#96 Arkansas State Football 2016 Preview

Arkansas State Red Wolves
Overall Rank: #96
#3 Sun Belt

Arkansas State Logo

Arkansas State cruised through the Sun Belt last year, tallying a perfect 8-0 record. With quite a few losses in the offseason, both to graduation and otherwise, the Red Wolves and Coach Blake Anderson looked to the transfer market to beef up their roster. And that has appeared to work, but there are still some major questions heading into the fall and it remains to be seen if the Red Wolves have the talent to win another Sun Belt title. Even if they do, it will not seem nearly as easy as it was in 2015.
2015 Record: 9-4, 8-0
2015 Bowl: New Orleans Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech (L 47-28)
Coach: Blake Anderson (16-10 at Arkansas State, 16-10 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Buster Faulkner
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Cauthen
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Warren Wand, RB, 709 yards
Passing: None
Receiving: Dijon Paschal, WR, 541 yards
Tackles: Khari Lain, LB, 81
Sacks: Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, DE, 9.0
Interceptions: Cody Brown, DB, 3; Money Hunter, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Johnston White, OL Colton Jackson, LB Xavier Woodson-Luster, DB Chris Humes, DB Blaise Taylor
Key Losses: RB Michael Gordon, QB Fredi Knighten, QB James Tabary, WR J.D. McKissic, WR Tres Houston, TE Darion Griswold, DB Rocky Hayes, DL Chris Stone, P Luke Ferguson
The focus suddenly shifts to a defense that generally played well in 2015, but was overshowed by the offense. This is an attacking defense that got to the quarterback effectively last year and this year should be even better. The line returns a lot of talent, led by end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, who recorded 9.0 sacks and 13.0 tackles-for-loss as a sophomore last year. The pure amount of returning depth is impressive and nowhere is it more important to have depth than on the defensive line, especially for a team like Arkansas State that wants to be aggressive on defense. But Alabama transfer Dee Liner and junior college transfer Dajon Emory will get plenty of playing time as well. At linebacker, Khari Lain leads the way after totaling a team high 81 tackles. Xavier Woodson-Luster and Quanterio Heath are experienced seniors who are very quick. The secondary is where the biggest problems appear to lie on defense. Rocky Hayes and Charleston Girley are significant losses, yet there are plenty of experienced players who should be ready to step up, most notably seniors Cody Brown, Money Hunter and Chris Humes.
Gone are quarterback Fredi Knighten, running back Michael Gordon and receivers J.D. McKissic and Tres Houston. That is a ton of production lost and this offense is going to look a lot different. It starts at the quarterback position where Arkansas State briefly had a three-player battle to replace Knighten. That battle was down to one, and not because somebody won it. James Tabary and Cameron Birse left, or were dismissed, just a couple weeks apart in late April and early May. Justice Hansen was all that is left, but Pitt transfer Chad Voytik joined the fray a couple days later. Hansen, who spent a year at the junior college ranks, was outplaying Tabary and Birse in the spring, but the competition was expected to go into the fall. Hansen is a big, mobile quarterback who is much more of a pro-style quarterback than Knighten. Voytik started in 2014 before going to the Pitt bench in 2015. Voytik is more mobile than Hansen, but either way the Red Wolves can stretch the field this year more than they ever could with Knighten. At receiver, Dijon Paschal returns after missing most of last season and that is a huge bonus. He was right up there with McKissic and Houston as far as his production. And at receiver is where the transfer market was hit the hardest with Kendall Sanders (Texas), Cameron Echols-Luper (TCU), Christian Booker (Juco) and Justin McInnis (juco) adding a lot of excitement and potential to the receiving corps. While the passing game retools, Arkansas State will have to rely a bit more on the ground attack, led by Warren Wand and Johnston White. Wand rushed for 709 yards on 118 carries, while White tallied 614 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
The Bottom Line:
The talent at the skill positions is there, but it is more a question of experience and how well all those new faces come together. A very talented and deep offensive line, led by Colton Jackson, will certainly help. However, the quarterback position could be a disaster. If a transfer or two at receiver does not work out, Arkansas State will be fine. If this turns into another year of quarterback roulette, the Red Wolves could quickly fall apart and suffer another tough losing season.
Projected Bowl: Camellia Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 231.3 (15th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 207.2 (85, 8)
Total Offense: 438.5 (37, 2)
Scoring Offense: 40.0 (12, 1)
Rushing Defense: 151.6 (44, 3)
Pass Defense: 267.8 (112, 10)
Total Defense: 419.2 (88, 6)
Scoring Defense: 30.2 (86, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.62 (23, 1)
Sacks: 2.38 (41, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.92 (56, 6)