Kent State (11-2) vs. Arkansas State (9-3)
Jan. 6, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
About the Golden Flashes: Of course, it was almost Kent State that got the Northern Illinois publicity treatment. The Golden Flashes were in line to qualify for a BCS bowl but lost the MAC Championship Game to the Huskies in two overtimes. Kent State goes to a much lower profile bowl, but unlike Northern Illinois, it gets an opponent it can match up against. Kent State's bowl history is so slim, it lost its only bowl game to a school that discontinued its program almost four decades ago. The Golden Flashes lost the 1972 Tangerine Bowl to Tampa, and hasn't been back to a bowl. Between a weird blowout loss to Kentucky and the MAC title game loss, Kent State won 10 in a row behind a diverse and productive offense this season. Coach Darrell Hazell took a job at Purdue, but will coach the bowl game. That could give the Golden Flashes an emotional edge.
Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin (USA Today Sports Images)About the Red Wolves: Since the calendar switched from September to October, Arkansas State hasn't scored fewer than 34 points in a game, and scored more than 40 points in four of its last seven games. The architect of that offense, Gus Malzahn, has moved on to Auburn. Defensive coordinator John Thompson will coach the bowl game, and it will be interesting to see if the coaching change has any effect. Arkansas State has a 1,000-yard rusher in Tennessee transfer David Oku and a 3,000-yard passer in Ryan Aplin, so it can score in different ways. Aplin, who holds many school records, had just four interceptions this season, and 23 touchdown passes.
Key number: 9
Kent State's Dri Archer averaged a phenomenal nine yards per carry on 150 rushing attempts this season. He's a threat to make a game-breaking play every time he touches the ball. The do-everything Archer was the only FBS player with 1,300 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards, with 1,352 and 539. He also had 22 touchdowns, and is one of the best returners in college football. He had 38.2 yards per kick return this season.
The breakdown: On a weekend with NFL playoff games, a day before Notre Dame and Alabama square off, a game between two teams outside the power conferences whose coaches have taken jobs elsewhere will get lost. But, that doesn't mean it won't be a good game. There are some playmakers on both sides, and these offenses can move up and down the field with ease. Weather in Mobile, Ala. for the game won't be great, with chilly temperatures, but a morning rain is expected to subside by early afternoon.
Frank Schwab: Kent State 40, Arkansas State 35
Both of these teams are pretty good. It will be a high-scoring game, and is probably a toss up. Because of Archer, Kent State's special teams are much more explosive. That can help swing a tight contest in the Golden Flashes' favor.
Kent State 45, Arkansas State 32
Arkansas State has played a lot better than people expected this season, but Kent State will be motivated to get that 12th win and finish the season on a high note for coach Darrell Hazell. Running back Dri Archer is one of the best players in college football and would have gotten a lot more recognition if he had been on a team from a bigger conference. Expect him to have a big game.
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