COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Gus Malzahn, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Rhett Lashlee | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Thompson
The Red Wolves’ hopes for another conference championship begin with Ryan Aplin, the 2011 Sun Belt Player of the Year. Aplin ranked 10th nationally in total offense last year at the helm of a spread offense comparable to Gus Malzahn’s fast-paced scheme. Malzahn, now the head coach at Arkansas State, loves his quarterback’s accuracy and ability to improvise when plays break down, though the coach won’t ask Aplin to carry the ball as much as he did while leading ASU in rushing last season.
Senior receivers Taylor Stockemer and Josh Jarboe can stretch the field with their size and speed. Stockemer caught seven touchdown passes last year and finished the season with 11 catches in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Jarboe missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, as did senior wideout Allen Muse. Both should be ready for the season.
With Auburn transfer Michael Dyer waiting his turn in 2013, the running game will be in the hands of sophomore Frankie Jackson, an elusive runner who scored six touchdowns in an injury-plagued 2011 season. The offensive line has to replace three starters while adapting to the blocking scheme required in Malzahn’s downhill run game.
The system may not change dramatically under new coordinator John Thompson, but the personnel won’t be the same. ASU lost seven starters and a number of top backups from an attacking unit that ranked near the top of the Sun Belt in most categories.
Ryan Carrethers and Amos Draper plug the interior line, but the Red Wolves need a pass-rusher to emerge at end after losing SBC Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Joiner, who had 13 of the team’s 35 sacks. ASU signed four junior college defensive linemen, including three ends, to shore up the line.
The picture is brighter at linebacker with the return of Nathan Herrold, Qushaun Lee and Nick Nelms. Herrold, the No. 3 tackler on last year’s squad, is especially tough against the run. Blinn (Texas) College transfer Eddie Porter should also make an impact.
ASU has to replace two All-Sun Belt cornerbacks, but returns Don Jones and Sterling Young at safety. Jones, one of the team’s top athletes, makes plays all over the field from a hybrid safety/linebacker position. The two safeties were fourth and fifth on the team in tackles last year.
Brian Davis isn’t a long-range threat, but he is accurate inside 40 yards, and he made 18-of-23 field goal attempts last year. Neely Sullivent and Ryan Wilbourn are adequate punters. Defensive back Andrew Tryon averaged 30.8 yards on 10 kick returns.
Hugh Freeze moved on to Ole Miss after leading the Red Wolves to their best season in a quarter-century. ASU moved on with Malzahn, a former Broyles Award winner who stunned observers when he returned to his home state to take over in Jonesboro. Malzahn, who signed what most consider the Sun Belt’s top recruiting class, has built on the enthusiasm generated by last year’s 10–3 record. The former Auburn offensive coordinator has talked about building the “Boise State of the South” and encouraged ASU fans to make plans for another bowl trip this year.
With Aplin running Malzahn’s offense, the Red Wolves shouldn’t have trouble scoring. They may give up plenty of points, too, especially in September games at Oregon and Nebraska, but