Bowl season is upon us, and one of the first games for fans to sink their teeth into is the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl between the Utah State Aggies of the Mountain West and the Kent State Golden Flashes of the MAC. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 EST on Friday, December 20 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
The betting line opened with Utah State favored by 8.5 points. However, the Aggies are now listed as 7-point favorites. There is also an over/under of 65 points. Click here to check out the full bowl schedule and betting odds for every game.
Win or lose, Kent State is just ecstatic to be playing in a bowl game. Sean Lewis has led an incredible turnaround in such a short period of time. After the Golden Flashes went 2-10 in his first season, Lewis led them to a 6-6 campaign in 2019. Kent State’s record is even more impressive when you consider that their non-conference schedule included Arizona State, Auburn, and Wisconsin.
The Golden Flashes took their lumps early in the season, but they won three in a row to finish the season to get to 6-6. The program is in its first bowl game since 2012 and the just the second since 1972. In other words, Lewis leading Kent State to a bowl game in itself is a reason to celebrate.
Meanwhile, bowl games have become a common occurrence for Utah State. The Aggies have failed to receive a bowl invitation just once since 2011 after more than a decade-long drought. Utah State is 4-3 in their bowl games this decade, including a win in the New Mexico Bowl last year that helped them finish this season in the top 25.
This season, Gary Andersen led the Aggies back to a bowl in his return to the school. Andersen coached Utah State from 2009 to 2012, helping jumpstart the program’s success. After stints at Wisconsin and Oregon State, he returned to Utah State to replace Matt Wells, who left for Texas Tech after last season. Despite non-conference losses to the likes of Wake Forest and LSU, Andersen led the Aggies to a 6-2 record in Mountain West play, putting them 7-5 overall heading into the Frisco Bowl.
I know Kent State should be happy just to be in a bowl, but they have a chance to win this game. Utah State is surely the better team, but the Aggies have some flaws that could be exposed. In the end, I think Utah State will win, but I like the Golden Flashes to keep the game close and beat the spread.
Kent State runs a high-tempo offense that is based upon running the ball and then hitting on big passing plays once the defense starts selling out to slow down the run. After losing top running back Jo-El Shaw midseason, the young backfield tandem of Will Matthews and Xavier Williams came on strong late in the year when the Golden Flashes won three in a row to become bowl eligible. Both a diminutive backs, but they can be tough to locate behind the offensive line, making them capable of springing big runs.
The Golden Flashes also have the perfect dual-threat quarterback to run this offense in Dustin Crum. At 6’3’’, Crum gives Kent State the kind of powerful between-the-tackles runner they don’t have with Matthews and Williams. He actually led the team in rushing during the regular season. However, he also proved to be a competent passer, completing 68% of his passes with an average of over eight yards per attempt. Crum also tossed 18 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, so he knows how to take care of the football.
Meanwhile, I’m not sold on the Utah State defense. They took a big step backward from last season, giving up 29 points per game, albeit against a schedule that included eight bowl teams. Utah State’s biggest problem defensively was stopping the run. Even against some of the weaker teams on their schedule, the Aggies were exploited on the ground. In their season finale against a 2-10 New Mexico team, Utah State gave up 276 rushing yards and over five yards per carry. That kind of performance doesn’t bode well for their bowl game with Kent State.
In fairness, the Aggies have a good offense led by quarterback Jordan Love, who is leaving early for the NFL but will play in the Frisco Bowl. There’s no doubt Love has plenty of arm talent. But he’s been frustrating to watch this season, throwing 16 interceptions after tossing just six picks last year. His touchdown total also went from 32 in 2018 to just 17 this year. Love’s completion percentage also dropped. He’s still capable of excelling against a rather weak Kent State defense, but his accuracy issues and frequent interceptions concern me.
If Love can play his best and avoid turnovers, Utah State should win this game by a comfortable margin. However, I’m not going to bank on that being the case. I also have some concerns about the Aggies keeping the Golden Flashes out of the end zone. Both teams should be able to score points in this game, and I think Kent State will score enough to beat the 7-point spread.