An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Red Wolves.
Why They Might Look Familiar: Along with many other schools, Arkansas State avoided the evil eye of the NCAA by swapping the politically-incorrect mascot "Indians" for "Red Wolves" in 2007, inexpicably bypassing such promising options as the Arkansas State Vine-Ripe Pink Tomatoes, the Arkansas State Bubblin' Hot Springs and the Arkansas State We're Sorry For Producing John Grishams. Otherwise, there's not much to recognize here.
The Indians/Red Wolves have been to one bowl game in school history (the 2005 New Orleans Bowl, which didn't even earn them a trip to the post-Katrina Big Easy; the game was staged in Lafayette) and don't look to be in a position to break into the bowl-eligible tier of the Sun Belt anytime soon. ASU was part of an interesting "Paint Bucket Rivalry" with nearby Memphis, a series dating back in the 1950s, wherein the winning team was allowed to selectively vandalize the other school's campus. Stop and imagine the kind of carnage that would entail today, then write your governors and get that tradition reupped, pronto. (Please don't miss the "Milk and Cookies" section in the above link, which is pretty much the best idea in the history of college football.)
Previously on: 2009 went down as an uninspiring slog to 4-8 with a sixth-place finish in the Sun Belt standings. The Red Wolves did get in one good lick, an opening week 61-0 walloping of Mississippi Valley State. Amid a slew of disappointingly close losses, the team's only other wins came at the expense of Florida International, North Texas, and Western Kentucky, otherwise known as the only three teams in the Sun Belt worse than Arkansas State.
The Red Wolves do have a reputation for occasionally putting the pesky screws to one unlucky monied program per season – see their unexpectedly feisty effort at Texas in the '07 opener and their outright upset at Texas A&M to initiate the Mike Sherman era in College Station in '08 – and the unlucky victim in 2009 was Iowa. ASU fell in Iowa City, 24-21, but not before putting a scare into the eventual Orange Bowl champs with a 14-point fourth-quarter run.
Encounters in the wild: The out-of-conference slate is a bit of a dilly this year. The Red Wolves open the season at Auburn, with later road dates at Louisville on Oct. 2, Indiana on Oct. 16 and Navy on Nov. 20. They also get one of those rare, random Tuesday night slots on the ESPN family, hosting Middle Tennessee State in primetime on Nov. 2.
Stock characters: Former Ole Miss assistant Hugh Freeze, quite literally a character some readers might recall from "The Blind Side," joined up as offensive coordinator in February, just weeks after being hired at San Jose State. Freeze had been a finalist for the vacancy earlier in the year, and took the opportunity to return to the South when the guy who beat him out for the job, Clay Helton, was hired away by Lane Kiffin at Southern Cal.
Freeze must really love the neighborhood, because he inherits an offense that loses four-year starters at quarterback (Corey Leonard) and running back (Reggie Arnold), both of its top two receivers and three starters on the offensive line. The likely quarterback is Ryan Aplin, backup QB and second-leading rusher in '09, who started a handful of late games due to injury. The Red Wolves led the conference in total and scoring defense, and return the core of that unit despite losing six starters – MD Jennings and interception leader Kelcie McCray at safety, and a pack of experienced linebackers led by tackle leader Demario Davis. Your requisite outstandingly-named player is incoming freshman Sirgregory Thornton, surely a star in the making.
Prognosis: With only five home games and a stingy non-conference schedule, it's tough to be optimistic. Then again, there's no way any of the three teams below ASU in the Sun Belt improve enough to close the gap. Say they beat those three and steal one from a talent-depleted Florida Atlantic for good measure to finish in the 4-8 range again, a territory they should find fairly familiar.
- - - Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.
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Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.