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1. Playing for keeps
It's really fun to talk about the Sun Belt's new kids. During the conference realignment frenzy of a few years ago, C-USA replaced what it had lost with long-term plays and the biggest possible markets. It plucked away some Sun Belt schools, added some startups, and made a lot of moves that a) made sense in theory and b) did nothing to help the actual on-field product in the short-term.
The Sun Belt, meanwhile, aimed for quality. In replacing what C-USA had plucked away, the SBC went out and nabbed Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, two of FCS' recent dynasties. Both programs stumbled as they got ready to make the jump, but both immediately improved and thrived once in FBS. The result: In terms of S&P+ averages, the Sun Belt was actually a better conference than Conference USA last year.
But as good as Georgia Southern and Appalachian State were, neither won the league. Arkansas State did. Blake Anderson's Red Wolves stumbled to a 1-3 start in non-conference play, then hit the turbo button. They were the steadiest team in Sun Belt action, thumping Appalachian State in Boone and scoring at least 37 points in every conference game. Their November run was particularly impressive, so impressive that Vegas couldn't keep up: In four November games, ASU overachieved compared to the spread by an average of 16.6 points per game (and overachieved S&P+ by an average of 22.2).
And then they went out and landed not only the third-best recruiting class in the conference (per the 247Sports Composite), but also a boatload of intriguing transfers: former Oklahoma quarterback Justice Hansen, former Alabama defensive lineman Dee Liner, former all-star TCU return man Cameron Echols-Luper, etc.
Anderson is playing for keeps in Jonesboro. Not only is he actually still in town -- from 2010-14, ASU had a different coach each year, so this is actually a rather impressive note -- but he's putting together what will probably be, on paper, the most athletic team in the conference. Talk about the newbies all you want, but ASU's got the crown and seems intent on keeping it.
Almost every year in my Arkansas State preview, I talk about ASU's previously announced intentions to become the "Boise State of the South." That was a particularly easy comparison to make when the Red Wolves hired former Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin in 2013. But by hiring Anderson to replace Harsin (when Harsin left for, predictably, BSU), they might have found someone who is willing to stick around long enough to realize this ideal. ASU has upgraded its facilities and is evidently giving Anderson enough resources to land some high-caliber athletes. It's going to be particularly interesting to see what he might build here if he stays long enough.
2015 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 71 | Final S&P+ Rk: 79|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|Sept. 5||at USC||17||6-55||L||1%||0%||-31.9||-22.0|
|Sept. 19||Missouri State||N/A||70-7||W||86%||100%||+38.5|
|Sept. 26||at Toledo||20||7-37||L||9%||0%||-22.4||-22.5|
|Oct. 13||at South Alabama||102||49-31||W||58%||93%||+13.2||+13.0|
|Oct. 31||Georgia State||87||48-34||W||70%||93%||+0.5||-4.5|
|Nov. 5||at Appalachian State||42||40-27||W||69%||74%||+29.2||+23.5|
|Nov. 14||at UL-Monroe||121||59-21||W||65%||98%||+23.4||+23.5|
|Nov. 28||at New Mexico State||118||52-28||W||62%||97%||+12.8||+7.0|
|Dec. 5||Texas State||116||55-17||W||84%||100%||+23.4||+12.5|
|Dec. 19||vs. Louisiana Tech||57||28-47||L||12%||1%||-13.7||-17.0|
|Points Per Game||40.0||12||30.2||86|
2. Consistency kills
Technically, Georgia Southern had more great performances than Arkansas State did, hitting the 85th percentile or higher in seven games while ASU did so only twice. Appalachian State hit that mark three times. So did Troy, for that matter.
But all three of those teams also laid eggs in conference play. And after a bumpy ride through the non-conference portion of the schedule, ASU was stunningly consistent. In their first seven Sun Belt games, the Red Wolves were between the 58th and 70th percentile each time. And in the eighth, with a chance to claim the conference title outright, they jumped to 84 percent. This team figured out what it wanted to become early in the year, then became it during the important games.
