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1. Safe hire vs. best hire
Getting dumped is scary and scarring, even for athletic directors. If someone ditches you for a bigger school and more money, you might take the wrong lessons and decide the likelihood of your next coach leaving is a more important criterion than it should be.
One could certainly make the case that Ball State did that in hiring 62-year-old Stan Parrish when Brady Hoke left for San Diego State. UConn probably took that in consideration in hiring Paul Pasqualoni to replace Maryland-bound Randy Edsall. And flirtation with other jobs played large roles in Boston College dismissing Jeff Jagodzinski in 2008 (his replacement went 21-29) and FIU firing Mario Cristobal in 2012 (his replacement went 1-11 in 2013).
If you make a hire with "I hope he doesn't leave" in mind, you run the risk of settling. When you don't want to find somebody so good that he might become attractive to others, you voluntarily limit your options.
To be sure, there is at least a little bit of sound logic behind this. Hiring coaches is, as we often say, a crapshoot. Even successful programs might not go better than two-for-three in the hiring department. Oklahoma hired John Blake, Alabama hired Mike Shula, etc. Still, you're less likely to make even a single good hire if you filter out certain options out of fear.
Safe to say, Arkansas State is relatively fearless in this regard. Each year, when it comes time to preview the Red Wolves, I inevitably bring up two things: the Boise blueprint and a new head coach.
New Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze's resume is almost as interesting as the company he has kept ... and with some of the imports he's brought to Jonesboro, it seems the company is going to stay rather interesting. I get the distinct impression that the Most Interesting (new) (mid-major) Coach in the World is going to either be a colossal success at ASU ... or a colossal failure. Either Gus Malzahn or Todd Dodge. Honestly, anything else would be somewhat disappointing.
I'm pretty sure that almost every mid-major head coach hired since Boise State's January 2007 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma has delivered a similar line. "We're going to win here! We're going to become the Boise State of the _____!" Saying it is easy. Doing it, on the other hand, has proved difficult, to say the least. (We know this because, among other things, nobody else has actually done it.) [...]
ASU has committed itself to committing itself -- the "big, hairy, audacious goals" portion of the Boise State To-Do List -- and now it has to figure out how to take the next step toward major credibility. Spring game attendance? Yeah, that costs money now. Renovations and construction? Under consideration. Serious, serious fundraising? That goes without saying. The process is underway. Now eyes shift to Malzahn.
Heading into 2013, ASU seems to be dealing with another glass ceiling of sorts. The Red Wolves can either hire a six-win coach and keep him until they don't want him anymore, or they can keep aiming high, keep reeling in really good, exciting, young coaches, and watching them leave for an SEC school once they have succeeded. They appear to have elected the latter.
Just over a decade ago, Bryan Harsin was a graduate assistant at Boise State. [...] At 35, the former Boise State quarterback, grad assistant, tight ends coach and offensive coordinator has become the head coach at a school that has openly yearned to follow the Boise blueprint to success.
Every time you hire a new football head coach, you are opening up the door for failure, so the odds say that if Arkansas State is forced to hire somebody new every single year, it'll eventually end up with a dud. But as Miami (Ohio) has floundered over the past decade or so, ASU has become the new Cradle of Coaches, a landing spot where an up-and-comer knows he will get strong support and probably win some games.
