This newfangled winning thing has become quite fun for members of the Kent State football program.
After struggling so mightily for so long, the Golden Flashes are thoroughly enjoying all the attention they're receiving both locally and on a national scale during this record-setting 2012 championship campaign.
That's why the last thing anyone wants to experience right now is that old familiar taste of defeat, even in today's regular season-ending game against Ohio (8-3, 4-3) at Dix Stadium, which means nothing according to the Mid-American Conference standings.
"We're just focused on OU," said speedy phenom Dri Archer. "Nothing else matters right now, just OU."
Preparations for the Nov. 30 MAC Championship Game against Northern Illinois have been placed firmly on the back-burner as the 23rd-ranked Golden Flashes (10-1, 7-0) attempt to add a game to their school-record totals for wins in a season (10) and consecutive victories (9) this afternoon. They also have a chance to become the first team to finish a perfect 8-0 in the MAC East Division since Miami pulled it off in 2003.
While those achievements are nice, the Flashes are drawing most of their motivation from the importance of sending their seniors out in proper fashion -- with a victory in their last game at Dix Stadium.
"Most of these guys are guys I came in here with, so I built a strong relationship with them," said Archer, a redshirt junior. "I'm would do anything just to win this game for them."
Kent State will face an Ohio squad that was once soaring toward a perfect regular season before a rash of injuries threw them off track.
The Bobcats opened the season with a come-from-behind victory at Penn State, and were ranked 23rd in the country at 7-0 after edging Akron in overtime on Oct. 13. But Miami knocked them off the following week, starting a downward spiral that's now reached three losses in the past four games.
"When you lose as many guys as they have over the course of the season … I mean you take eight guys off your roster that are starters, you've got some issues," said KSU coach Darrell Hazell. "It's hard to battle through those situations. And they've still won eight games."
In their last game on Nov. 14 the Bobcats were hanging tough against Ball State before they lost two defensive players to injuries on the same play, and neither returned. After trailing just 21-17 at halftime, they wound up falling 52-27.
"There are all kinds of highs in this game and all kinds of lows, and that was a low moment for us," said veteran coach Frank Solich, who was head coach at Nebraska before taking over the Bobcats in 2005. "This is the worst it's been in my career. My first year at Nebraska was close to this, but did not reach this proportion. We thought we had excellent depth at the start of the season. But we are where we are."
Despite the tough luck, the Bobcats still have bite. The one-two punch of junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton and junior running back Beau Blankenship spearheads an Ohio offense that averages 32.8 points and 444.3 yards per contest.
Tettleton, a third-year starter, has completed 63 percent of his passes and thrown for 16 touchdown compared to just two interceptions. Blankenship ranks 12th in the nation in rushing at 123.2 yards per game.
"It's a good Ohio team, and we know that," said Hazell. "They're very dangerous, and they've got good players. Their quarterback is an excellent player that keeps the ball alive, and their running back is an excellent player who can break tackles."
Defensively the Bobcats have been more vulnerable against the pass (235.3 ypg) than the run (161.4), which would seem to indicate they match up fairly well against a run-first Kent State offense that's churning out 244.6 yards per contest on the ground.
"They're not a big blitzing team," said Hazell. "Coach Solich's personality is pretty conservative. His teams are very well-coached, and try not to beat themselves with schemes. I think it will be somewhat of a generic defense that we see, but we're still gonna have to play extremely hard."
The Flashes have given it all they've got both during weekly preparations and on gamedays to get to this point, and Hazell doesn't see that changing one bit today.
"It's about how competitive you are," said Hazell. "We're gonna do everything we can to win this football game."