- Five non-conference games (including the bowl):
Average percentile performance: 26 percent (~top 95) | Yards per play: Opp 6.1, ASU 4.9
- Eight conference games:
Average percentile performance: 68 percent (~top 40) | Yards per play: ASU 6.4, Opp 5.5
There's something to be said for using non-conference games as a testing ground and treating conference play as the real season. We don't completely know that's what happened here -- for all we know, the timing of the improvement was purely coincidental, and it certainly bears mentioning that Appalachian State is the only top-75 opponent ASU actually played well against. This could have also been an athleticism thing, where if the Red Wolves had a speed advantage, they were unstoppable (and if they didn't, they had no answers). But whether it was supposed to work out this way or not, it did, and the Red Wolves ended up with their third nine-win season in five years.
If ASU is to pull that off for a fourth time in six years, however, some new pieces will have to very quickly click into place.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.4%||32||Succ. Rt. +||103.5||58|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||26.3||6||Def. FP+||30.1||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.5||61||Redzone S&P+||101.8||68|
|Q1 Rk||64||1st Down Rk||58|
|Q2 Rk||77||2nd Down Rk||67|
|Q3 Rk||57||3rd Down Rk||31|
3. A change ... sort of
Fredi Knighten's limitations were pretty clear by the time his career ended. He was only so much of a passer and wasn't going to be able to carry the offense without getting his legs involved. But ASU's run game was awfully dangerous with him at the helm, and offensive coordinator Walt Bell was able to craft a high-tempo, run-first offense around his skills.
Maryland hired Bell away, however, but Anderson was able to lure another well-regarded spread guy to town: former MTSU offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner. Under Faulkner, MTSU's tempo was basically the same, but he employed pass-first tendencies and leaned heavily on his quarterback on passing downs.
With the turnover ASU is experiencing at quarterback and in the skill positions, now wouldn't be the most awkward time for a change in identity, but there's no question that the Red Wolves will be dealing with major continuity issues this year.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|James Tabary||6'2, 195||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7926||65||105||788||4||6||61.9%||10||8.7%||6.2|
|Cameron Birse||6'2, 213||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7917||4||4||37||0||0||100.0%|
|D.J. Pearson||6'2, 190||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8458|
|Justice Hansen||6'4, 220||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8530|
|Logan Bonner||6'1, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7895|
4. Everything depends on the quarterback
With the quarterbacks on hand to replace Knighten, I'm doubting Faulkner will have to stray from his pass-happy ways. Sophomore James Tabary (last year's backup) and junior Cameron Birse were both regarded as pro-style guys in high school, as was Justice Hansen when he was a four-star OU commit from Edmond (Okla.).
Tabary was hit-or-miss in an extended audition last year, completing a higher percentage of his passes than Knighten but struggling mightily with picks, sacks (as freshmen sometimes do). One figures that the winner of a battle between these three, plus redshirt freshman D.J. Pearson and incoming freshman Logan Bonner, will produce a solid signal caller. But that's still only an assumption until it's proven correct. [Update: Tabary transferred to McNeese State this offseason.]
|Warren Wand||RB||5'5, 174||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7959||117||707||5||6.0||6.3||43.6%||2||1|
|Johnston White||RB||5'11, 180||Jr.||NR||NR||99||616||14||6.2||6.7||41.4%||1||1|
|Logan Moragne||RB||5'9, 195||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7889||20||203||1||10.2||12.6||50.0%||1||1|
|James Tabary||QB||6'2, 195||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7926||8||-15||0||-1.9||0.0||0.0%||5||1|
|DeKeathan Williams||RB||6'1, 212||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||6||31||0||5.2||1.3||66.7%||0||0|
|Terrance Hollingsworth||RB||5'9, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7785|
|Brandon Byner||RB||5'11, 177||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000|
|Jamal Jones||RB||5'9, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8013|
|Armond Weh-Weh||RB||6'0, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8300|
|Torrance Marable||RB||5'9, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Dijon Paschal||WR||6'1, 196||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8315||50||28||541||56.0%||15.2%||10.8||58.0%||48.0%||2.11|
|Warren Wand||RB||5'5, 174||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7959||22||18||135||81.8%||6.7%||6.1||54.5%||40.9%||1.48|
|Chris Murray||SLOT||5'9, 178||Sr.||NR||NR||16||11||187||68.8%||4.9%||11.7||75.0%||56.2%||2.20|
|Blake Mack||WR||6'3, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7959||16||7||86||43.8%||4.9%||5.4||50.0%||25.0%||1.82|
|Warren Leapheart||TE||6'5, 242||Sr.||NR||0.7700||11||5||77||45.5%||3.3%||7.0||45.5%||45.5%||1.20|
|Sterling Stowers||WR||5'10, 198||Sr.||NR||NR||7||5||51||71.4%||2.1%||7.3||71.4%||71.4%||0.95|
|Darveon Brown||WR||5'11, 176||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8253|
|Omar Bayless||WR||6'3, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8133|
|Jaylon Marshall||WR||6'2, 190||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7963|
|Kendall Sanders||WR||6'0, 187||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9492|
|Cameron Echols-Luper||WR||6'0, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8588|
|Christian Booker||WR||5'11, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389|
|Justin McInnis||WR||6'6, 190||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8530|
|Brandon Bowling||WR||5'9, 168||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793|
Whoever wins the quarterback job will have a hell of an offensive line blocking for him. ASU returns two all-conference linemen (guard Colton Jackson, tackle Jemar Clark) and five other players with starting experience from last year's unit. ASU struggled with glitches up front -- 91st in stuff rate, 94th in passing downs sack rate -- but some of that had to do with injury and shuffling, and some had to do with Knighten's tendency to scramble around and try to make something happen. If the injury bug is at least a little bit benevolent, the line should be fine. And that might be the single biggest asset a new quarterback can have.
