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The big 2015 Arkansas State football guide: Red Wolves finally kept their head coach!

The 128-team preview countdown reaches a Sun Belt power that has continuity for the first time in years.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Managing change

On paper, they improved. That's amazing.

Technically, Arkansas State's win total dropped by one game as the Red Wolves took the field with their fifth head coach in five years. They suffered their share of frustrating losses, falling to five decent teams by an average of 18 points and dropping a tight home contest against Appalachian State. And they probably caught Utah State at just the right time, topping the Aggies by seven points in the direct aftermath of another USU quarterback injury. There's plenty of room for improvement, in other words.

But still, using the new F/+ ratings, Arkansas State improved from 76th in 2013 to 66th. Considering the value of continuity in college football, that is an absurd achievement. Now, as the Red Wolves prepare for their first two-year span with the same coach since 2009-10 (!), consistency could feed continuity.

In each annual coaching carousel, you read about a school valuing loyalty, perhaps considering a guy who will stay over one with a higher likelihood of short-run success. Considering Arkansas State the poster children for why "he'll stay" doesn't need to be on your list of requirements.

A perfect-world preference? Sure. But if your athletic director has a system, if the community and athletic department provide support, if you have a good eye for talent, and if you have all your ducks in a row, ASU proves that you can survive change. If you hire a good coach and he leaves after succeeding, you hire another good coach.

(That ASU pulled off this string of good hires despite undergoing an athletic director change in 2013 is even more incredible.)

So many aspects of a coaching search are random. There's a reason I find myself typing "coaching searches are enormous tossups, and you shouldn't dump a coach unless you absolutely have to" about 25 times over the course of this preview series. But ASU proves ambition and a good eye can give you better odds than others.

Blake Anderson's second season in charge brings high expectations, and we'll find out if he is of the caliber of the last three coaches, all of whom won at ASU, then went on to win elsewhere (Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss, Gus Malzahn to Auburn, and Bryan Harsin to Boise State). But at this point, with what the Red Wolves have survived, would you have any reason not to trust them to win games and play a role in the Sun Belt race? Especially with so many offensive starters back?

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 66
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Montana State N/A 37-10 W 82% 21.6 100%
6-Sep at Tennessee 24 19-34 L 39% -6.7 30%
13-Sep at Miami 31 20-41 L 8% -32.8 0%
20-Sep Utah State 52 21-14 W 48% -1.3 35%
4-Oct UL-Monroe 97 28-14 W 71% 12.9 97%
11-Oct at Georgia State 122 52-10 W 87% 25.8 100%
21-Oct at UL-Lafayette 72 40-55 L 15% -24.7 2%
1-Nov at Idaho 112 44-28 W 50% -0.1 88%
8-Nov South Alabama 89 45-10 W 96% 41.2 100%
15-Nov Appalachian State 104 32-37 L 53% 1.6 56%
20-Nov at Texas State 95 27-45 L 15% -23.9 3%
29-Nov New Mexico State 124 68-35 W 69% 11.8 99%
4-Jan vs. Toledo 59 44-63 L 33% -10.0 21%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 31.4 53 30.4 81
Points Per Game 36.7 19 30.5 92

2. Costly duds

The Red Wolves played at a top-80 level or so (approximately the 38th percentile) in nine-of-13 games, solid for a Sun Belt team. But a letdown against Miami represented a missed opportunity, and two specific conference losses were particularly discouraging.

  • Average Percentile Performance in two conference duds (at UL-Lafayette, at Texas State): 15%
  • Average Percentile Performance in six other conference games: 71%

The offense was fine against UL-Lafayette, posting 595 yards (7.8 per play) and 40 points. But the Red Wolves were slowed by a pretty bad Texas State defense (5.1 yards per play, albeit with 97 snaps), and in both of these games, the ASU defense got obliterated. UL-Lafayette's Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris combined for 46 carries, 372 yards, and eight rushing touchdowns, while TXST's Robert Lowe and C.J. Best combined for 35 carries, six catches, a combined 424 rushing and receiving yards, and five scores.

Big plays were a bugaboo for ASU all year, but in these two games, they were deadly.