That ASU will be taking the field next fall with its fifth head coach in five years isn't an inherently good thing, but the Red Wolves have proven in recent years that they indeed have the system in place to handle change. If new head man Blake Anderson is worth his salt, he'll succeed in Jonesboro. And then he'll probably move on. And ASU is probably alright with that ... though if he wanted to stay more than one year, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 90|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||UAPB||N/A||62-11||W||38.4 - 21.2||W|
|7-Sep||at Auburn||4||9-38||L||25.6 - 27.4||L|
|12-Sep||Troy||105||41-34||W||32.7 - 30.1||W|
|21-Sep||at Memphis||83||7-31||L||16.1 - 48.5||L|
|28-Sep||at Missouri||14||19-41||L||26.0 - 41.5||L||-6.0|
|12-Oct||Idaho||116||48-24||W||30.1 - 27.7||W||-9.0|
|22-Oct||UL-Lafayette||86||7-23||L||14.1 - 24.0||L||-10.6|
|2-Nov||at South Alabama||68||17-16||W||26.6 - 24.3||W||-10.6|
|9-Nov||at UL-Monroe||109||42-14||W||30.4 - 26.8||W||-3.4|
|16-Nov||Texas State||107||38-21||W||36.6 - 32.8||W||0.5|
|23-Nov||Georgia State||121||35-33||W||13.2 - 38.7||L||-5.1|
|30-Nov||at Western Kentucky||77||31-34||L||25.5 - 29.2||L||-3.9|
|5-Jan||vs. Ball State||57||23-20||W||27.1 - 17.9||W||-2.5|
|Points Per Game||29.2||66||26.2||59|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.3||78||30.0||86|
2. Ups and downs
Since he produced another eight-win season and a share of the conference title, last year's head coach, Bryan Harsin, goes down as a relative success. But ASU was certainly less consistent in 2013 than it had been in 2011-12, and the overall product suffered a bit.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): ASU 32.2, Opponent 26.2 (plus-6.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Opponent 35.4, ASU 21.6 (minus-13.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): ASU 31.2, Opponent 28.0 (plus-3.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 3 games): Opponent 28.6, ASU 21.9 (minus-6.7)
Aside from a two-game glitch at Memphis and Missouri, in which the Red Wolves allowed 1,000 yards (7.8 per play) and 72 points, the defense was relatively stable. The offense, on the other hand, was all over the place. ASU averaged 6.9 yards per play against Troy and 3.6 against Memphis, 3.7 against UL-Lafayette and 6.1 against ULM. Big-plays were mostly non-existent, and ASU was left to rely on its run game and horizontal passing. Sometimes that worked out just fine; other times, not so much.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.7%||60||Succ. Rt. +||95.9||77|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.2||17||Def. FP+||104.4||15|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||57||Redzone S&P+||97.9||70|
|Q1 Rk||49||1st Down Rk||83|
|Q2 Rk||101||2nd Down Rk||68|
|Q3 Rk||94||3rd Down Rk||102|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Fredi Knighten||5'11, 189||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||34||48||215||2||1||70.8%||1||2.0%||4.3|
|Dezmond Stegall||6'1, 219||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Cameron Birse||6'2, 213||So.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Chandler Rogers||6'2, 206||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)|
3. Can Fredi throw?
One of the major questions for ASU heading into the 2013 season was who would replace quarterback Ryan Aplin, the ASU mainstay around whom both Hugh Freeze's and Gus Malzahn's offenses were built. Utah State transfer Adam Kennedy provided a temporary answer with efficient passing and timely running, but he's now gone. In his place are the players I thought would be challenging for the job a year ago: Fredi Knighten, Dezmond Stegall, and Chandler Rogers.
Knighten won the backup role last year, and one figures he has the best odds of winning the job this time around, but after two years as a backup, he's still a bit of an unknown entity. We know he can run; in two years, he's rushed 70 times for 559 yards (8.0 per carry) and five scores. But his arm is still a bit of a mystery. He completed more than two-thirds of his passes last year, mostly in spelling an injured Kennedy late in the year. But the passes were beyond conservative, averaging just 6.3 yards per completion.
