The college football calendar shows that we are inside of two months before Kent State looks to build on its 5-7 record in the 2011 season with a Thursday night opener against Towson to start off year two of the Darrell Hazell era at Kent State. There were plenty of highlights to go with last year's season but the team came up short in a quest to becoming bowl eligible and will be looking to build upon that.
As a team the Golden Flashes will return 16 starters but will have some big voids to fill with the losses of Jacquise Terry, Chris Gilbert and Sam Kirkland just to name a few offensive skill players that will be gone.
We're taking a look at what Kent State will have to work with moving forward with fall camp less than a month away. Today we start the series by looking at the quarterback position. Spencer Keith is back as a senior and is looking to hold down the spot.
The Returning Starter
Keith started in 11 and played in all 12 games for the Golden Flashes in 2011, and was a model of inconsistency. Simply put, when Keith played well the Golden Flashes were competitive. When he did not, they were not. In the six games that the returning senior achieved a quarterback efficiency rating of more than 100, the Golden Flashes were 5-1 and averaged 27 points per contest.
Keith's high watermark may have been in the game against Central Michigan where he completed 17 of 31 passes for 281 yards (his best output) and three touchdowns via the air (another season high). Keith accounted for nine passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in those six game.
In the other six games that he did not reach that mark? Kent State was 0-6, averaged seven points a game and he threw only two touchdowns against nine picks. One of Keith's most forgettable games was the game against Ohio University where Keith had a passer rating of less than 60 with a 15-35 afternoon for 117 yards and two costly interceptions.
As Spencer Keith goes, so go the Golden Flashes.
The Young Guns
This is where it gets interesting for Hazell's bunch. Last season's backup, a redshirt freshman Cedric McCloud, is gone. Cloud was not exactly a star backing up Keith, he only attempted 22 passes in four games, but he would provide the coaching staff a little piece of mind in the event that an injury were to happen to the starter. Without McCloud (Who struggled with academics and has since transferred to Arizona Western College in Yuma), there is not a single player on the Kent State roster other than Keith who's taken a snap for the Golden Flashes.
Smurthwaite is a 6-foot-1 red-shirt freshman from Grove City (Ohio). As a high school senior he was named to the Columbus Super-25 Team, which recognizes the Columbus area's top 25 prep football players. The talented athlete, who played safety as well as quarterback in his high school career, threw for over 2300 yards in his senior season, and accumulated another 400-plus on the ground on his way to a total of 26 touchdowns.
Shimensky was a part of the same 2011 recruiting class that brought in Smurthwaite, and the two have followed a similar path to, and at, Kent State up to this point. Shimensky is a local prospect having attended Kent Roosevelt high school.
The redshirt freshman was named first-team all-state as a senior as well as conference player of the year. He racked up more than 3000 total yards and collected 35 touchdowns. At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Shimensky's game is quickness and the ability to make plays with his feet (his reported 40-yard dash is less than 4.6 seconds), and his skill-set could prove valuable if he is called upon.
Reardon, one of two quarterbacks signed in the 2012 recruiting class for Coach Hazell, is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound and was a Miami Redhawk commitment up until two weeks prior to signing day. Fans are hoping that it will be a coup that could pay long-term dividends. The Poland (Ohio) product is a mobile and athletic quarterback who had considered walking on the Kent State baseball program, but decided to stick full-time with the gridiron. He will likely red-shirt as a freshman before battling for a starting position his sophomore academic year.
The second quarterback in the 2012 class, Fisher is perhaps the most ready of all the non-starters to come in and contribute early for the Flashes in the fall. Originally a University of Nevada commitment in 2009, Fisher transferred to Palomar Community College in San Marcos (Calif.) where he played he has played the last two seasons. In 2011, Fisher was named the National Southern Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year on the strength of a 2500-plus yards passing with 27 touchdowns and 403 more on the ground with another seven scores. He competed 55-percent of his passes and threw only seven interceptions. He also earned All-Pacific Coast Athletic Conference Academic Honors at Palomar, and a National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame Scholar-Leader Athlete award while at Vista (Calif.) High School.
A player that Coach Hazell calls a "great competitor", Fisher may very well have the chance to compete with Spencer Keith for a starting position this fall, and with three years of college football under his belt, and another two to play, he should not be discounted in that bid.
Kent State was one of two teams in the MAC to finish the season with a passing competition percentage of less than 50-percent (along with Akron). In addition to that the Kent State passing offense was also last in the league with yards per attempt at just a lowly 5.01 per attempt. That is the bad news. The good news however is Keith will have a pair of returning seniors in his receiver corps but more importantly help is on the way with four receivers coming in with the recruiting class of 2012 including James Brooks who could be one of the most promising incoming freshmen.