NCAA Football Preview - Arkansas State Red Wolves


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Updated: 8/23/2013 1:13 pm Published: 8/23/2013 1:13 pm


The Red Wolves' season did not start off on the right foot however, as they went 2-2 in non-conference action, which included loss to nationally-ranked opponents Oregon (57-34) and Nebraska (42-13), and in their first Sun Belt contest they fell at home to Western Kentucky, 26-13. They caught fire down the stretch though, winning seven straight to close out the regular season, clinching the conference title with a 45-0 triumph over Middle Tennessee on Dec. 1.

For the second consecutive year, Arkansas State accepted a bid to the GoDaddy.com Bowl, but after losing to Northern Illinois in 2011 (38-20), it took down No. 25 Kent State, 17-13, for its first bowl win since 1970, and its first win over a ranked opponent since joining the FBS in 1992.

At season's end, Gus Malzahn accepted the head coaching job at Auburn. Bryan Harsin, former offensive coordinator at Texas, was named Malzahn's successor.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: The Red Wolves featured one of the Sun Belt's most potent offenses a year ago, ranking second in the league in both scoring (34.9 ppg) and yardage (466.7 ypg), although a repeat performance may be difficult considering the loss of Ryan Aplin, the most decorated quarterback in school history, who completed 68 percent of his passes in 2012 for 3,342 yards, tossing 24 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

There's been an open quarterback competition to see who gets to replace Aplin between Phillip Butterfield, Stephen Hogan, Fredi Knighten and Chandler Rogers. Although none of the candidates have much experience thanks to Aplin's three-year reign as the starter, each has the ability to take the job according to Harsin.

"All our quarterbacks are doing some things really well, but we still have a long way to go and that's just the high-standard demands that we're trying to get from that position," Harsin said.

There are much fewer questions elsewhere on offense. David Oku returns after piling up 1,061 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns a year ago and is one of 63 candidate on the Doak Walker Award Watch List for the nation's top running back.

Wide receiver J.D. McKissic was outstanding as a freshman last season, ranking second in the conference in receptions (103) and third in yards (1,022) while hauling in five touchdowns. Rocky Hayes (551 rushing yards on just 58 carries) also returns as a change-of-pace back, as do four starters along the offensive line.

DEFENSE: One of the biggest reasons for Arkansas State's run to the Sun Belt title a year ago was its stout defense, which led the league in allowing just 24.5 ppg. Things are less certain on that side of the ball this year, however, as only four starters return.

Qushaun Lee was a mainstay in the middle of the defense, racking up 100 tackles and two forced fumbles despite missing a game due to injury, and with Nathan Herrold (114 tackles in 2012) graduated, Lee should take over as the leader of the ASU defense.

Ryan Carrethers is the lone returning starter on the defensive line, and he will attempt to improve upon a 68-tackle season.

Sterling Young (71 tackles, two picks, six pass breakups) is one of the conference's top safeties, and Andrew Tryon (38 tackles) is also back in the fold as a starting corner.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Brian Davis was rock-solid as the team's kicker last season, connecting on 17-of-21 field goal attempts, with a long of 47 yards. Max Coffin, a redshirt freshman, will take over as the Red Wolves' punter.

Hayes will most likely be the primary kick and punt returner once again, although he averaged less than 20 yards per kick return and just 3.7 yards per punt return a season ago.

OUTLOOK: Arkansas State's recent success has been a catch-22. Past coaches have jumped ship for greener pastures, making Harsin the Red Wolves' fourth head coach over the past two calendar years. Still, even with the high player and coaching turnover, Harsin still expects his squad to be ready to win right away.

"The understanding of how to win is important and we've got players that know how to do that," Harsin said. "We have to replace some very good players but we don't have to build a foundation of winning, they've already done that. We have to build a foundation of sustaining success."

The loss of Aplin might be too much for Arkansas State to overcome, especially considering the huge question marks that are competing for the starting QB job, but there's still plenty of talent in place for the club to make a legitimate run at the Sun Belt title, and if one of the signal-callers can step up and put together a surprisingly strong season, that goal will be even more obtainable.


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