Can he throw downfield? He looked great on the final drive of the GoDaddy Bowl, completing three passes for 50 yards and the game-winning score, but a) that's one drive, and b) he had thrown a pick in the end zone on the previous drive. He's going to have to throw downfield at least a little bit if he wins the job. Can he?
|Michael Gordon||RB||5'9, 187||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||112||754||10||6.7||7.7||41.1%|
|Fredi Knighten||QB||5'11, 189||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||54||347||5||6.4||5.7||48.1%|
|J.D. McKissic||WR||5'11, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||19||151||1||7.9||6.4||52.6%|
|Marquis Walker||DB||5'11, 183||So.||3 stars (5.5)||11||34||0||3.1||4.0||18.2%|
|Kendrick Daniels||RB||5'7, 158||So.||3 stars (5.5)||7||21||0||3.0||0.7||42.9%|
|Terrance Hollingsworth||RB||5'9, 187||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|J.D. McKissic||WR||5'11, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||101||81||653||80.2%||29.4%||54.2%||6.5||-230||6.8||74.7|
|Darion Griswold||TE||6'5, 264||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||34||24||312||70.6%||9.9%||71.4%||9.2||34||8.1||35.7|
|Michael Gordon||RB||5'9, 187||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||18||16||206||88.9%||5.2%||52.9%||11.4||39||11.4||23.6|
|Tres Houston||WR||6'2, 188||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||16||8||41||50.0%||4.7%||50.0%||2.6||-70||2.9||4.7|
|Kenneth Rains||TE||6'4, 260||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||10||7||71||70.0%||2.9%||42.9%||7.1||-10||3.6||8.1|
|Brandon Cox||WR||5'8, 167||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Dijon Paschal||WR||6'1, 196||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Carl Lee, Jr.||WR||6'2, 202||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Blake Mack||WR||6'2, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
4. Unique weapons
J.D. McKissic is the most wobbly player in college football. His role in 2013 was to take short passes and bounce off of as many players as possible. Defenders were almost never actually able to get their arms around him, and he was able to thrive in a unique, extended-handoffs role. With an 80 percent catch rate and only 8.1 yards per catch, he was almost more a part of the running game than the passing game.
Meanwhile, ASU's offense seemed to take a lovely step forward late in the year when Michael Gordon took on a larger role. He rushed 19 times for 184 yards in a win over Texas State and 19 times for 132 yards in a tight loss at WKU.
You can build a solid mid-major offense around these two, but there are mysteries in the supporting cast. The No. 2-3 receivers, guys who actually caught passes downfield (unlike McKissic), are gone. So are running backs David Oku and Sirgregory Thornton. ASU has recruited well considering the coaching changes, and there are intriguing former three-star (Gordon, Kendrick Daniels) or high-two-star recruits (McKissic, Brandon Cox, Dijon Paschal, Carl Lee, Jr.) littering the two-deep. But the number of proven entities is minimal. Somebody's going to have to step up to help out both the new quarterback and McKissic and Gordon.
|Steven Haunga||LG||26||2nd All-SBC|
|Bryce Giddens||C||5'11, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||25||2nd All-SBC|
|Colton Jackson||RT||6'4, 276||So.||2 stars (5.4)||13|
|Alan Wright||RG||6'2, 307||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||10|
|Jemar Clark||LT||6'6, 304||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Devin Mondie||LG||6'5, 291||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Tyler Greve||C||6'4, 301||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Austin Moreton||C||6'1, 318||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Brennan Tutor||OL||6'4, 269||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Travis Bodenstein||OL||6'4, 308||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Kyle Harris||OL||6'4, 290||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
5. Holes up front
The line might have been the strength of the ASU offense. Kennedy did take quite a few sacks, but one could pin a decent amount of that on the inability of receivers to get open downfield. Standard downs sack rates were just fine, but Kennedy was brought down a lot on passing downs. The run-blocking, meanwhile, was rock solid. With three two-year starters departing, however, that might not be the case in 2014. Three players with starting experience return, including all-conference center Bryce Giddens. Plus, there are some former three-star recruits who could play a large role. Still, as with much of the offense, there are unknowns here.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.8%||84||Succ. Rt. +||93.3||88|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.3||20||Off. FP+||103.5||23|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.5||91||Redzone S&P+||105.2||40|
