The Arkansas State Red Wolves are our last team in the West Division preview but have been projected to finish first in the division across the board.
There’s a good reason for that.
Blake Anderson has built a monster in Jonesboro, one that has dominated Sun Belt opponents for four years. The Red Wolves are 26-6 in conference play under Anderson and have a pair of Sun Belt championships in the era.
As the conference itself enters a new era, the Red Wolves have their sights set on hosting the Sun Belt’s first championship game in December.
Quarterback Justice Hansen forced his way into the top Group of Five QB group after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns last season.
The former Sooner was electric in 2017 but hit a few speed bumps along the way. Eleven of Hansen’s 16 interceptions came in just three different games.
Hansen completed just 46.2 percent of his passes and tossed four picks against Georgia Southern and the Red Wolves still won by triple digits.
That’s both a testament to how complete Anderson’s team is and to how bad Georgia Southern was last year.
Despite losing receiver Chris Murray and All-Conference tight end Blake Mack, Hansen will have plenty to throw to this year.
Big play threat Justin McInnis is back after gaining 800 receiving yards on 16.3 yards per catch last season. Omar Bayless is also back after catching six touchdown passes and 32 passes total in 2017.
Arkansas State also has a trio of former Power Five players on the edge who all have breakout potential. Kendrick Edwards had 32 receptions for the Red Wolves last year while Dahu Green and the controversial Kirk Merritt will be entering their first years of eligibility with Arkansas State.
With the departure of Johnston White, last year’s running back 1A Warren Wand will be the Red Wolves feature back this season.
Wand has had a consistent career, tallying up rushing totals of 707, 879 and 715 in his career. Juniors Jamal Jones and Chauncey Mason will see an increased role in a group that shouldn’t see any drop off.
The offensive line returns 50 total starts, ranking ninth in an experienced Sun Belt. Senior Lanard Bonner anchors the group and is in line for a big season.
On defense, the Red Wolves lost several key players but shouldn’t have much problem reloading at linebacker and in the backfield.
Javon Rolland-Jones and his 42 career sacks are gone as well as Blaise Taylor’s six interceptions and 1,881 career all-purpose yards.
Linebacker Kyle Wilson, last year’s leading tackler, and defensive back Kyle Martin have graduated, too. Despite the attrition, 63.3 percent of Arkansas State’s 2017 tackles are returning this season.
Among the players expected to play big roles is linebacker Trent Ellis-Brewer. The Lower Alabama native had 35 tackles last year, 3.5 for loss. The junior also had a forced fumble and interception to add to his stat sheet.
Tajhea Chambers and Caleb Bonner will add depth to a unit that could be just as good as last year’s.
Justin Clifton returns at corner as one of the Sun Belt’s top returning cornerbacks and has safety BJ Edmonds roaming the field with him.
While the defensive line will have to fill several holes, don’t expect much drop off from the Arkansas State defense.
Arkansas State has the talent to beat every team on its schedule not named Alabama. Even with the Crimson Tide, the non-conference schedule is light. Tulsa and UNLV are the other two FBS programs the Red Wolves must face out of conference. Arkansas State also avoids Troy and gets both Appalachian State and Louisiana-Monroe at home. 11-1, 8-0
While nearly every game is winnable, running through the Sun Belt unscathed is a tall order. Teams like Georgia Southern could exploit the Red Wolves DL weakness and cause Arkansas State to stumble. 7-5, 5-3
West Division Previews