and scoring defense, and it needs to do better against a Cincinnati team that likes to spread the field.

3. Temple's response. The Owls' Big East return started swimmingly -- two straight upset wins, a 10-0 halftime lead on a conference favorite -- and then it all came apart in a second half that belonged to Rutgers. How the Owls respond against an up-and-down Pitt team will say a lot about its character.

4. Pitt running backs. Last week Ray Graham had 20 carries in the bad weather for 74 yards; Rushel Shell had 12 for 35. One week earlier? Graham six for 60; Shell 18 for 96. Whoever gets the call more will look to stack up yards against a Temple defense that ranks seventh in the Big East against the run.

5. Dri Archer. At all times. Seriously.

6. More Khaseem Greene magic. Greene's 20-yard fumble return for a score against Temple came one week after notching 14 tackles and forcing three fumbles against Syracuse. What could the reigning conference defensive player of the year have in-store for Kent State on his final homecoming?

7. Cuse defense looks to keep it up. The Orange have been outstanding defensively the last three games, from sacking Pitt five times to limiting UConn to minus-6 rushing yards. (They were the only unit to hold Rutgers' Jawan Jamison under 100 rushing yards, too.) Syracuse will look for more of the same at USF.

8. USF (still) goes for first pick. We're waiting. As is every other FBS team at this point.
Rutgers is preparing this week to face an offensive and special-teams threat who netted 115 yards and two touchdowns this past Saturday.

And that was on a bad day.

A really, really bad by Dri Archer's standards.

Kent State's all-purpose star has been a threat to score any time he is on the field this season -- from any position.

Take a look:
  • The 5-foot-8, 175-pound redshirt junior leads the nation in kick return average (47.7) and all-purpose yards per game (212.9). He is tied for third nationally in scoring (12 points per game).
  • Saturday's performance in a win over Western Michigan marked his fourth multi-touchdown game of the year, though his other three all featured three touchdowns.
  • Archer averages 98.1 rushing yards per game, 10.1 yards per carry and 39.7 receiving yards per game, and he is tied for the team lead in catches with 20.
  • He is the only player in the nation to record a passing, rushing, receiving and return touchdown this season.
  • Of his 100 touches this season (68 rush, 20 catch, 11 returns), Archer has notched 24 plays of 20 yards or more and 40 plays of 10 yards or more.

Kyle Flood, your thoughts?

"The things that you would imagine would make him a good kick-returner are also what make him very difficult to tackle in the open field," the first-year Rutgers coach said during his weekly press conference. "If he gets through your first line of defense and into the open field, he's just a dynamic player. He's a onestep change of direction type of runner, and you'd better get him down early because the longer the play goes, the tougher it's going to be."

Archer, who was academically ineligible last season, has scored a touchdown in every game so far for the 6-1 Golden Flashes, who are 4-0 in the Mid-American Conference.

The Scarlet Knights are tasked with limiting Archer and his video-game-like numbers as they try to protect their perfect season.

"He is a tremendous, tremendous offensive weapon," Flood said, "and again, the most dynamic offensive player that I certainly have seen on film or on TV this year. Will be a tremendous challenge to our defense to try to minimize his impact on the game."
1. I noted a couple of days ago that Dri Archer of Kent State, all 5-foot-8 of him, led the FBS in all-purpose rushing. Little did I know, pun intended. Five of the top seven players in this category are 5-9 or shorter: Archer, Tavon Austin of West Virginia (third), Venric Mark of Northwestern (fourth), Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska (fifth) and Bernard Reedy of Toledo (seventh). With the advent of the spread, more players who depend on quickness in space will succeed. And yes, I know. Some of them can run between the tackles, too.

2. Tulane first-year head coach Curtis Johnson said this week that he teared up as the Green Wave defeated SMU, 27-26, for his first victory. He wants his team to invest itself like that, too, and cited the baseball playoffs as an example. “I just watched those millionaires -- the Yankees, the A’s, Detroit, Oakland -- and you just watch their emotion. I felt the one thing our team needs to learn is emotion. ... We have to learn that when we make a big play, it’s a big deal.”

3. Maryland coach Randy Edsall has taken a lot of grief in his season-and-a-half. The Terps offense starts freshmen at tackle, guard, quarterback and wide receiver and the team’s leading rusher is a freshman, too. Maryland ranks in the bottom 10 in the FBS in rushing, total offense, sacks allowed and turnover margin. Yet the Terps are 4-2 overall, 2-0 and leading in the ACC Atlantic. In truth, the schedule is backloaded. Toss out Boston College and the rest of Maryland’s remaining schedule is 22-10. But what Edsall has done so far is either coaching or alchemy.
1. Here’s one measure of Texas A&M’s progress under Kevin Sumlin: punter Ryan Epperson went from eighth in the nation last week to not having enough “at-bats” to qualify for the NCAA statistics. Epperson’s average of 45.23 yards per punt would be 11th in the FBS. But his 21 punts in six games are one short of the minimum required (3.6 per game). The Aggies have 37 touchdowns and 21 punts. I don’t know what the appropriate ratio is, but I’m guessing that’s pretty good.

2. Tommy Tuberville has won games (128-73, .637) for 17 seasons because he can coach defense and his teams knock off the big dogs. Texas Tech’s 49-14 rout of No. 5 West Virginia is Tuberville’s sixth over a top-five team in his career. Tech regularly dropped seven defenders into pass coverage and still pressured Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith. The Red Raiders have allowed only eight plays of 20 yards or more this season, best in the FBS. They also haven’t allowed a 300-yard passing game. In the Big 12, that’s as good as a shutout.

3. The Dri Archers of the world are relegated to schools like Kent State, where they measure speed and heart along with height and weight. Kent State lists the junior at 5-foot-8, 164. Here’s a few other numbers: He leads the nation in kickoff returns (47.73 avg., three TDs) and all-purpose yardage (230.60), is fourth in scoring (12 TDs) and even threw a touchdown pass in the Golden Flashes’ 31-17 defeat of Army. Archer rushed for 222 yards against the Black Knights. He’s averaging 10.8 yards per carry this season.

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