|Q1 Rk||93||1st Down Rk||105|
|Q2 Rk||98||2nd Down Rk||79|
|Q3 Rk||84||3rd Down Rk||47|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Chris Stone||DE||6'3, 252||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||35.0||5.0%||9.5||3.0||0||3||2||0|
|Dexter Blackmon||NT||6'4, 268||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||10||22.5||3.2%||6.0||3.5||0||1||1||0|
|Chris Odom||DE||6'3, 234||So.||2 stars (5.2)||11||12.5||1.8%||3.5||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darrius Rosser||DT||6'3, 284||So.||2 stars (5.2)||5||6.5||0.9%||2.5||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jabari Mathieu||DE||6'2, 237||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Charles Alexander||DT||6'4, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Chuks Ota||DT||6'1, 288||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Eugene Sutton||DT||6'3, 275||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Kyle Strickland||DE||6'6, 230||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
Like Troy, ASU recently got a reminder of life's priorities in the worst possible way. Reserve lineman Markel Owens was at his mother's home in Jackson, Miss., when he and his step-father fell victim to a home-invasion robbery. In attempting to protect both his mother and step-father, Owens was shot and killed. Real life often gets in the way of our silly pastimes, and condolences go to both the ASU family and Owens' mother, who survived with a gunshot wound to her leg.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Qushaun Lee||MIKE||5'11, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||97.5||14.0%||6.0||0.5||1||3||2||0|
|Kyle Coleman||STING||6'1, 228||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||39.5||5.7%||3.0||2.0||0||2||0||2|
|Xavier Woodson||STING||6'1, 214||So.||2 stars (5.4)||9||21.5||3.1%||0.0||0.0||0||3||0||0|
|Quanterio Heath||STING||6'2, 210||So.||3 stars (5.5)||7||9.0||1.3%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darius Buckley||MIKE||5'10, 224||Sr.||NR|
|Carderious Dean||LB||6'3, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Sterling Young||FS||6'2, 193||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||64.0||9.2%||1||0||2||2||0||2|
|Chris Humes||ROV||5'11, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||43.0||6.2%||3.5||1||0||2||1||0|
|Rocky Hayes||CB||5'11, 177||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||39.5||5.7%||3||1||3||10||0||0|
|Artez Brown||CB||6'0, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||33.0||4.7%||1.5||1.5||1||10||1||0|
|Money Hunter||ROV||6'1, 193||So.||2 stars (5.3)||12||25.0||3.6%||0.5||0||0||2||0||0|
|Frankie Jackson||WOLF||5'10, 198||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||23.0||3.3%||3.5||0||1||2||1||0|
|Andrew Tryon||CB||5'10, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||9||22.5||3.2%||1||0||0||6||0||0|
|Charleston Girley||WOLF||6'0, 196||Jr.||NR||12||18.5||2.7%||0.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|TeDarius Turner||CB||5'8, 166||Jr.||NR||7||6.5||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brock Barnhill||DB||6'0, 201||Sr.||NR||6||6.5||0.9%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Jacobs||DB||6'1, 191||Sr.||NR||5||6.5||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|DeKeathan Williams||WOLF||6'1, 212||So.||2 stars (5.4)||5||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Raziel Valgis||FS||5'11, 203||Jr.||NR||3||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Colin Janice||DB||5'11, 151||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Jeremy Fulcher||DB||6'0, 178||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Jamaris Hart||DB||5'9, 163||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Blaise Taylor||DB||5'8, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Nehemiah Wagner||DB||6'0, 166||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Charles Grant||DB||5'11, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Khari Lain||DB||5'10, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
7. Just go with the dime 100 percent of the time
There is no easy segue from tragedy back to football, but here goes nothing.
