COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bryan Harsin, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eliah Drinkwitz, Bush Hamdan | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Thompson
Bryan Harsin will use an up-tempo, no-huddle offense — same as his immediate predecessors at Arkansas State. Unlike Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn, Harsin won’t have two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Ryan Aplin at quarterback. Aplin shattered 25-plus school records and led ASU to consecutive 10-win seasons, helping his last two coaches land SEC coaching jobs in the process.
Adam Kennedy, a senior transfer who led Utah State to a 4–1 record in the last five games of the 2011 season, joins ASU’s quarterback competition in preseason camp. He’ll battle senior Phillip Butterfield and sophomores Stephen Hogan and Fredi Knighten. Butterfield, who played only a few snaps last year, is a career backup who has battled knee injuries. Hogan is a former wide receiver who made huge strides in spring practice.
Running back is in the capable hands of senior David Oku, a transfer from Tennessee who ran for 1,061 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. Oku is a solid all-around back with a knack for gaining tough yards. Rocky Hayes will spend most of his time at cornerback but is expected to have a role on offense after averaging 9.3 yards on limited carries as a freshman. Sophomore Michael Gordon, who ran for eight touchdowns in three spring scrimmages, has the speed to give the Red Wolves another big-play threat.
Receiver should also be a strength. J.D. McKissic was the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year in 2012 with 103 catches for 1,022 yards. Senior Julian Jones averaged 30.3 yards on 13 catches last year, turning seven into touchdowns. Sophomore Darion Griswold provides a big target (6'5", 240 pounds) at tight end.
ASU has experience (four returning starters) and depth on the offensive line. Bryce Giddens took over at center as a true freshman, and senior Aaron Williams is steady at left tackle.
Harsin opted for continuity on defense by retaining John Thompson, a well-traveled coordinator whose 2012 unit led the Sun Belt in scoring defense. The line features senior tackle Ryan Carrethers, a 310-pound roadblock against the run. Carrethers made 68 tackles last season. Senior end Eddie Porter, a converted linebacker who forced four fumbles last year, has disruptive ability on the edge.
Linebacker Qushaun Lee, the Defensive MVP of the GoDaddy.com Bowl, made 100 tackles last season and will be counted on even more with the departure of All-Sun Belt linebacker Nathan Herrold. Kyle Coleman, son of former NFL linebacker Monte Coleman, is expected to line up alongside Lee after spending two seasons in the secondary.
Depth is a concern at safety behind junior Sterling Young, a two-year regular at his position, and sophomore Chris Humes. Hayes’ switch to cornerback, where he spent preseason camp in 2012, improves the picture there.
Senior Brian Davis is a reliable placekicker (17-of-21 on field goals last season) and may take over as the punter. The Red Wolves were dreadful on punts last season, ranking last in the FBS in net punting.
Freeze and Malzahn set a high bar for Harsin, the former offensive coordinator at Boise State and Texas. They didn’t leave the roster barren, either. Oku, McKissic, Carrethers, Lee and Young are among the Sun Belt’s best at their positions.
A coaching transition is nothing new for the Red Wolves, who are on their fourth head coach in as many seasons, but they haven’t lined up without Aplin since the middle of the 2009 season. Finding an adequate replacement at quarterback is the key to their hopes of earning a third straight bowl bid and making a push for the Sun Belt title.