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2019 Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl Preview by Troy Phillips

3rd Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl
Utah State (7-5) vs. Kent State (6-6)
December 20, 6:30 p.m., Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
TV: ESPN2

By Troy Phillips

If good things come in threes – think wishes, Musketeers, Pigs, Stooges or rings in a circus – then Year Three for a college bowl game figures to be a charm.

And why not for the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl? The game’s third edition is set to kick off bowl season with Utah State (7-5) facing Kent State (6-6) on Friday, December 20 (6:30 p.m., ESPN2) at Toyota Stadium in Frisco.

Utah State is making its eighth bowl appearance in nine seasons. Kent State last appeared in a bowl after the 2012 season in the 2013 GoDaddy.com Bowl and has made just four bowls in its history.

With a delicious new title sponsor, a weekend date and what figures to be a first competitive matchup, this Frisco Bowl might unveil something new: fourth-quarter drama. For the second straight year, it’s an at-large vs. at-large matchup pitting the Mountain West (Utah State) vs. the Mid-American Conference (Kent State).

The bowl’s conference partner, the American Athletic, again saw one of its teams (Memphis) make a New Year’s Six Bowl. Dominoes fell, and bowl selection Sunday was its usual mix of mystery and hasty travel arrangements.

“This is a reward for a great season, doing hard work and doing things the right way,” Kent State coach Sean Lewis said. “I’m excited for our Flash family to head to Texas.”

The Aggies and Golden Flashes should find Frisco quite the bustling entertainment and hospitality center every bowl needs. The welcome mat is out again, but will the third year give the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl some on-field, um, punch?

The bowl’s first two results have come by 41 and 27 points, the latter a shutout. Matchups are unpredictable, but could the trend reverse? Combined, Utah State and Kent State placed 16 players on their respective all-conference teams.

Oddly, what stands out is a marquee matchup at place kicker, should a tight contest break out and come down to a clutch late field goal. Kent State kicker Matthew Trickett was named MAC Special Teams Player of the Year after leading the conference with 24 field goals. He’s one of just five FBS kickers with at least 24 this season.

Utah State kicker Dominik Eberle has made 19 of 22 field goals and was named to the all-Mountain West first team.

Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum (2,336 yards, 18 TDs passing) has an all-conference receiving duo in Isaiah McKoy and Mike Carrigan, and senior cornerback Jamal Parker (three interceptions, 12 passes defensed) leads a secondary that has allowed just 15 touchdown passes this season, second fewest in the MAC.

Utah State might have a winning card on special teams, though, in kick returner Savon Scarver. The junior and first-team MWC selection has not one, but two, 100-yard kick returns for touchdowns this season.

Second-team all-MWC defensive end Tipa Galeai, a junior who played in high school locally at Euless Trinity, led Utah State this season with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Galeai has a former high school teammate on the other side of the ball; Utah State offensive lineman Mohelika Uasike also played for Trinity.

Utah State has a 3,000-yard passer this season in Jordan Love, and running back Gerold Bright has over 1,000 yards combined rushing and receiving with nine touchdowns.

Both teams had to weather enough close victories to reach bowl eligibility. Utah State was 4-1 in games decided by 10 or less points. Kent State was 4-3 in games decided by eight or less.

“It kind of sounds familiar, right?” Utah State coach Gary Anderson said. “They were able to win a lot of those games and get bowl eligible. I’ve just seen them from afar on TV in those MAC games that are on in the middle of the week. They play in a very tough conference and I’ve always had a ton of respect for that conference.

“To get bowl eligible in a conference is not easy, and I know they are a team that is on the rise. They won enough close games to get themselves bowl eligible. They are excited and we are excited to go to this bowl. It looks like it is a great opportunity for all of us.”

Opportunity is knocking a third time for the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl, and it hopes Utah State and Kent State provide the charm.

Troy Phillips is a Fort Worth-based freelance writer and former reporter and copy editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.