At long last, the UCF Knights’ football opener is upon us. And what better opponent to open with than the Kent State Golden Flashes, a team whom UCF shared a conference with back when it seemed the Knights would never reach the heights that they are at now?
It has been a minute since UCF and Kent State faced each other on the gridiron, but it’s still a rubber match between the two schools on Thursday night — barring, of course, tropical weather.
Here we go:
Week 1: Kent State Golden Flashes
Kickoff: Thursday, August 31, 7 p.m. ET
Where: FBC Mortgage Stadium
TV: FS1 — Eric Collins (PxP) and former Michigan QB Devin Gardner (analyst)
Radio: FM 96.9 The Game — Marc Daniels (PxP), Gary Parris (analyst) and Scott Adams (sideline)
Series: Tied 2-2, but Kent State has won the last two.
Last Meeting: 2004 — 41-24 Kent State in the season finale at the Citrus Bowl. It was George O’Leary’s first season. 0-11. We won’t be discussing that any further.
UCF’s Last Win: 2002 — a 32-6 beatdown in a monsoon at the Citrus Bowl. 7,354 fans were in attendance. Shout out if you were one of them.
About the Golden Flashes
Last Season: 5-7, 4-4 in the MAC, second to last in the East.
This Season: Picked last in the MAC East and overall
New Coach: Sean Lewis departed Kent after five years (and a 24-31 record) to become the offensive coordinator for Deion Sanders at Colorado. He had led KSU to two bowl games and one MAC East Division title in 2021 (they lost to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship).
Taking over is Kenni Burns, who takes his first head coaching job after serving as assistant head coach at Minnesota under P.J. Fleck. He was also a WR coach at North Dakota State, where he helped the Bison to three national titles. He played running back at Indiana from 2003-2006.
The Portal Taketh Away: Kent State lost a truly astounding amount of talent from last year’s team in the Transfer Portal. Our friends at Hustle Belt put together the details, but here’s the key stat they uncovered: The Flashes lost all nine of their 2022 All-MAC selections to the portal, including QB Collin Schlee, RB Marquez Cooper (1300+ yards last year), WR Devontez Walker and Dante Cephas, and OL Marcellus Marshall, who is now here at UCF.
Low Expectations: Nobody expects much from KSU this year. Even ESPN has them second-to-last in the FBS Bottom Ten. That said, we know what can happen if you take another FBS team lightly, especially at home.
Key Stat: KSU led the MAC in rushing last year at 202 yards per game (22nd in FBS). But they return only one player — Gavin Garcia — who rushed for more than 100 yards on the season, and he had just 211 on 35 carries.
Offense: RB Ky Thomas
Thomas is a 5-11, 200-pound redshirt junior who played at Minnesota (2020-2021) and Kansas (2022-2023) before coming to Ohio. In 2021, he put up 824 yards (5.0 per carry) and 6 TDs under the tutelage of the Gophers’ then-RB coach and now KSU head coach Kenni Burns. He was also the MVP of the Gophers’ bowl win over West Virginia, with 144 yards on 21 carries and a TD.
Defense: DB D.J. Miller, Jr.
D.J. is a grad student who came over from Iowa State, where he played 28 games over his first three seasons. Last year at KSU, he recorded 63 tackles and four passes defended.
- The MAC is known as the Cradle of Coaches, and Kent State is no different, having been a stop on the journeys of legendary Washington head coach Don James, former Kansas coach Glen Mason, and NFL defensive genius Dean Pees (who beat UCF in 2003).
- Nick Saban played defensive back under James at KSU, and started his coaching career as a grad assistant and LB coach.
- Kent State has won precisely one bowl game in 103 years of football: the 2019 Frisco Bowl over Utah State
- The Flashes’ first bowl game was the 1954 Refrigerator Bowl, a 19-7 loss to Delaware. The game was played at a high school in Evansville, Indiana.
- You might remember Josh Cribbs, who played QB at Kent State before having a successful career as a WR and kick returner in the NFL. KSU retired his number:
- Another KSU-QB-turned-successful-NFL-receiver: Julian Edelman. Dude was a problem.