Here is everything you need to know ahead of the matchup between the UCF Knights and the Kent State Golden Flashes.
Thursday, August 31, 2023; 6:00 p.m. CT; FBC Mortgage Stadium; Orlando, Florida
Radio: 96.9 The Game (Orlando)
2022 Records: UCF 9-5 (6-2 AAC); Kent State 5-7 (4-4 MAC)
Series History: Series Tied 2-2
Last Meeting: Kent State 41, UCF 24 (2004)
Line: UCF (-36)
Fun Fact: These two teams have played a total of four times, with UCF winning each of the first two meetings, while Kent State has won the last two meetings, the last of which was in 2004.
QB John Rhys Plumlee
John Rhys Plumlee is one of the most dynamic athletes at quarterback in the entire country, let alone in the Big 12 in 2023. In 2022, Plumlee rushed for 862 yards and 11 TDs (5.4 ypc) in addition to his 2,586 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air. Against a Kent State defense that might be in a rebuild entering the season, Plumlee presents a stiff challenge out the gate for first-year defensive coordinator Dave Duggan.
EDGE Tre’Mon Morris-Brash
On the flip side of the ball, UCF returns two all-conference talents along the defensive line, Ricky Barber and edge rusher Tre’Mon Morris-Brash. Morris-Brash will serve as UCF’s top pass rusher in 2023, as he was last season, with six sacks and 13 TFLs on the year. If UCF’s defense is as disruptive as we expect them to be in this game, Morris-Brash is likely to be at the center of it for the Knights.
KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES
RB Xavier Williams
Kent State’s running game figures to be the backbone of the Golden Flashes’ offense in 2023, with Collin Schlee no longer at quarterback, and Purdue transfer Michael Alaimo the likely new starter in town. A new quarterback’s best friend is a strong run game, and Xavier Williams hopes to provide that. Although he missed the 2022 season with injury, Williams rushed for 812 yards and three scores in 2021, while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. That kind of production would help KSU transition into a new era much more smoothly.
NB CJ Harris
Kent State feels that the strength of their defense is a defense backfield that is rife with former Power Five transfers. However, the player I am highlighting was in Kent last season: NB CJ Harris. Harris led the KSU defense with two interceptions last season and looks to be an established leader for a group full of newcomers in 2023. Plus, as the nickel, he’ll be involved in the run game and helping keep John Rhys Plumlee in check on the ground.
Welcome to the Big 12. What else could be the key storyline for the Knights, who will officially play their first game as a member of the Big 12? The Bounce House will be rocking, and Knights’ fans will have a renewed sense of pride seeing their squad enter a field adorned with a Big 12 logo, with jerseys sporting the same “XII” roman numerals on their chest. As the first team from the conference to get things going, and on a Thursday night no less, all eyes from the Big 12 will be on Orlando for this inauguration into one of the best conferences in the nation.
KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES
Kent State enters the 2023 under a new regime, with Kenni Burns taking over as the first-year head coach after as an assistant head coach under P.J. Fleck at Minnesota since 2019. Sean Lewis, who served as the Golden Flashes head coach for five seasons, resigned after a 5-7 campaign in 2022. Entering the first game of a new era as a seven-touchdown underdog isn’t ideal, but with a rebuild year expected, this will be a chance for Burns to see his guys compete for the first time against real competition.
PREDICTION: UCF 48, KENT STATE 13
I expect UCF to not only win this one going away, but to look like a Big 12 team in doing so. The Knights are the best prepared of the four newcomers to be successful in Year 1, and I believe that Gus Malzahn’s squad will look sharp, or as sharp as can be expected in the first game of the year. John Rhys Plumlee dazzles in a multi-touchdown effort, while the Knights’ defensive line shows up in a big way. This game will be over midway through the third quarter, giving Malzahn a chance to work some new guys in ahead of a stiffer test at Boise State in Week 2.