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2013 Pre-Season Preview: Arkansas State Red Wolves

2012 Record: 10-3 (7-1 in Sun Belt)

Head Coach: Bryan Harsin (First Time Head Coach)

Last Bowl Game: 2013 GoDaddy.com Bowl: beat Kent State 17-13

Stadium: Liberty Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, Arkansas (capacity = 30,406)

Home Field Advantage: ranked 19th out of 55 mid-major teams

Schedule Glimpse:

2013 Schedule Link

Out of Conference: 8/31 vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 9/7 at Auburn, 9/21 at Memphis, 9/28 at Missouri

Revenge: 11/30 at WKU

Swing Games: 10/22 vs Louisiana, 11/9 at ULM

 

Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stat to Fear: four head coaches in last four years

Stat to Cheer: converted on 87.1% of red zone trips (2nd in Sun Belt)

Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 51st out of 124 teams

 

Personnel:

Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense 6, Special Teams 1

Key Defensive Returnees: LB Qushaun Lee (100 tackles), DL Ryan Carrethers (68 tackles), S Sterling Young (71 tackles), DL Eddie Porter (33 tackles, 2.5 sacks)

Key Offensive Returnees: RB David Oku (1080 yds rush, 4.4 ypc, 16 TD), CB/RB Rocky Hayes (538 yds rush, 9.28 ypc, J.D. McKissic (103 rec, 5 TD), OT Aaron Williams, OT Travis Bodenstein

Top Recruits: WR Dijon Paschal, S Colin Janice, QB Chandler Rogers (Early Enrollee), S Jeremy Fulcher, WR Carl Lee

 

Inside Scoop with Matt Roberson of the Jonesboro Sun:

CFBZ: Bryan Harsin joins Arkansas State as their fourth head coach in as many years. What are your initial impressions of him now that he's been on campus for a few months?
 
Matt Roberson: Coach Harsin seems to have strong idea of what he expects from his program and how he wants to run it. His success and notoriety at Boise State has both the Red Wolves and the community excited about the upcoming season and his ideas, if they translate into success on the field, promise an exciting brand of football. ASU will transition from the Gus Malzahn era to Harsin with an emphasis on strength, power and defense along with a few surprises on offense. Harsin has been easy to work with the first few months but access to his team has been unusually guarded. Obviously, he wants to study his team and make changes without a lot of eyes watching or distractions. It will be interesting to see how Coach Harsin handles the pressure and expectations following back-to-back Sun Belt Conference championships and trips to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. 
 
 
CFBZ: The Red Wolves must replace Ryan Aplin. Who takes over under center?
 
Matt Roberson: Even with spring practice more than a month over with, the question as to who Arkansas State will turn to at starting quarterback in place of Ryan Aplin remains unanswered. Perhaps the addition of Utah State transfer Adam Kennedy, who will be immediately eligible this fall, is a good clue as to how Harsin gages the current crop of quarterbacks on campus. It would seem that Kennedy’s arrival as a one-year player is made with the assumption the he’ll take over as the starting quarterback. If Kennedy isn’t the starter, redshirt senior Phillip Butterfield took the majority of the snaps and ran almost exclusively with the first unit during the spring. Butterfield has shown to be a capable runner with an average passing arm.
 
While Butterfield may be the leader for the job, redshirt sophomore Stephen Hogan had a excellent effort in the spring game and can’t be far behind. Hogan showed not only a nice and accurate throwing arm but looked comfortable and calm in running the offense. Other possibilities, but not as likely, are sophomore Fredi Knighten, redshirt freshman Dezmond Stegall and incoming freshman Cameron Bearse. Knighten seems best suited for a slot running back/receiver spot while Bearse was a late addition and has not made it to campus yet.
 
 
CFBZ: Arkansas State loses three of it's top four tacklers on defense. Who will be the leaders on that side of the football? 
 
Matt Roberson: Fifth-year senior Qushaun Lee finished second on the team in tackles last year with 100 and would have had more but missed a game because of a suspension. Lee is a hard-nosed player that can leave an impression quickly. He’ll be heart of ASU’s defense. Junior safety Sterling Young has great speed and natural ball-hawking skills. He seems to always be around the football and should be another big-time player for the Red Wolves. A couple of guys who should step up are likely to be junior defensive end Chris Stone and senior linebacker Eddie Porter. Each saw their playing time increase throughout last season and each proved more than capable of handling their own. Another player who made a big impression during spring practices was sophomore Rocky Hayes. After spending last year at a slot RB/WR spot, Hayes has moved to cornerback where he has completely dominated his matchups.
 
 
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
 
Matt Roberson: Right now, the biggest thing for Arkansas State is to keep the momentum its created over the past two years rolling forward. Meeting or exceeding what has occurred here under former coaches Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn, both of whom reside in the SEC now, would probably be asking too much of a first-year coach. But a winning season and another trip to a bowl would keep everyone happy. There’s enough talent returning and the schedule is easy enough for the Red Wolves to conceivably win six to eight games. Nine or more wins isn’t impossible, but would be gravy for sure. The biggest question mark is at quarterback where there’s no definite answer for replacing a two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year award winner. If Harsin can find an adequate QB to take over, then I’d expect Arkansas State to meet most expectations and the momentum to continue on. If not, the ride could be filled with potholes, speed bumps and detours. It’s an important season with the direction of the program for the next few years likely at stake.
 
 
Verdict
 
The Red Wolves have been very successful over the last two years with one and done head coaches Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn. For the fourth straight year, the Red Wolves will have a new head coach as this time they plucked Bryan Harsin from Texas. Harsin was very successful at Boise State but at his last stop, Texas, he didn't exactly set the world (or scoreboards) on fire as Offensive Coordinator. It will be interesting to see how Harsin does at Arkansas State as the head man. Can he maintain he success of Freeze and Malzahn without Ryan Aplin at QB?
 
Whoever wins the QB job will have some nice options with David Oku (2nd leading rusher in Sun Belt in 2012) and J.D. McKissic (2nd leading receiver in Sun Belt in 2012). The OL looks deep. They lose their most experienced lineman but return four players with double-digit starts and two others with eight combined starts. The offense has the weapons, it just needs a captain.
 
The defense loses their leading sacker in Tim Starson (5 sacks) but do return five linemen (four of which are seniors) that have experience. The LB corps losses three of their top four as Qushaun Lee is the only starter returning. The defensive backfield losses two of their top five players but as Matt referenced, if Rocky Hayes can make a dent at CB it would go a long way to helping a pass defense that might not be as good as last season (when they were fourth in the conference). Overall, the defense will probably be about the same as it was last season.
 
Arkansas State's schedule really gives them a chance to repeat their recent success this season as their opponents combined to win just 44% of their games last season. They do have two SEC games early (against lower-tier 2012 finishers Auburn and Missouri) but the tough part of their conference schedule doesn't start until mid-October so it gives them a chance to get their feet under them under Harsin. On paper this looks like a seven or eight win team that I think will end up winning eight. If they have QB struggles the floor will be a lot lower but if they find an answer at QB the ceiling could be a lot higher.
 
 
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:
Independent: Georgia StateOld Dominion
MWC- SDSU
Sun Belt- Texas StateULMWKU
The American- Memphis
Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, writer for Crystal Ball Run and founder of College Football Zealots

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