One other interesting tidbit: only twice in 13 games did an ASU score finish within one possession. Six-of-seven wins were by at least 14 points, as were four of the five losses. Either it really worked, or it really didn't.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.97 12 IsoPPP+ 107.2 50
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.8% 72 Succ. Rt. + 99.5 72
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.3 61 Def. FP+ 98.0 92
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.7 39 Redzone S&P+ 100.4 64
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.8 ACTUAL 22 +0.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 20 57 67 50
RUSHING 27 60 74 47
PASSING 40 59 56 56
Standard Downs 54 65 46
Passing Downs 71 67 72
Q1 Rk 60 1st Down Rk 46
Q2 Rk 84 2nd Down Rk 22
Q3 Rk 48 3rd Down Rk 92
Q4 Rk 26

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Fredi Knighten 5'11, 189 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 269 432 3277 24 7 62.3% 29 6.3% 6.7
Stephen Hogan 6'4, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 3 6 18 0 0 50.0% 0 0.0% 3.0
D.J. Pearson 6'2, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8458
Taljhea Chambers 6'2, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8137

3. Fredi's become a passer

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?

I'm not going to try to convince you that Fredi Knighten is an NFL-caliber passer, but the senior from Little Rock's Pulaski Academy was good enough through the air. ASU's offense improved to nearly a top-50 unit, with Knighten combining efficiency passes to slot receiver (and Ace Sanders Lite) J.D. McKissic with more aggressive passes to Tres Houston and breakout freshman Dijon Paschal.

He spread the ball around beautifully, with seven players getting targeted at least twice per game, and ASU was able to manipulate defenses enough with the pass to open up running lanes for Knighten, the explosive Michael Gordon, and at times, freshman Johnston White.

Knighten still has some more boxes to check on the Becoming a Dangerous Passer list: he got sacked too much (common for a guy used to relying on his legs) and, perhaps relatedly, fumbled too much. But he was a first-year starter. He should be able to put up impressive numbers again even if he doesn't develop much, if only because his supporting cast returns almost entirely intact.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Fredi Knighten QB 5'11, 189 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 182 969 11 5.3 6.5 40.7% 9 7
Michael Gordon RB 5'9, 187 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8549 159 1100 13 6.9 8.8 42.1% 0 0
Johnston White RB 5'11, 180 So. NR N/A 95 514 6 5.4 4.0 44.2% 0 0
Terrance Hollingsworth RB 5'9, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7785 39 101 1 2.6 2.2 23.1% 1 0
Brandon Byner RB 5'11, 177 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 26 68 1 2.6 2.9 34.6% 1 1
DeKeathan Williams RB 6'1, 212 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 11 50 1 4.5 4.7 36.4% 0 0
Brandon Cox WR
10 46 0 4.6 5.9 50.0% 1 1
J.D. McKissic WR-A 5'11, 193 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 9 115 1 12.8 10.5 66.7% 2 2
Warren Wand RB 5'5, 174 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7959
Jamal Jones RB 5'9, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8013
Earl Harrison RB 5'10, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8064






Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tres Houston WR 6'2, 188 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8111 81 53 680 65.4% 19.4% 60.5% 8.4 41 8.4 77.8
Dijon Paschal WR 6'1, 196 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8315 61 38 665 62.3% 14.6% 54.1% 10.9 203 11.0 76.1
J.D. McKissic SLOT 5'11, 193 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 61 52 629 85.2% 14.6% 63.9% 10.3 30 10.3 72.0
Darion Griswold TE-Y 6'5, 264 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 36 18 221 50.0% 8.6% 50.0% 6.1 -8 6.7 25.3
Booker Mays WR 5'10, 170 Jr. NR N/A 35 20 325 57.1% 8.4% 48.6% 9.3 78 9.4 37.2
Michael Gordon RB 5'9, 187 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8549 32 25 191 78.1% 7.7% 50.0% 6.0 -101 5.9 21.9
Brandon Cox WR
26 16 110 61.5% 6.2% 69.2% 4.2 -85 4.2 12.6
Tyler Trosin SLOT 5'11, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8373 21 13 135 61.9% 5.0% 28.6% 6.4 -23 6.0 15.4
Blake Mack WR 6'3, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959 13 8 155 61.5% 3.1% 46.2% 11.9 57 12.8 17.7
Johnston White RB 5'11, 180 Jr. NR N/A 13 6 27 46.2% 3.1% 38.5% 2.1 -51 1.9 3.1
Kenneth Rains TE-H
9 7 66 77.8% 2.2% 77.8% 7.3 -16 10.2 7.5
Daryl Rollins-Davis RB 5'9, 175 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783 5 4 43 80.0% 1.2% 60.0% 8.6 -4 8.6 4.9
Carl Lee Jr. WR 6'2, 202 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7983 5 4 11 80.0% 1.2% 60.0% 2.2 -36 2.3 1.3
Warren Leapheart TE-H 6'5, 242 Jr. NR 0.7700 3 2 4 66.7% 0.7% 100.0% 1.3 -20 N/A 0.5
DeKeathan Williams RB 6'1, 212 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 2 1 3 50.0% 0.5% 50.0% 1.5 -10 1.3 0.3
Darveon Brown WR 5'11, 176 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8253
Omar Bayless WR 6'3, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8133
Jaylon Marshall WR 6'2, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7963

