ARKANSAS STATE (2013 SUR 8-5; PSR 6-7; O/U 6-7)… Miami of Ohio for decades has been known as the “Cradle of Coaches.” Passing through the program at one time or another were the likes of Earl Blaik, Paul Brown, Paul Dietzel, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gillman, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, John Pont, Carmen Cozza, Bill Mallory, Jim Tressel, Jim Harbaugh, and Sean Payton, to name a bunch. Hall of Fame Dodger manager Walter Alston graduated from Miami. You get the idea. But Arkansas State seems to be catching up. In a hurry.
Blake Anderson, a 13-year assistant most recently the offensive coordinator at North Carolina, becomes the fifth head coach in as many years in Jonesboro. Steve Roberts put in an admirable nine years leading the team, helping ASU back to the bowls before flattening out and being dismissed. But then the impressive one-and-done string started for the Red Wolves. Hugh Freeze spent 2011 at ASU, then was hired at Mississippi. Gus Malzahn was the HC in 2012, then went to Auburn. Bryan Harsin took over for 2013, but is now at Boise State. The last three coaches each guided the Red Wolves to at least a share of the Sun Belt title and a berth in the GoDaddy Bowl.
That gets us to Anderson, the team’s fifth HC in the last five years. He inherits a team that appears well-set to operate the fast-paced system that Anderson has been directing the last four years under Larry Fedora at Southern Miss/North Carolina. 2013 QB Adam Kennedy, who transferred from Utah State, has graduated. But 5-11 dynamo Fredi Knighten, recruited by Malzahn, appears ready to take over after a solid backup performance last season (71%, 2 TDs, 1 int.; 344 YR, 5 TDR), including being named MVP of the team’s 23-20 victory over Ball State in the GoDaddy. Knighten solidified his status in spring.
Although the shortish Knighten is no power-passing pocket presence, he constantly threatens with his quick feet and variety of short throws. And Knighten has plenty of seasoned help in jr. RB Michael Gordon (754 YR in 2013; 6.7 ypc), 6-5 jr. TE Darrion Griswold (24 recs., 3 TDC LY), and go-to WR/PR/KR J.D. McKissic. In addition to returning punts and kickoffs, McKissic has caught a robust 182 passes in his first two seasons. Depth behind McKissic is young, as are three starting spots in the OL. The Red Wolves produced 29 ppg last season and were 24th in the nation in rushing. They should at least be very close to those numbers this season.
Eight starters are back on defense, which was a concern last year while allowing 26.2 ppg and 180 ypg rushing (80th in the nation). Too many big plays and too few interceptions (only 9) were the main problems. 2014 might be a different story, however, as all back-seven starters have returned in ASU’s 4-2-5 scheme. That group includes sr. LB Qushawn Lee (134 Ts LY), jr. CB Rocky Hayes (3 ints.), and sr. FS Sterling Young (33 career starts). DEs jr. Chris Stone & soph Chris Odom (3 sacks each LY) will be counted upon to spark the pass rush.
Summary…ASU goes into the season with both the offensive skill players and veteran defensive corps to challenge once again for the Sun Belt crown. But one has to wonder whether the constant coaching turnover will eventually take a toll in the Red Wolves’ seeming annual battle with Louisiana for conference supremacy. The early handicapping edge in this year’s race belongs to ULL, which is not only stronger in the pits at the outset of 2014, but also will be the host team for this year’s meeting.
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College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com