ASU Offense vs. A&M defense
The Red Wolves return 17 starters from a team that came within a recovered onside kick from having a shot at beating No. 4 Texas in the season opener in Austin last year, so don't expect the Red Wolves to be intimidated when they walk into Kyle Field. On the other hand, A&M players will know what they did to Texas a year ago, and with it being head coach Mike Sherman's first game in Aggieland, he'll no doubt have the players ready to go.
Arkansas State finished last season with a record of 5-7, which included losses to Florida Atlantic and Texas by a combined 11 points. The Red Wolves recovered an onside kick, but it was called back on a very questionable illegal procedure penalty that, in effect, ended the game, and any hopes they had of pulling off the major upset on the road in Austin.
And while they've got 17 of 22 starters returning, they'll have to replace their entire secondary, which will probably give them fits in the season opener against Texas A&M's new pro-style offense, a unit that is expected to air it out a great deal more than last season, regardless of who is behind the center.
Junior quarterback Corey Leonard, a 2007 semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, is a preseason All-Sun Belt Conference selection by several media outlets, including Phil Steele. Leonard completed 23-of-36 passes for 259 yards against the Longhorns last year with one interception.
He's joined by 2008 Rotary Lombardi candidate Matt Mandich, two-time All-Sun Belt running back Reggie Arnold, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry against Texas last year, and five of Arkansas State's top six receivers from a year ago.
ASU Defense vs. A&M Offense
Defense is a different story for ASU.
The Red Wolves lost six starters from the defensive side of the ball and will rely heavily on All-Sun Belt Conference defensive end Alex Carrington and senior defensive end Brian Flagg to try to get pressure on the A&M quarterback. The duo is considered to be the Red Wolves' biggest strength defensively, and should provide the inexperienced Aggie line with a moderate test before traveling to New Mexico the following week, but in the end, A&M should win that battle, barring any major injuries in fall practice.
Senior middle linebacker Ben Owens is another leader on the ASU defense, who will have to fill the shoes of last year's leading tackler and All-Sun Belt selection Koby McKinnon. But he'll have help from Javon McKinnon, who recorded 41 tackles last season, including a career high 11 tackles against nationally-ranked Tennessee. They've got decent depth at the position, so they'll be able to make some substitutions in the humid College Station stadium, but there are still questions at linebacker.
The secondary is entirely new this season and with it being the first game of the year, expect A&M's offense to try some new things down field, first, because it's an advantage the Aggies have, and secondly, to give the A&M offense a chance to work on this new-found art of the "down-field pass" that was such an enigma last season.
A&M has too many weapons on offense and more talent on defense for Arkansas State to stay in this game. It's the easiest game on the schedule for a reason, and should give Sherman and Co. a chance to rotate players at all positions as a tryout of sorts before hitting the road for New Mexico the following week. Because of those rotations though, the score will stay closer than you might think, and Arkansas State's offense may be able to put up some points in the Aggies' new defensive scheme as well.
Final Score: A&M 42 – ASU 13
For more information on the Red Wolves, check out their online media guide
COUNTDOWN 2008 - Arkansas State
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