No. 71 Arkansas State
Arkansas State won eight of their final nine games last season, including a Cure Bowl win over UCF. Shortly thereafter, reality set in that the Red Wolves' roster will undergo a monumental revamping with the departures of 13 starters and several key reserves.
Still, fourth-year head coach Blake Anderson returns dynamic running back and elite defensive line that should keep Arkansas State in contention for a third-straight Sun Belt crown.
2016 Record: 8-5 (7-1, Sun Belt)
Arkansas State opened the season with four-straight losses, including defeats to Toledo and Auburn by a total of 58 points. Then they eight of their final nine games, including a 36-14 win at Texas State in the regular-season finale to earn a share of the Sun Belt championship.
The Red Wolves scored at least 30 points in six of their final seven games after failing to do so in any of their first six. They also held opponents under 27 in their final nine after yielding an average of 36 in those first four losses.
Head Coach: Blake Anderson (4th year, 24-15 overall)
Blake Anderson is averaging eight wins per season in his first head coaching stop. He returned to his hometown of Jonesboro, Ark., in December 2013, and unlike the three coaches before him (Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin) stayed for more than one season — though he reportedly discussed the Baylor vacancy last winter.
Arkansas State has gone 15-1 in the Sun Belt the last two years and Anderson has delivered three-straight bowl appearances, the first coach in program history to do so.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Justice Hansen, RB Warren Wand, RB Johnston White, TE Blake Mack, WR Dijon Paschal, WR Chris Murray
Anderson watched his offense's scoring average drop from 40 points per game to 27.3 last year, prompting him to take over as quarterbacks coach and primary play-caller.
“I’ve been in this offense for 15 years, so my best way to help us improve offensively is to get involved,” Anderson said in February. “Running the offense and collaborating with those guys, play-calling and organizing quarterbacks, I thought, was the right move for now. Maybe not forever, but for now.”
"Those guys" are led by junior quarterback Justice Hansen. The 6-foot-4, 207-pounder was inconsistent in his first season with the Red Wolves — he redshirted at Oklahoma in 2014 and played at Butler Community College in 2015. He did throw 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions, averaged 8.1 yards per attempt and had five touchdowns to zero picks in his final two games. However, Hansen still completed less than 50 percent of his passes in three games, including 15 of 35 against Georgia State.
Hansen's backfield mate is diminutive ball carrier Warren Wand. The 5-foot-5 all-purpose player had 1,158 total yards and 10 touchdowns, including 199 yards and a score in the season finale against Texas State.
The offensive wild card is redshirt senior receiver Cameron Echols-Luper. The former TCU transfer had 407 yards last year but was suspended indefinitely this spring for a drug offense, his second in less than a year. He remains on the roster but his future is murky.
If Echols-Luper doesn't return, Arkansas State will be without its top two receivers from 2016, putting the spotlight on seniors Dijon Paschal and Chris Murray. They combined for 44 receptions. Senior tight end Blake Mack will be a reliable weapon for Hansen again.
The offensive line is gone. As in the entire starting offensive line is gone. Their returning players have a combined two starts, 12 fewer than any other FBS team.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, DT Dee Liner, LB Kyle Wilson, CB Blaise Taylor, NB Justin Clifton
After a dominating second half of the season, the Arkansas State defense suffered big losses. They do, however, return two superb linemen in tackle Dee Liner and Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Ja'Von Rolland-Jones at end.
Rolland-Jones, one of the best defenders in Sun Belt history averaged 1.7 tackles for loss per game (eighth nationally) and 1.04 sacks (fifth). He has 44 tackles for loss, 29 sacks and seven forced fumbles in three years.
Linebacker Kyle Wilson was the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year after arriving from Hutchinson Community College last winter. The 6-foot, 228-pounder was dominant, racking up 18 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
In the secondary, where defensive coordinator routinely uses five or six defensive backs, nickel Justin Clifton and Blaise Taylor lead a unit that welcomes a lot of new faces. Taylor tied for the team leads in interceptions (three) and passes defended (nine).
Notable Player Losses
WR Kendall Sanders, OT Jemar Clark, OL Colton Jackson, DE Waylon Roberson, DE Chris Odom, LB Xavier Woodson-Luster, S Money Hunter, S Cody Brown, S Chris Humes
Kendall Stephens played well in his first and only season at Arkansas State. The former Texas transfer had a team-high seven touchdown receptions, more than twice as many as the next highest player.
All-conference linemen Jemar Clark and Colton Jackson are gone, as are Waylon Roberson and Chris Odom on the defensive line. After three pedestrian seasons, Odom exploded in 2016, registering 17.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.
Do-it-all linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster graduated, as did three safeties. Money Hunter, Cody Brown and Chris Humes combined for 189 tackles, five interceptions, 18 passes defended and six fumble recoveries last year.
Notable Player Additions
OT Lanard Bonner, OT Jaypee Philbert, G Marvis Brown, S Jefferie Gibson, S Darreon Jackson, S Micahel Johnson
The fate of Arkansas State's offensive line lies in the hands of three JUCO transfers. Lanard Bonner, Jaypee Philbert and Marvis Brown are all competing for starting spots on a completely rebuilt unit.
The Red Wolves get two sets of back-to-back home and road games, including visits to SMU and Georgia Southern, which gives them no home games between Sept. 16 and Oct. 14. After playing four of six midseason games on the road, Arkansas State gets two of their final three games in Jonesboro.
|Saturday, Sept. 2
|Saturday, Sept. 9
|vs. Miami (FL)
|Saturday, Sept. 16
|vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
|Saturday, Sept. 23
|Wednesday, Oct. 4
|at Georgia Southern
|Saturday, Oct. 14
|vs. Coastal Carolina
|Thursday, Oct. 19
|Saturday, Oct. 28
|at New Mexico State
|Saturday, Nov. 11
|at South Alabama
|Saturday, Nov. 18
|vs. Texas State
|Saturday, Nov. 25
|Saturday, Dec. 2