KENT: Kent State is in unusual territory.
The Golden Flashes are in the Mid-American Conference Championship game. They are No. 18 in the Associated Press poll and No. 17 in the coaches poll.
The Flashes found out Sunday night that they are ranked No. 17 in the BCS rankings. That means with a victory in the MAC title game Friday against Northern Illinois (11-1) and a little help, they could finish in the top 16 and likely have an opportunity to finish the season in a BCS bowl, possibly the Orange Bowl.
Despite being so close to turning what is already a great season into an absolute dream, KSU coach Hazell wasn’t ready to look that far ahead.
“I won’t talk about that at all,” Hazell said Monday at the M.A.C. Center when asked about the possibility of playing in a BCS bowl. “But I’ll talk about Northern Illinois — that’s the most important thing. If our guys don’t focus on our game this Friday, then we won’t have the opportunity to play in some of those big [bowls].”
Hazell can avoid the question all he wants this week, but he’s the one who came up with the oh-so-appropriate 2012 team slogan: “One team, one destiny” — and fortunately for the Flashes, that’s exactly how this season has played out to date.
“Destiny is a predetermined event,” Hazell said. “Our guys have set their minds out in front of them and said, ‘This is where we need to be at the end of the year and this is how we’re going to get there.’ ”
Players have worn the slogan on white T-shirts and blue wristbands since summer, even using it as a hash tag on Twitter.
“[This season’s success] is about everybody,” Hazell said. “Everybody has their part to uphold — from the players to the trainers to the equipment people — we all have a role to [play] in this and everyone’s done their job extremely well.”
For the Flashes players, it has been hard to not let their minds wander to what exactly destiny has in store for them.
“Everybody looks forward to a MAC Championship and a big bowl game, but it’s incredible to know there’s a possibility,” sophomore tight end Kyle Payton said. “But it’s one step at a time. We gotta worry about the MAC Championship game first.”
Senior linebacker C.J. Malauulu was named the MAC East Division Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. He was key to the Flashes’ 28-6 victory over visiting Ohio. After the Bobcats offense picked up three quick first downs on its opening drive, Malauulu stripped running back Beau Blankenship and safety Luke Wollet recovered the ball and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
Then with the Flashes leading 14-0, Malauulu read the eyes of Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton for an interception that he returned 33 yards for the first touchdown of his career. Malauulu finished the game with seven tackles, helping his defense hold the Bobcats to just two field goals while not allowing a touchdown for the first time since 2010. This season, he has recorded 66 tackles, two forced fumbles and the interception.
Both of Kent State’s 1,000-yard rushers — Dri Archer (ankle) and Trayion Durham (quad and hip) — battled through injuries to play last week, and Hazell expects them to continue to contribute Friday.
“Today he’s not at 100 percent, but by Friday he’ll be very close,” Hazell said of the speedster Archer, who sat out practice Sunday. “We’ll probably also hold him out a little [Tuesday]. But come Friday night, he’ll be ready to go.”
Although Hazell thought Durham “was a little slower last weekend than he had been the previous weeks,” he said Durham looked good in practice Sunday.