2012 Red Wolves Pre-season Preview

Arkansas State is coming off its best season since joining the BCS, a 10 win season and an undefeated run through the Sun Belt Conference. Will the Red Wolves repeat that 10 win season? We have that answer and more in this AStateNation.com Pre-season team Preview.

Arkansas State is coming off its best season since joining the BCS, a 10 win season and an undefeated run through the Sun Belt Conference.

Hugh Freeze led ASU to 10 wins in his first season as the Red Wolves Head Coach

For new Head Football Coach Gus Malzahn that isn't good enough, he has even higher expectations for his Red Wolves.

This season's motto is taking it to the Next Level.

Arkansas State University caught teams off guard last season, Malzahn is the first to realize the target will on the backs of his football team.

Will Arkansas State better last year's 10 wins, that will depend on greatly on who will step for a Red Wolf defense that lost several key starters.

Don't sound the alarm just yet due to the defense losses, the offense returns a lot of key returners including the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year Ryan Aplin.

OFFENSE

Malzahn wants to have the fastest offense in the country.

The veteran offensive genius turned to one of his former players and assistant coaches Rhett Lashlee to be the offensive coordinator.

ASU returns starting quarterback Aplin who set all type of team records in his second year of the Freeze offense. Now he will learn a new offense that is somewhat similar to last year's but different in some key areas including terminology.

The league's offensive MVP finished his junior season with 304 completions out of 476 attempts for 3,588 yards for a 63 percent completion rate. He added another 588 yards on the ground out of 161 rush attempts.

Aplin has several of his top wide receivers returning including seniors Taylor Stockemer, Josh Jarboe and Allen Muse.

Stockemer finished his junior season with 48 receptions for 756 yards while Jarboe added another 730 yards on 54 catches.

Red shirt freshman J.D. McKissick will replace the lone senior wide out lost Dwayne Frampton. McKissick showed during ASU's Spring game recently that he can step in and fill in Frampton's departure.

Arkansas State's rushing attack may catch Sun Belt opponents by surprise.

If Auburn transfer Michael Dyer is eligible this fall, it could spell trouble for the Red Wolf opponents.

Dyer earned MVP in Auburn's National Championship as a true freshman before finishing his sophomore season with 1,242 yards on 242 attempts and 10 touchdowns.

Red Shirt sophomore Frankie Jackson also returns to the Red Wolves backfield along with Sir Gregory Thornton.

Arkansas State lost two starters on the offensive line, finding a center to replace long time starter Tom Castilaw will be a key challenge for veteran offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.

Senior Eric Allen is expected to fill the shoes of Castilaw, the key question will be who will start at left tackle?

Junior College transfer Deshaun Byrd is expected to compete for a starting role.

If the offensive line gels under Coach Grimes, this could be another season to remember offensively for Arkansas State.

DEFENSE

Perhaps the biggest turn around on last year's team was the Red Wolves defensive unit under Dave Wommack.

Wommack left after one year to join Freeze at Ole Miss, but Malzahn hired two defensive coordinators before finding the right one.

Keith Patterson from Pittsburgh was hired, he left a month later to take a job at West Virginia.

Then Malzahn turned to someone who was very familiar with Wommack and runs a similar defense, veteran coordinator John Thompson.

The ASU defense will be very similar but different terminology under Thompson, but that isn't the key concerns.

Replacing Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Joiner will be just the first challenge for Thompson and his new defensive staff.

If Thompson is going to duplicate Wommack's success, a top 20 defensive unit in the Nation, several underclassmen are going to have to step up and play key roles.

Other key losses include defensive tackle Dorvus Woods, middle linebacker DeMario Davis and standout free safety Kelcie McCray.

Returning just two starters in Nathan Herrold and part time starter Sterling Young, finding guys to step up and replace some of the key losses will be the major question for Malzahn and Thompson.

Senior defensive end Tim Starson, who played a lot last year as a junior behind Joiner, will be the guy at one end position while JC transfer Lawrence Cayou will compete with Starson at one end position while Shervarius Jackson is expected to play the other end position. Ishmael Hayes from Blinn Junior College is expected to compete right away for playing time.

Ryan Carrethers is expected to step up and play in place of Woods, and JC transfer Dexter Blackmon will compete for a starting role as well. Amos Draper had a great spring and is expected to see action. Junior college transfer John Gandy is also expected to see playing time.

Junior college linebacker Eddie Porter is expected to play aside Herrold and Qushaun Lee and Nick Nelms.

Perhaps the most talented player on the defensive side of the ball and maybe the entire team is safety Don Jones.

Jones returned a blocked punt during the second quarter of ASU's victory over Troy, extending the Red Wolves' lead to 17-0.  It marked the second time this season that Jones returned a blocked punt for a score, also taking one into the end zone in the Red Wolves' 24-19 victory at ULM Oct. 8.  He earned SBC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his play against ULM as well.  Against Troy, Jones also recorded a career-high 10 tackles and his first career interception.

Sophomore Arkansas native Artez Brown is expected to play in the defensive secondary this fall along with Young and Jones. Others expected to compete for playing time include Andrew Tyron, Terrious Tripplett to name a couple.

AStateNation's Projection: This is a team that will get better as the season progresses, thank goodness after opening at Oregon and on the road at Nebraska for game three.

This team has a lot of answered questions on the defensive side of the ball, but we are betting that John Thompson will find those answers will some young but very talented players.

Will this team win 10 games again in 2012, our answer is yes!

9-3 Regular season is our projection and winning a Bowl game to get that 10th win again in 2012. Two tough road trips to Miami and Lafayette will make it tough for the Red Wolves to go undefeated through conference play again, but look for ASU to win at least a share of the title again for the second straight year.