Kent State vs UCF Odds & Picks: Expect Thursday Night Blowout

Kent State vs UCF Odds & Picks: Expect Thursday Night Blowout article feature image

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images. Pictured: UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee.

  • The Kent State Golden Flashes travel to Orlando, Florida, to take on the UCF in Thursday night Week 1 college football action.
  • The Knights are favorites of just over five touchdowns, and Mike Ianniello expects them to cruise in their first game as a member of the Big 12 Conference.
  • Check out Ianniello's full betting preview and pick for Kent State vs UCF on Thursday, August 31 below.

Kent State vs UCF Odds

Thursday, Aug 31
7:00pm ET
Fox Sports 1
Kent State Odds
-110o / -110u
UCF Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute NCAAF odds here.

Highlighting the realignment moves that went into effect this season are a trio of teams moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12. UCF moves up to the Big 12 after winning four AAC Championships during its 10 years in the conference.

Head coach Gus Malzahn enters his third season in Orlando after a pair of nine-win seasons and will look to keep things rolling against the elevated competition. Of the four newcomers in the Big 12, UCF appears to be in the best position to make noise quickly.

Speaking of quickly, the Flash Fast offense might be dead. Kent State head coach Sean Lewis left Kent to take the offensive coordinator job for Deion Sanders at Colorado. Kenni Burns takes over after serving as the running backs coach at Minnesota since 2017.

Burns will have an empty cupboard to work with and will likely struggle to field a competitive team in his first season.

With so much change happening on both sides, let's dive into the odds for Kent State vs. UCF and find a betting pick for Thursday night's Week 1 opener.

Check out our NCAAF Betting Hub for more college football previews, predictions, news and analysis.

Kent State Golden Flashes

Instead of listing the names of the players who are no longer with the team, it would be much quicker to list who's returning for the Golden Flashes.

Here's the list of Kent State’s returning starters:

That’s the list. It’s nobody. The Flashes return exactly zero players on offense. More than 25 players have entered the transfer portal since Lewis left, and now Kent State has the lowest TARP ranking in the entire country.

Quarterback Collin Schlee, running back Marquez Cooper, wide receivers Dante Cephas, Devontez Walker and Ja’Shaun Poke are all gone.

Michael Alaimo takes over at quarterback after transferring from Purdue. He threw a grand total of 18 passes in three years in West Lafayette.

It’s all relative, but the rushing attack should be the Golden Flashes’ strength. Cooper was an All-MAC selection in 2022, but Xavier Williams returns after missing all of last season with an injury. He rushed for over 800 yards in 2021.

The portal also brought Ky Thomas, who started his career at Minnesota and then went to Kansas. He rushed for 986 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons at the Power 5 level. Thomas led Minnesota in rushing during the 2021 season with Burns as his running backs coach.

However, his eligibility remains in question, as he did not appear on the initial depth chart.

The defense will have a little more stability with five projected returning starters. Linebackers will be the strength of this unit with CJ Harris, Khali Saunders and Khalib Johns all returning to man the middle of the field.

Saying that this defense has a bend-not-break philosophy would be very generous, but that's essentially what it tries to do. Kent State ranked 120th in Success Rate on defense, allowing teams to move up and down the field at will. However, it ranked 35th in preventing explosiveness.

While the transfer portal gutted this offense, Kent State used it to help retool the defense. Newcomers Jalani Williams (Missouri), Dallas Craddieth (Iowa), Tyler Baylor (Maryland), Mattheus Carroll (Virginia Tech), Devin Nicholson (Missouri) and Naim Muhammad (West Virginia) will look to help improve this defense quickly.

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UCF Knights

The big question heading into last season for the Knights was how they would replace Dillon Gabriel after he left for Oklahoma. John Rhys Plumlee won the starting job over Mikey Keene and used his dual-threat ability to lead a 9-3 regular season with a trip to the AAC Championship Game.

If you're a UCF fan or just a college football fan, buy a Plumlee jersey. He's donating all proceeds to the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital.

Donating 100% of my proceeds from my jersey sales to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children

— John Rhys Plumlee (@JohnRhysPlumlee) August 28, 2023

The former Ole Miss transfer averaged 198.9 yards passing with 14 touchdowns and 66.3 yards rushing with 11 scores on the ground. His legs were his most dangerous weapon, but for UCF to compete in the Big 12, Plumlee needs to improve as a passer and cut down on his eight interceptions.

Four of UCF's top five receiving weapons will be back in the mix, led by leading receiver Javon Baker. Kobe Hudson and Xavier Townsend are also back, as is tight end Alec Holler. Safety valve Ryan O’Keefe left for Boston College, but the Knights still have plenty of weapons to allow this passing attack to take a step forward.

Running the ball will continue to be the strength of this team. We know Malzahn typically implores a run-first approach, and that likely won’t change given the depth of this running back room.

Isaiah Bowser is gone, but RJ Harvey and Johnny Richardson return after both averaged more than 6.7 yards per carry last year.

Plumlee led the team in rushing last year, and while Malzahn likely hopes somebody else will this year, he's a lethal weapon to pick up key yardage when needed.

This run by RJ Harvey 💪

— Joe Broback (@joebroback) November 8, 2022

The UCF defense was very inconsistent last year. It was terrific against the run, ranking 25th in the country, but too often got burned by above-average passing attacks. Plus, its best defensive back, Davonte Brown, transferred to Miami.

Three new starters will need to be transitioned into this secondary, although one of them will be Decorian Patterson, a transfer from Middle Tennessee. Patterson led the country with seven interceptions last season.

Creating Havoc and getting after the quarterback needs to be an emphasis to help this secondary improve. UCF struggled to create Havoc last season but has an experienced defensive line with Ricky Barber, Josh Celiscar and Tre’Mon Morris-Brash all returning.

Linebacker Jason Johnson is also back after leading the team in tackles.

Kent State vs UCF

Betting Pick & Prediction

Kent State might be the worst team in the entire country this season. Our Action Network Power Ratings have it ranked dead last at 133rd, while SP+ has it ranked 132. The Golden Flashes' win total sits at just 2.5.

Expect Kent to continue leaning on its running game, just at a much slower pace. Thomas is likely this team’s best player, and his old running backs coach should give the keys to the offense to the guy he trusts in his head coaching debut.

That plays right into the hands of a UCF defense that ranked 25th in the country in Rushing Success Rate last year. The Knights return nearly their entire front seven and should be prepared against a Kent State team with an entirely new offensive line and no receivers on the outside to fear.

During this offseason, Malzahn said, “I wouldn’t trade our running back room for any in the country.” While I can probably think of a few better, this unit is still very good. Harvey and Richardson should run all over this defense, as should Plumlee.

If the Knights want to see Plumlee improve as a passer and give him some confidence throwing the ball, this is a great game to do it in. UCF should be able to get whatever it wants on offense, while this brand-new Kent State team might not score at all.

Malzahn-led teams have covered the spread in five straight games as favorites of 28 or more, including a 1-0 record at UCF. The Bounce House will be rocking on Thursday night, and I imagine the Knights want to make a strong statement in their first game as a member of the Big 12.

This is one of those games where UCF can win by 50 if it wants. We just need to hope the Knights keep their foot on the gas for the entire game.

Pick: UCF -36.5 (Play to 37.5)

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