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.