The next-biggest asset: having guys who can catch the ball and/or run with it. ASU might have them, but the two-deep at running back, receiver and tight end is going to look completely different this year.
Most of the ASU names college football fans have come to know in recent years are finally gone, from Knighten, to explosive running back Michael Gordon, to wobbly (in a good way) slot receiver JD McKissic, to deep threat Tres Houston.
This is a lot of breakthrough talent to lose when you're not signing top-50 recruiting classes. But there's hope in both youngsters and transfer. Sophomore Warren Wand and junior Johnston White nearly matched Gordon's productivity last year, combining to rush 216 times for 1,323 yards and 19 touchdowns and producing similar rates of efficiency and explosiveness. And a couple of recent three-star recruits -- redshirt freshman Jamal Jones and JUCO transfer Armond Weh-Weh -- wait for their opportunity.
And despite losing some wonderful talent at the receiver position, it's impossible not to be a little bit excited about the replacements. The return of junior Dijon Paschal helps. In two seasons, he has caught 66 passes and averaged a stellar 10.9 yards per target. He has been basically a co-No. 1 target with McKissic and Houston, and he could be primed for a big year.
Beyond Paschal, there is almost no proven talent but a whole lot of potential. Texas transfer Kendall Sanders is a former four-star recruit, and TCU transfer Cameron Echols-Luper was an absurdly impressive return man two years ago. JUCOs Christian Booker and Justin McInnis also join the mix, giving the Red Wolves an experienced, inexperienced unit.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Colton Jackson||RG||6'4, 276||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826||13||39||2015 1st All-Sun Belt|
|Jemar Clark||LT||6'6, 304||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8494||8||20||2015 1st All-Sun Belt|
|Devin Mondie||C||6'5, 291||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7749||11||23|
|Austin Moreton||LG||6'1, 318||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||13||14|
|Joseph Bacchus||RT||6'5, 275||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7852||11||11|
|Daniel Keith||LT||6'2, 275||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7835||5||5|
|Brandon Berg||C||6'2, 276||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7585||2||2|
|Cameron Davis||OL||6'4, 280||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8281|
|Dalton Ford||OL||6'4, 295||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8081|
|Jamal Fontenot||RG||6'4, 300||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR|
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||35.5%||15||Succ. Rt. +||107.9||40|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||34.7||2||Off. FP+||30.4||55|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.6||88||Redzone S&P+||94.3||90|
|Q1 Rk||38||1st Down Rk||58|
|Q2 Rk||90||2nd Down Rk||102|
|Q3 Rk||73||3rd Down Rk||69|
There's a chance the offensive identity could change with a new offensive coordinator, even if it's basically just a shift in how the ball is distributed. But one assumes the Red Wolves will still move quickly and aggressively on offense while maintaining a perfectly symmetrical identity on defense.
ASU attacked you in 2015. The Red Wolves had no interest in a bend-don't-break routine. They created havoc plays and three-and-outs, and they were willing to give up big plays in the process. (And they certainly gave up big plays: 78 gains of 20-plus yards, 115th in the country.)
In this regard, Arkansas State was like Arizona State in that a single identity pervaded on every unit. And assuming the new pieces on offense click quickly enough to move the ball relatively well, the aggressive defense should have the experience and depth to do some nasty things.
