Last Updated: 2018-07-03
Arkansas State had a good season a year ago, but they didn’t meet expectations. Arkansas State is supposed to be winning Sun Belt Conference titles, and they finished third at 6-2 in the conference. The Red Wolves could have tied Appalachian State for the top spot last year, but they lost 32-25 at home against Troy despite outgaining the Trojans 606-293. Arkansas State finished at 7-5 (they had a game against Miami cancelled). Before last year, Arkansas State had been a combined +34 in turnover margin in the last five years. In the 2017-2018 season, Arkansas State finished -1 in turnover margin.
Arkansas State enters this season as the clear favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference title. Why? The single biggest reason is they return a star quarterback, while the other two assumed contenders for the title (Troy and Appalachian State) must find a new quarterback this season.
Blake Anderson is a risk taker, but he has made it work in a big way in Jonesboro. While many other top teams in the Sun Belt had a lot of coaching changes at the coordinator spots, Arkansas State kept their offensive and defensive coordinators. The Red Wolves do have a new special teams coordinator after allowing three kick return touchdowns last year.
Arkansas State’s win total has been set at 8.5, and the over is juiced heavily at -140. The Red Wolves are also a big favorite to win the Sun Belt at 5Dimes. Arkansas State is currently listed at +130 to win the conference.
Arkansas State Schedule:
||SE Missouri State
||@ Georgia Southern
||@ Coastal Carolina
||@ Texas State
Justice Hansen is back as the signal caller for Arkansas State, and he is widely thought of as the top quarterback in the league. Hansen threw for 3,967 yards a year ago. If there is one ding on Hansen it’s the 16 interceptions he threw. The Red Wolves need him to minimize the mistakes a bit in the season ahead.
Hansen will be throwing to an incredible group of receivers. Arkansas State returns their best receiver from a year ago in Justin McInnis. They also brought in three big name transfers. Kirk Merritt from Texas A&M was a very highly recruited prospect coming out of high school, and he could be a star here. Dahu Green from Oklahoma will likely start as well. Boise State transfer Bubba Ogbebor is also in the fold now. This is easily the best group of wide receivers in the Sun Belt. Look for Arkansas State’s passing attack to get even better.
The weakness of this offense a year ago was clearly the offensive front. They allowed 33 sacks and the Red Wolves only rushed for 4.0 yards per carry. It was five new starters for the Red Wolves on the offensive line a year ago, but this year four of the five return. Arkansas State ran up big numbers in the rushing game against ULM and Louisiana, but against quality defenses they couldn’t run. It made the offense too one-dimensional. The Red Wolves rushing game doesn’t have to be great this season, but it needs to keep the defense honest. Warren Wand will get the bulk of the carries. He’s only 5’5, so he’s clearly not your average college running back, but he’s plenty capable of breaking some long runs.
This unit is going to put up a ton of points against Sun Belt foes this season.
Only five starters return on defense, and where the team was hardest hit was the defensive front. Ja’Von Rolland-Jones fell half of a sack short of Terrell Suggs’ career sacks record, and he’ll be badly missed. There is only one returning starter on the defensive line. Expect a lot less pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Arkansas State allowed only 3.6 yards per carry each of the last two years, and that is almost certainly going to rise as well.
Kyle Wilson was the team’s leading tackler from the linebacker spot last year, but he graduated. Arkansas State did have a couple key linebackers injured last year, and those guys will start this season. The secondary was solid a year ago. Blaise Taylor is a big loss both for the defense and the special teams, since he was a very good kick returner. The Red Wolves secondary will likely see its numbers worsen a bit this year. They are a bit younger, and without the elite pass rush from the defensive front, there will be more pressure on this secondary.
Overall, the defense is a bit weaker than a year ago, but it is still likely to be better than most in the Sun Belt.
I trust this coaching staff to do a good job maximizing talent. The non-conference schedule this year includes a trip to Alabama. The following week is at Tulsa, and that’s a game Arkansas State should be a road favorite in with Tulsa being down this season. The Sun Belt schedule is favorable for Arkansas State. The Red Wolves host both Appalachian State and ULM, and they don’t even have to play Troy.
Win Total Pick: Arkansas State over 8.5
Arkansas State should be favored in 11 games this year. The Red Wolves have a very favorable schedule, and they have a wealth of talent on offense. This passing attack should be way too much for Sun Belt defenses to handle. They’ll likely slip up somewhere along the way in the Sun Belt and lose a game, but it’s hard to imagine them losing more than one in the conference. I think they have a good chance at double digit wins.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Arkansas State Red Wolves
2016 record: 8-5 SU & 7-6 ATS
Head Coach: Blake Anderson – Head Coaching Experience: 4 years (4th with Ark St.)
Season Over/Under Win Total: 7.5 Over +120; Under -150
Returning Starters: 10 (Offense: 5 Defense: 5)
Sep. 2 @ Nebraska
Sep. 9 Miami, Fl
Sep. 16 Arkansas Pine Bluff
Sep. 23 @ SMU
Sep. 30 Bye
Oct. 4 @ Georgia Southern
Oct. 14 Coastal Carolina
Oct. 19 Louisiana
Oct. 28 @ New Mexico State
Nov. 4 Bye
Nov. 11 @ South Alabama
Nov. 18 Texas State
Nov. 25 @ ULM
Dec. 2 Troy
In Arkansas State’s first year adjusting to the departure of Offensive Coordinator Walt Bell, who led the Red Wolves to Sun Belt scoring records in both 2014 and 2015, they produced their worst offensive output of the decade (379 ypg, 27.3 ppg). Buster Faulker, now in his 2nd season as new OC, will look to get the offense back on track in 2017, but will have to do so with only 5 returning starters.
