Turnover has been the theme for the Arkansas State Red Wolves since 2011, as the program has endured three head coaches in three seasons. In 2014, it will become four in four seasons as the Red Wolves hired Blake Anderson to take over for Bryan Harsin, who left to take the open Boise State Broncos position. He followed Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze, who both left to take SEC jobs at Auburn and Ole Miss.
The Red Wolves will hope that Anderson can bring some stability to the program and build upon the success of his predecessors. The last three seasons have netted two 10-win seasons, two outright Sun Belt championships and a share of the conference crown last season.
Anderson will have challenges and questions to answer if he wants to continue the run of success the Red Wolves have enjoyed the last few seasons, beginning with the offense.
The Red Wolves need to figure out who will replace Adam Kennedy at quarterback. The transfer from Utah State played well a year ago, completing almost 70 percent of his passes for 2363 yards. He also rushed for another 524 and totaled 15 touchdowns.
The favorite to replace Kennedy is Fredi Knighten. The rising junior played well in limited duty as a backup last season, but still is unproven. He’s known more for what he can do with his legs, totaling 344 yards last season and getting into the end zone five times.
If he can prove he throw the ball well downfield, he should hold on to the starter’s job this season.
One bright spot for the offense is returning leading rusher Michael Gordon, who rushed for 754 yards, 10 touchdowns, and has home run ability. They also return a big-play receiver in J.D. McKissic. If the Anderson and his staff get Knighten ready to play, the offense should still be strong.
The defense returns many of their leaders from a season ago. Leading tackler Qushaun Lee is back at linebacker after totaling 134 takedowns a season ago. Returning to the secondary is standout defensive back Rocky Hayes, who did it all a season ago — picking off three passes, notching a sack, three tackles for loss and totaling 46 tackles. Both are good blocks to build around heading into the fall.
In addition, the Red Wolves return six of nine players who played significant time in all 13 games during the 2013 season. That experience should help tremendously with a new coaching staff in place.
The biggest unknown is who can get pressure on the quarterback. Their sack leader from last season, Ryan Carrethers, is gone, but even he only totaled four sacks. Several players finished behind him at three, and the Red Wolves will need one of those guys to mature into a player that defensive coordinators need to game plan around.
The Red Wolves’ schedule sets up well for them to have a pretty good season. Their two toughest games are out of conference against the Tennessee Volunteers and Miami Hurricanes. Both of those games are in September and will take major upsets to win.
The rest of the schedule is winnable as there are no teams that Anderson’s Wolves can’t compete with. They also get Utah State at home, which should give them a real advantage against a team who won nine games a season ago. The toughest remaining game is on the road against Louisiana-Lafayette, a team that shared the Sun Belt title with Arkansas a year ago. Other than that, the Red Wolves will probably find themselves favored in every other game on the schedule.
If they can escape September with a .500 record, the worst they should expect is an eight-win season. All in all, 2014 sets up nicely for Arkansas State to continue its run of success atop the Sun Belt conference.