4. So many weapons, so little attrition

Those responsible for 98 percent of ASU's rushes and 91 percent of ASU's targets are scheduled to return. ASU has weapons big (Darion Griswold, Blake Mack, DeKeathan Williams) and small (Michael Gordon, J.D. McKissic, Terrance Hollingsworth), old (Gordon, McKissic, Griswold, Tres Houston) and young (Dijon Paschal, Johnston White, Hollingsworth, Brandon Byner, Mack). And I haven't even mentioned former walk-on and fainting goat extraordinaire Booker Mays yet.

Plus, Anderson signed two quarterbacks, three running backs, and two receivers who were given a three-star designation by either Rivals or the 247Sports Composite (or both).

ASU might have the best offensive depth in the Sun Belt, and the talent is spread out beautifully by class. McKissic and Gordon might be tough to replace after 2015 -- Gordon because of his explosiveness, McKissic because of his absurd efficiency -- but the candidates are lining up.

And once again, here's where I remind you that ASU had four coaches in four years. That kind of turnover is supposed to lead to transfers. It has not.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 87.7 2.55 3.03 41.0% 52.7% 22.9% 93.4 5.0% 9.5%
Rank 107 109 91 42 123 111 79 74 99
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Colton Jackson RT 6'4, 276 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 26
Alan Wright RG
23
Tyler Greve C
13
Jemar Clark LT 6'6, 304 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8494 12
Devin Mondie LG 6'5, 291 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7749 12
Kyle Harris LT 6'4, 280 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8600 1
Austin Moreton LG 6'1, 318 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 1
Steven Stevens LG 6'4, 296 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 0
Jonathan Hamilton C
0
Travis Bodenstein RG 6'4, 308 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8353 0
Brennan Tutor RT
0
Christian Beard OL 6'4, 270 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8044
Brandon Berg OL 6'2, 275 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7585
Joseph Baccus OL 6'5, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852
Cameron Davis OL 6'4, 280 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8281
Dalton Ford OL 6'4, 295 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8081

5. A couple of departures up front

The line could have been better. While the mediocre sack rate had a bit to do with Knighten holding onto the ball too long, the offense didn't produce particularly impressive line stats. The Red Wolves were able to create open-field opportunities, but there were lots of stuffs in the backfield, and the Red Wolves had some of the worst short-yardage percentages in the country.

Three starters (all of whom were either freshmen or sophomores) return, as do two more players with one game of starting experience each. Assuming Colton Jackson, Jemar Clark and Devin Mondie put in typical year-to-year development, there's enough experience to assume ASU's line will be able to replicate last year's numbers. And if at least one of two JUCO signees (Brandon Berg and Joseph Baccus) is able to play at a starter level, maybe the numbers improve.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.92 103 IsoPPP+ 88.8 106
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.1% 79 Succ. Rt. + 97.8 78
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.3 25 Off. FP+ 102.0 38
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 77 Redzone S&P+ 90.8 102
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.4 ACTUAL 28.0 +3.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 85 92 74 106
RUSHING 105 107 75 118
PASSING 45 58 58 63
Standard Downs 99 82 97
Passing Downs 83 50 99
Q1 Rk 70 1st Down Rk 64
Q2 Rk 81 2nd Down Rk 82
Q3 Rk 82 3rd Down Rk 103
Q4 Rk 81