The Red Wolves return 10 of their top 12 defensive linemen, six of seven linebackers, and, though three starters are gone in the secondary, eight other experienced pieces return. A large portion of the two-deep is back. Trade one big play for one more havoc play per game, and ASU could improve from 81st in Def. S&P+ into at least the 60s or so.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ja'Von Rolland-Jones||DE||6'2, 224||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||13||30.0||4.4%||12.5||8.5||1||1||4||0|
|Waylon Roberson||NG||6'2, 338||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7867||13||26.0||3.8%||2.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Chase Robison||BANDIT||6'4, 234||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8298||13||13.5||2.0%||7.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Chuks Ota||NG||6'2, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8133||12||10.0||1.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Caleb Caston||DE||6'2, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7533||13||9.0||1.3%||2.0||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Darrius Rosser||DT||6'3, 284||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||11||8.0||1.2%||6.5||3.5||0||1||0||0|
|Jake Swalley||DT||6'2, 292||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7919||13||6.5||1.0%||3.5||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Donovan Ransom||NG||6'1, 270||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826||6||5.5||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Griffin Riggs||BANDIT||6'3, 235||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8302||13||3.5||0.5%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Clifford Thomas||DT||6'2, 280||Jr.||NR||NR||5||3.0||0.4%||0.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Chris Odom||DE||6'3, 234||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7783||11||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Hudson||DE||6'4, 265||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7611||8||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|E.J. Sutton||DT||6'3, 275||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7659|
|Javier Carbonell||NG||6'2, 285||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8000|
|T.J. Harris||DE||6'2, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793|
|Dee Liner||DE||6'3, 295||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9756|
|Dajon Emory||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8000|
|William Bradley-King||DE||6'4, 240||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Khari Lain||WILL||5'10, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8015||13||64.5||9.5%||7.5||2.0||1||2||0||0|
|Xavier Woodson-Luster||MIKE||6'1, 214||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8094||10||56.0||8.2%||5.5||1.0||2||3||2||0|
|Quanterio Heath||MIKE||6'2, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8138||13||23.5||3.4%||1.0||0.5||1||0||0||0|
|Tajhea Chambers||WILL||6'2, 215||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8137||2||8.0||1.2%||2.5||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jarrod Chandler||LB||6'2, 205||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7733||12||7.5||1.1%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ben Gallagher||LB||6'3, 215||Jr.||NR||NR||9||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Avery Johnson||LB||6'2, 210||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8023|
|Kyle Wilson||LB||6'0, 226||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7600|
|Vada King||LB||6'1, 230||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7885|
7. Speed, speed, speed
This front seven should be so much fun to watch. Ends Ja'Von Rolland-Jones and Chase Robison combined for 20 tackles for loss (Rolland-Jones also forced four fumbles), Waylon Roberson is a monstrous nose tackle, all the second stringers are back, and now Dee Liner and three-star JUCO Dajon Emory join the party. The Red Wolves were leaky in the red zone, but they stopped nearly one quarter of rushes in the backfield and created decent push in short-yardage. And if Liner in particular can add a little more heft to go with the play-making, all the better.
Meanwhile, the Red Wolves have the deepest set of linebackers in the conference. Khari Lain and Xavier Woodson-Luster were solid, disruptive forces, and then-freshman Tajhea Chambers was flashing major playmaking potential before getting hurt against Missouri.
Six is an issue at linebacker -- of the seven returnees listed, the biggest is 215 pounds -- but the Red Wolves seem to have enough size at tackle to offset some of that. Meanwhile, the speed is top-notch. ASU had a top-30 havoc rate last year, and it's not hard to see that ranking improving.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cody Brown||SS||6'2, 204||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8100||13||52.5||7.7%||2.5||0||3||9||0||0|
|Chris Humes||FS||5'11, 207||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8510||13||41.0||6.0%||0.5||0||2||6||0||0|
|Money Hunter||SS||6'1, 193||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7778||13||35.5||5.2%||1||0||3||4||1||0|
|Justin Clifton||NB||6'0, 207||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7883||10||23.5||3.4%||4.5||1||1||1||1||0|
|Blaise Taylor||CB||5'9, 170||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8251||11||21.5||3.2%||1||0||1||7||0||0|
|Jamaris Hart||CB||5'9, 163||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7956||13||20.5||3.0%||1.5||1.5||1||6||0||0|
|Nehemiah Wagner||DB||6'0, 170||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8220||13||11.5||1.7%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Bo Sentimore||FS||6'0, 181||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7956||2||8.0||1.2%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Brandon Byner||CB||5'11, 177||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||6||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Charles Grant||FS||5'11, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8026||5||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sterling Wright||NB||6'2, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000|
|Mark Johnson||DB||6'2, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7544|
|Landon James-Wilson||CB||6'0, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7885|
|Chauncey Mason||FS||5'9, 190||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8074|