The Wolves will return their starting QB, however, in Sr. Oklahoma transfer Justice Hansen (57.9%, 2719 YDS, 19 TD, 8 INT). A border top 10 prospect out of High School, Hansen overtook Pitt transfer Chad Voytik after 3 games last year and lead Arkansas St. to a 7-1 record in conference. Now a Senior, Hansen projects to be one of the best QB in the Sun Belt for 2017.
The RB tandem of So. Warren Wand (200 ATT, 879 YDS, 7 TD) and Jr. Johnston “Silky” White (105 ATT, 472 YDS, 5 TD) struggled a bit in 2016, combining for 4.5 yards per carry. With Wand back for his Junior season and White for his Senior one, Arkansas State has the depth and experience to show some improvement in 2017. However, with a young and inexperienced offensive line, the Red Wolves may be hard-pressed to surpass their below average numbers running the football last season.
Losing 3 of their top 4 WR last year, including the All-time Arkansas St. leading WR JD McKissic, the passing game suffered, with the leading receiver TE Blake Mack only catching 34 balls for 652 Yards and 3 TD. Mack will return for 2017, but they will lose their 2nd and 3rd leading receivers: Texas WR transfer Kendall Sanders (38 Rec, 553 YDS, 7 TD) and TCU transfer WR Cam Echols-Luper (26 REC, 407 YDS, 1 TD). They will have some experience returning alongside Mack, with Sr. Dijon Paschal and Sr. Chris Murray expected to start, but without duo of Power 5 transfers to compliment Mack, the WR talent is down a notch for 2017.
Returning all 5 starters on the offensive line last year, the Red Wolves surprisingly saw the rushing numbers drop to 137 YPG while allowing 27 sacks. This year, the opposite is the case, as they will lose their entire offensive line, returning only 2 career starts. While an upgrade in terms of size and athleticism, which could benefit the running game, the Arkansas State offensive line will be very inexperienced and pass protection could be more of an issue this year.
With 7 starters back last year, the Arkansas St. defense has its best year under Blake Anderson and Defensive Coordinator Joe Cauthen, allowing 363 yards per game and giving up 21.5 points per game. This year just 5 starters return, but they have talent, and could easily finish the year as the Sun Belt’s best defense.
With 11 defensive linemen back, including top 10 High School DT recruit/Alabama transfer Jr. Dee Liner, the Wolves allowed just 143 rush yards per game and generated 43 sacks. This year, they will lose 1st Team All-Sun Belt DE Chris Odom, as well as 2 DT’s with a combined 21 starts; however, they will return a 1st Team All-Sun Belt DE in Javon Rolland-Jones to start alongside Liner. With Liner and Jones returning, this will likely be the premiere defensive line of the Sun Belt.
Another key loss for which the defense will have to adjust in 2017, is the departure of leading tackler and 2x 2nd Team All-Sun Belt linebacker Xavier Woodson Luster (95 tackles). They will return their #2 and #4 tacklers however, with Jr. Justin Clifton and Sr. Kyle Wilson coming back; additionally, Sr. Khari Lane, who was a 2nd Team All-Sun Belt LB in 2015 but lost his starting spot in ’16, will also return. Therefore, despite the loss of their leading tackler, they will return 3 backers with full-time starting experience and should be just as good as last year if not better.
In 2015, Arkansas State set a Sun Belt Conference record with 26 INTs, while only surrendering a 54% completion rate and 26 TD passes. Last year, they lost their 2x all-Sun Belt Conference Corner, Rocky Hayes, but returned the other 7 defensive backs on roster, and still slipped up a bit (54.3% completion percentage, 15 TD, 11 INT). This year they lose their starting CB, SS, and FS; who combined for 35 career starts, and only return Sr. CB Blaise Taylor. They did add Safety transfers in the off-season: So. Darreon Jackson from Boise State and Jr. Jefferie Gibson from Clemson, which could help compensate for their cluster of losses and negate the inevitable downslide from parting ways with all of that experience.
Arguably a top 10 Special Teams unit in 2015, the Red Wolves lost a 1st Team All-Sun Belt Kick Returner as well as a solid Punter last year, and as a result fell in expert rankings. This year they will return their Kick Returner Daryl Rollins-Davis (25.5 avg), PR Blaise Taylor (7.8 avg 1 TD), as well as their Punter So. Damon Foncham (39.3 avg). Though they will have to replace their Kicker, Arkansas State, should once again be close to a top 50 caliber unit in 2017.
2017 Season Outlook
Now, in just his 4th season, Blade Anderson has led the Arkansas State Red Wolves to an almost perfect record in the Sun Belt over the last 2 seasons (15-1), only losing one game in-conference to Louisiana (19-24) last year – a game in which the Red Wolves were +229 yards. With 6 consecutive seasons to date, Ark St. has a Sun Belt title in 5 of these and is 19-4 on the road in Sun Belt Play. Though young (95th), with only 10 returning starters, they will return their Junior QB, who should be the best in the Sun Belt, and also feature the Sun Belt’s most talented defense. They will also play one of the easiest schedules in the nation (121st), despite playing 2 tough out of conference games to start the year @ Nebraska and vs. Miami, Fl. They avoid Appalachian State, play Troy and Louisiana at home, and play their in-conference road games against Sun Belt bottom dwellers. Their only other road game other than Nebraska, is at SMU, another very winnable game against in which by preseason estimates they will be more than a field goal favorite. With 13 games scheduled, they can lose 5 and still go over the 7.5; add the +120 juice to the equation and a play on over 7.5 is more than justified.
Season Win Total Prediction: Over 7.5
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