Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: After winning the Sun Belt Conference championship in
2011, Arkansas State defended its crown in 2012 by finishing 10-3, including
7-1 in league play. It was the first time in program history the team has won
10 games in back-to-back seasons.
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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