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 98.4 3.01 3.61 38.9% 76.6% 20.0% 124.6 3.7% 12.0%
Rank 70 76 92 63 116 55 25 89 6
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Chris Stone BANDIT 6'3, 252 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 13 36.5 4.9% 9.5 7.0 0 3 0 0
Ja'Von Rolland-Jones DE 6'2, 224 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 10 26.5 3.5% 12.0 7.5 0 1 2 0
Dexter Blackmon DT
13 23.5 3.1% 3.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Chuks Ota NG 6'2, 285 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8133 13 19.0 2.5% 3.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Chris Odom NG 6'3, 234 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783 13 13.0 1.7% 2.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Darrius Rosser DT 6'3, 284 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 12.0 1.6% 5.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
Clifford Thomas NG 6'2, 280 So. NR N/A 10 10.5 1.4% 1.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Carderious Dean DE 6'3, 235 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7333 11 8.5 1.1% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Caleb Caston DE 6'2, 210 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7533 11 8.5 1.1% 2.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Robert Mondie (UAB) NG 6'2, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519 11 7.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 3 0 0
Jabari Mathieu BANDIT 6'2, 237 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333 10 4.5 0.6% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
E.J. Sutton DT 6'3, 275 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659 8 2.5 0.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Waylon Roberson NG 6'2, 340 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7867
Jake Swalley NG 6'2, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7919
Griffin Riggs DE 6'3, 235 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8302
Donovan Ransom DE 6'1, 270 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826
T.J. Harris DE 6'2, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
Javier Carbonell NG 6'2, 285 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8000

6. If a runner got to the second level against ASU...

...he didn't tend to find much resistance.

It was kind of a theme, one that went beyond the dreadful UL-Lafayette and Texas State games. Miami's Duke Johnson and Gus Edwards combined for 128 yards on just 16 carries. Appalachian State's Marcus Cox carried 40 times for 229 yards and caught a 44-yard pass. NMSU's Larry Rose III ripped off an 80-yard run and finished with 21 carries and 137 yards (in a game that also featured a 75-yard pass to Greg Hogan). And Toledo's Kareem Hunt and Damion Jones-Moore did nasty things, combining for 47 carries, 374 yards, and seven touchdowns.

It's easy to assume ASU had an awful run defense, and you wouldn't be totally wrong, but the Red Wolves had their moments. The efficiency numbers weren't terrible, and in games against Tennessee and others, they were able to prevent second-level opportunities. But the run defense was like an old truck I used to have: after a while, second gear disappeared and it would jerk straight from first to third.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Qushaun Lee MIKE
13 94.5 12.6% 7.0 1.0 4 3 3 0
Xavier Woodson WILL 6'1, 214 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8094 13 82.0 10.9% 9.0 4.0 0 3 1 0
Austin Copeland WILL 6'1, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 12 21.5 2.9% 2.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Gage Sharp WILL
7 13.0 1.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Quanterio Heath MIKE 6'2, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8138 7 11.0 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Mark Johnson LB 6'2, 180 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7544 6 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0

7. SIC 'EM

ASU was willing to risk big plays in the name of making them. And while that proposition wasn't successful enough to make for an overall strong defense, the Red Wolves made plays.

They ranked 55th in Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line) and sixth in passing downs sack rate. Five players had at least four non-sack tackles for loss, and five had at least two sacks.

Most of those play-makers return. Hell, most of everybody returns. UAB transfer Robert Mondie joins a crowded line that returns 11 of its top 12 tacklers. The linebacking corps returns four of six, though stalwart middle linebacker Qushaun Lee could be missed. Chris Stone and Ja'Von Rolland-Jones might be the Sun Belt's best pass-rushing tandem, Chuks Ota is a potential star at nose guard, and Xavier Woodson is an excellent blitzer.

If experience and depth can lead to a reduction of glitches, and ASU can get its Success Rate+ ranking into the 40s or 50s as opposed to the 70s, the Red Wolves will be better equipped to survive big plays.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Sterling Young FS
13 65.0 8.6% 1 1 2 3 1 0
Andrew Tryon CB
13 63.5 8.4% 5.5 1 2 9 0 0
Money Hunter SS 6'1, 193 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7778 13 59.5 7.9% 1 1 2 2 1 0
Frankie Jackson NB
13 29.5 3.9% 3 1 1 0 1 0
Artez Brown CB
13 23.0 3.1% 0.5 0 4 5 0 0
Sterling Wright NB 6'2, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 11 21.0 2.8% 2 0 0 1 0 0
Rocky Hayes CB 5'11, 177 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7900 12 21.0 2.8% 2 1 1 5 0 1
Charleston Girley SS 6'0, 196 Sr. NR N/A 5 16.5 2.2% 3 1.5 0 1 0 0
Brock Barnhill SS
13 13.0 1.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Blaise Taylor CB 5'9, 170 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8251 13 7.5 1.0% 1.5 0 0 0 1 0
Chris Humes DB 5'11, 207 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8510 2 7.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Charles Grant DB 5'11, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 8 6.0 0.8% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Khari Lain DB 5'10, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8015 12 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jamaris Hart CB 5'9, 163 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 11 4.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nehemiah Wagner DB 6'0, 170 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8220 7 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cody Brown DB 6'2, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100
Allan Sentimore DB 6'0, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7956
Avery Johnson DB 6'2, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8023

8. Some actual turnover (and optimism) in the back

Anderson's first recruiting class featured a pretty impressive haul of defensive backs, and quite a few of them got reserve playing time, presumably as preparation to take over.