ASU had one of the deeper defensive fronts in the Sun Belt last year. It wasn't amazing, but there was minimal dropoff between first and second string, at least when you got past star tackle Ryan Carrethers. It thins out considerably in 2014, however, as four of seven linemen who logged at least 10.0 tackles have used up their eligibility. The top four returning players have shown some play-making potential; end Chris Stone was the team leader in tackles for loss, and sophomores Chris Odom and Darrius Rosser combined for 5.5 tackles for loss among their 19.0 overall tackles. We've got a sample size issue here, but the top four returnees all seem to have pretty high ceilings. The problem is that they're basically the only four. JUCO transfer Charles Alexander and at least one freshman could see extensive time this year.
Considering the losses up front and the fact that nearly every single contributor in the back seven return, it's pretty easy to pick up on the potential strengths and weaknesses of this defense. Despite an only decent pass rush, ASU had a top-60 defense in terms of Passing Success Rate+, and every defensive back returns. Like, every single one. Corners Rockey Hayes and Artez Brown are athletic and aggressive, the safeties are experienced, and the last two recruiting classes have produced quite a few high-caliber DB signees. There's reason to wonder about the defensive line, but this will be one of the best mid-major secondaries in the country.
|Paul Jones||6'2, 205||Jr.||41||38.4||5||12||16||68.3%|
|Luke Ferguson||6'0, 210||Jr.||23||43.8||1||6||8||60.9%|
|J.D. McKissic||KR||5'11, 193||Jr.||21||30.0||1|
|J.D. McKissic||PR||5'11, 193||Jr.||17||8.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||4|
|Field Goal Efficiency||31|
|Punt Return Efficiency||19|
|Kick Return Efficiency||3|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||30|
8. Replacing Davis
Thanks to kicker Brian Davis and an outstanding return man in J.D. McKissic, ASU had one of the best special teams units in the country in 2013. The Red Wolves were dynamite in the field position game, which allowed them to overcome big-play issues and still claim a piece of the Sun Belt title. McKissic is back, obviously, but Davis is not. Australian punter Paul Jones could be the answer at place-kicker, but we'll see. A drop-off in the special teams department would put extra pressure on the offense to make up ground with bigger plays.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|TBD||New Mexico State||124|
|TBD||at Georgia State||125|
|TBD||at Texas State||114|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-6.0% (77)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||100|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||6 / 10.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (6, 9)|
9. Why not?
Blake Anderson's résumé is an interesting one; he helped to patent the hurry-up-and-wait offense at MTSU a decade ago, he left coaching for a while, and he led a young, exciting UNC offense for Larry Fedora last season. He knows the Sun Belt, and he's done pretty well everywhere he's gone. There's no reason to think he won't be the next strong ASU hire.
And with the returnees at the skill positions and in the secondary, there's no reason to think that ASU's three-year streak of eight-win (at least) seasons will end in 2014. A challenging non-conference schedule will tamp down the overall win total, but aside from a rough trip to Lafayette, the schedule is awfully friendly.
I don't think ASU has quite as many pieces as Louisiana-Lafayette this year, but the Red Wolves could easily be the second-best team in a conference that has quite a few interesting candidates for the No. 2 spot. Having to hire this many head coaches in this short a period is far from orthodox, but it will probably work out just fine.
10. Sun Belt balance of power
At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.
I really do like what the Cajuns return. This season will have a bit of a last-hurrah feel because of the seniors and the fact that at some point a bigger school is probably going to take head coach Mark Hudspeth away. But they're the best for 2014.
The Red Wolves don't have quite as many weapons as the Cajuns, but they've proven more than anybody else here.
ULM and USA could each pop up to Tier II if new quarterbacks thrive, but we'll play it safe. And I might be overstating Georgia Southern's FBS readiness.
New Mexico State
Idaho went JUCO-crazy in the 2014 recruiting class, and if a lot of them stick, they could potentially (and briefly) overtake TXST and Georgia Southern. But that's not an incredibly safe bet.