Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Arkansas State Red Wolves

Arkansas State Red Wolves
The Wolves had one of the best runs going in FBS football to finish last season, as they closed out 2016 on an 8-1 run. The challenge now is to take that run and extend it into the 2017 season, but that is going to be a difficult thing to do, as they open at Nebraska and Miami, with another road trip to SMU in week four of the schedule. Can the Red Wolves overcome that meat grinder schedule early to go on another late run for a shot at a Sun Belt title later?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Justice Hanson returns at QB after an impressive effort in 2016. He passed for 2719 yards and 19 TDs to eight INTs, and averaged 209.2 yards passing per game as a sophomore. With that full year under his belt, he should show some major development as we head into the 2017 season, as long as that early schedule does not wreck him.

Hanson should be able to spread the ball around again this fall, as leading receiver Blake Mack returns at TE, as do WRs Dijon Paschal, Chris Murray, and Christian Booker. Mack led the team with 34 receptions for 652 yards, and averaged over 19 yards per catch.

The Tackle spots look to be solid, as juniors Lanard Bonner and Jamal Fontenot take the field.

What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The run game gets Warren Wand back, as he was the leading rusher last season, but if ASU is going to have any success, sustainable success anyway, the run game is going to have to show serious improvement over last season. The entire rushing attack for Arkansas State averaged just 3.45 yards per carry.

The line has some issues on the interior, with both Guards and the Center all projected to be sophomores or freshman. Both Guard spots (Dalton Ford, Troy Elliott) are sophomores, while C Jacob Still will be a RS freshman.

A new PK will need to be found in camp as well, as JD Houston, who struggled last season, is gone. Sawyer Williams, a RS sophomore, is projected to start there.

What To Be Excited About: Defense
Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, is one of the best DEs in the nation after a season in which he collected 21.5 TFLs on the year. He finished with 13 sacks, and seven more QB hurries last fall, and added 57 total tackles. Dee Liner is back at DT, and added eight more TFLs, and Donovan Ransom takes up a ton of space at NT to allow the edge guys to get loose.

LB Kyle Wilson is also one of the best LBs in the nation that nobody is talking about, as he finished last fall with 16 TFLs, and 80 tackles overall. He averaged 6.15 tackles per game.

Justin Clifton excelled at the NB spot last season, and finished second on the team with 87 tackles. He added five PBUs and a pair of INTs. Blaise Taylor is also a top flight talent coming back at CB, as he finished with nine PBUs last season, and tied for the team lead with three INTs.

What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Wilson does not have a ton of help coming at LB. Caleb Caston is the projected starter at the BANDIT position, but finished with 11 tackles overall last season. Trent Ellis-Brewer is just a sophomore, and saw very little action last fall. Sophomore Kirk Louis could push him in camp, while Griffin Riggs will look for time at the BANDIT spot.

The secondary has some glaring holes as we head into camp, and none bigger than at FS, where the depth chart is wide open. BJ Edmonds is also looking to establish himself at the SS spot, and will be getting very little help. Nehemiah Wagner is also a question mark at the CB spot opposite Taylor.

The Punting game could be a problem as well, as Damon Foncham struggled last season to a 39.3 yard per punt average.

2017 Schedule
9/2 at Nebraska, 9/9 Miami, 9/16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 9/23 at SMU, 10/4 at Georgia Southern, 10/14 Coastal Carolina, 10/19 Louisiana-Lafayette, 10/28 at New Mexico State, 11/11 at South Alabama, 11/18 Texas State, 11/25 at UL-Monroe, 12/2 Troy

Final Overview
The early schedule could crush the team's spirit before the year even gets out of the first month. It is very likely that Arkansas State could start the year at just 1-4 before coming home to take on Coastal Carolina on 10/14, and that game is no lock. If the Red Wolves are going to put together another run to save themselves like they did last season, they are going to have to hope for some miracles along the way. It could get bumpy this fall, especially when the defense takes the field with issues in the back eight.

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