ASU must replace both starting cornerbacks and two of three starting safeties in coordinator Joe Cauthen's 4-2-5. Granted, the secondary was probably responsible for quite a few enormous plays, but corners Andrew Tryon and Artez Brown were successfully aggressive, combining for six tackles for loss, six picks, and 14 break-ups. Replacing them doesn't guarantee improvement on the big-play front, but it could mean for a reduction in defense's own havoc plays.

Of course, there's still experience, so the reins might not have to completely go to the sophomores just yet. Charleston Girley began as a starter and made havoc plays before breaking his wrist, and 2013 starter Chris Humes tore his bicep against Tennessee. It probably isn't a coincidence that a lot of ASU's biggest breakdowns came after these two were lost for the year. If they're able to return to full strength and a sophomore like exciting corner Blaise Taylor is able to break through, then this secondary could perform as well as last year's.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Luke Ferguson 6'0, 210 Sr. 56 41.4 4 23 22 80.4%
Stephen Hogan 6'4, 210 Sr. 11 45.5 2 2 3 45.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Luke Ferguson 6'0, 210 Sr. 79 59.2 34 2 43.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Luke Ferguson 6'0, 210 Sr. 36-42 5-8 62.5% 3-7 42.9%
Logan Spry 5'11, 220 Sr. 16-18 3-3 100.0% 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Daryl Rollins-Davis KR 5'9, 175 So. 18 23.6 0
Blaise Taylor KR 5'9, 170 So. 12 24.5 0
Blaise Taylor PR 5'9, 170 So. 29 8.1 1
J.D. McKissic PR 5'11, 193 Sr. 3 -1.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 73
Field Goal Efficiency 122
Punt Return Efficiency 69
Kick Return Efficiency 29
Punt Efficiency 28
Kickoff Efficiency 71
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 4

9. Find a kicker

ASU's special teams produced good punts and kick returns and decent kickoffs and punt returns. All the primary reasons for that return, including hang-time punter Luke Ferguson and return man Blaise Taylor. They were key cogs in a lovely outfit.

But the place-kicking could have been costly. ASU was good at finishing drives in the end zone but still attempted 18 field goals, and of the 15 Ferguson tried, he only made eight. And he missed SIX PATs as well. Logan Spry took over place-kicking duties and made all three of his field goals, but none was over 40 yards, and he managed to miss two PATs as well.

ASU only played in two particularly close games, so this didn't make the difference it could have. But it could if either Ferguson, Spry, or some other option doesn't figure out how to turn kicks into points.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
5-Sep at USC 16
12-Sep Missouri 20
26-Sep at Toledo 59
? Missouri State NR
? Idaho 112
? Georgia State 122
? Texas State 95
? UL-Lafayette 72
? at Appalachian State 104
? at New Mexico State 124
? at South Alabama 89
? at UL-Monroe 97
Five-Year F/+ Rk -2.2% (65)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 88 / 86
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 6 / 2.6
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (9, 5)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 7.3 (-0.3)

10. Beat the Cajuns

The Sun Belt hasn't put out its official schedules yet -- we know the pairings, but not the dates. So hey, maybe it's not too late to make some changes to the slate? Like, change the fact that neither Arkansas State nor UL-Lafayette plays Georgia Southern? These might be the three best teams in the Sun Belt (though Appalachian State might have something to say about that), and the round-robin among them consists of one game. That's a shame.

No matter who's on the schedule, theRed Wolves boast more experience and depth than they should, and the offense both improved in 2014 and returns almost every weapon. They boast one of the league's best running backs (non-Elijah McGuire division) and receiving corps, and their defensive front six is active.

Plus, the two weak units -- offensive line and secondary -- might not be any weaker. And in the case of the secondary, you could make a case that it will be better.

So if almost every unit improves from a team that played at a 70th-percentile level for three-quarters of conference play ... well ... that sounds like a conference contender to me. Hell, it almost sounds like a conference favorite, especially if ASU can take down UL-Lafayette at home.