#83 Arkansas State Football 2017 Preview

Arkansas State Red Wolves
Overall Rank: #83
#3 Sun Belt
Coach Blake Anderson has stuck around at Arkansas State for three years after many of his predecessors skipped out for bigger jobs. In those three seasons the Red Wolves have gone 20-4 in Sun Belt play and reached three bowl games. The latest came in the Cure Bowl where the Red Wolves cruised past UCF 31-13. This may be a bit of a rebuilding year for Coach Anderson and company, but do not expect this group to end the bowl run.
2016 Record: 8-5, 7-1
2016 Bowl: Cure Bowl vs. UCF (W 31-13)
Coach: Blake Anderson (24-15 at Arkansas State, 24-15 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Buster Faulkner
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Cauthen
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Warren Wand, RB, 879 yards
Passing: Justice Hansen, QB, 2,719 yards
Receiving: Blake Mack, TE, 652 yards
Tackles: Justin Clifton, DB, 87
Sacks: Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, DE, 13.5
Interceptions: Justin Clifton, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Johnston White, WR Cam Echols-Luper, LB Kyle Wilson
Key Losses: WR Kendall Sanders, OL Jamar Clark, LB Xavier Woodson-Luster, DL Chris Odom, DB Money Hunter, DB Cody Brown
Last season Arkansas State relied heavily on big passing plays from quarterback Justice Hansen. On the year Hansen threw for 2,719 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. That is not too bad for a sophomore who started the year as the backup. A lot of talent returns at wide receiver, including tight end Blake Mack, but somebody out wide needs to emerge as a go-to target. There are plenty of options from a wide receiver corps that was balanced but sporadic last season. The running game was very disappointing in 2016, yet Warren Wand and Johnston White are back to try and improve their performances from a season ago. That could be problematic though while the offensive line is completely rebuilt. All five starters are gone from a year ago and there will be a lot of competition for the starting jobs well into the fall.
It was the defense that carried Arkansas State to a Sun Belt title. They were amazing all season long and allowed just 21.5 points per game and ranked sixth in the country in sacks. The depth will not be as strong this season with quite a few of the regulars needing replaced, but the Red Wolves certainly have plenty of leaders on this side of the ball. Ja’Von Rolland-Jones led the team with 13.5 sacks and Kyle Wilson also returns at linebacker after tallying 79 tackles, including 15.5 tackles-for-loss, in 2016. Those two will spend a lot of time in the opposing backfield. Coach Anderson also hit the junior college ranks hard in an effort to add depth to the front seven. In the secondary, Justin Clifton and Blaise Taylor will lead the way. Clifton picked off a couple passes last season and is the team’s top returning tackler with 87.
The Bottom Line:
The defense should not be as dominate as they were last season, but they will still be one of the better units in the Sun Belt. The bigger question is on offense. The experience gained by the skill position players is huge, but the completely rebuilt line is a big problem. As usual, Arkansas State will have some time to sort things early in the campaign. They will not beat Nebraska or Miami and last year they lost to an FCS opponent, but this is a team built to play Sun Belt football and they will be ready to make another serious run at a conference title by the time they head to Georgia Southern on October 4th. 
Projected Bowl: Camilla Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 137.2 (106th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 242.2 (57, 6)
Total Offense: 379.4 (93, 7)
Scoring Offense: 27.3 (74, 4)
Rushing Defense: 143.4 (34, 4)
Pass Defense: 219.5 (51, 4)
Total Defense: 362.8 (29, 2)
Scoring Defense: 21.5 (19, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.38 (34, 4)
Sacks: 3.31 (6, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.15 (68, 7)