|Ben Sukut||S||6'1, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8274|
|B.J. Edmonds||S||6'0, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8322|
8. Depth in the back?
Despite losing starting safety Bo Sentimore in the second game, ASU still ranked 22nd in Passing Success Rate+, allowing just a 54 percent completion rate and picking off 26 passes. There was risk with the reward -- opponents also averaged 13.1 yards per completion -- but ASU at least had enough athletes to do some damage.
There might be a question of depth this year. Eleven defensive backs recorded at least seven tackles last year, and eight return, which is good. But losing corner Rocky Hayes and safety Charleston Girley hurts at least a little bit. Hayes was particularly active, and Girley had solid size and speed for the nickel.
Last year's backups certainly showed potential, though, so it's hard to worry too much. Justin Clifton was bigger than Girley and made more plays, and corners Blaise Taylor and Jamaris Hart combined to defense 15 passes. Plus, Bo Sentimore returns -- he began the year as starter but lasted only two games before injuring his ankle.
Combine those players with returning seniors Cody Brown and Money Hunter, and the starting five in the back should be sound, and it appears this unit will roll eight to 10 deep again.
|JD Houston||5'11, 165||Sr.||43-45||11-12||91.7%||1-2||50.0%|
|Drew White||5'8, 195||Sr.||19-20||0-2||0.0%||1-1||100.0%|
|Blaise Taylor||PR||5'9, 170||Jr.||24||13.4||1|
|Chris Murray||PR||5'9, 178||Sr.||10||9.1||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||47|
|Field Goal Efficiency||80|
|Punt Return Success Rate||23|
|Kick Return Success Rate||7|
|Punt Success Rate||73|
|Kickoff Success Rate||26|
9. A great return man leaves, and a great return man steps in
It really seemed like McKissic spent about nine years in an ASU uniform. He averaged 27.3 yards per kick return in his lengthy career, and losing a guy of that caliber would be a concern ... if a potentially strong return man weren't moving in. Cameron Echols-Luper doesn't have a ton of kick return experience, but in two years at TCU, he averaged 11.4 yards per punt return, and between Echols-Luper and junior Blaise Taylor, the odds are good that ASU will have a good kick return man.
If returns don't regress, this is should be a good special teams unit. JD Houston was mostly fine in place-kicking, and while Luke Ferguson was a solid kickoffs guy, his punt efficiency was at least replaceable.
2016 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|17-Sep||at Utah State||73||-7.8||33%|
|3-Nov||at Georgia State||105||2.1||55%|
|12-Nov||New Mexico State||117||13.3||78%|
|3-Dec||at Texas State||120||6.9||66%|
|Projected wins: 6.8|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-0.6% (61)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||85 / 85|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||8 / 0.7|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+2.8|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||53% (37%, 69%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||8.8 (0.2)|
10. Seriously, just find a quarterback
S&P+ projections use recruiting rankings but don't take transfers into account. If they did, ASU would almost certainly be projected higher than 89th heading into next season.
But the biggest reason for this conservative projection is the lost production at quarterback and receiver. And knowing what we know about incoming transfers at QB and WR, it's not hard to see some pieces clicking and ASU playing at a level much higher than 89th. And if ASU plays at even a No. 75 level or so, the Red Wolves would be pretty serious Sun Belt contenders once again.
As it stands, ASU is given at least a 50 percent chance of winning in seven games and at least 40 percent in two more. And the team will have a chance to explode out of the gates in conference play -- four of the first SBC games are at home before a strange set of three (winnable) road trips to finish up. Beat Georgia Southern on Oct. 5, and the Red Wolves will likely be conference favorites into mid-November.
Arkansas State has a plan and appears to be implementing it well. The Red Wolves might have the fastest team in the conference, and if a couple of new pieces gel quickly, this could be a damn strong team. Commitment and good hires get you pretty far in college football, even at the mid-major level, and ASU is proof of that.