Will the Arkansas State Red Wolves Defeat Its Out-of-Conference Curse?
The Red Wolves have won (or won a share of) five out of the last six Sun Belt titles, cementing their credentials as Sheriff of the Sun Belt. But the program’s out-of-conference woes are troubling – for both Arkansas State and the Sun Belt. Is this the year Coach Blake Anderson breaks the curse?
Last year, Arkansas State went 7-1 in the Sun Belt and won a share of the conference title with Appalachian State. The year before, the Red Wolves were a perfect 8-0 and won a conference title. This has happened five of the last six seasons. If you’re looking for Sun Belt Championship, check in on Jonesboro.
This is some fine, tasty eating. But there is a fly in the soup; not a tiny house fly that you can pretend was only pepper. It’s a big old horse fly, hoss. You can try to eat it, but it won’t go down easy. We named that fly “Oh Oh See.”
|Year||Coach||OOC Record||Best Win||Worst Loss|
|2011||Freeze||2-2||Memphis 47-3||Illinois 33-15|
|2012||Malzahn||2-2||Memphis 33-28||Nebraska 42-13|
|2013||Harsin||1-3||UAPB 62-11||Memphis 31-7|
|2014||Anderson||2-2||Utah St. 21-14||Miami 41-20|
|2015||Anderson||1-3||Missouri St 70-7||Toledo 37-7|
Why the Red Wolves’ horrible, terrible, no good OOC record sucks for the Sun Belt.
It comes down to a simple question: “How good is the Sun Belt if its perennial conference champion sucks so hard against out-of-conference opponents?” Crassly put, but it’s a fair query.
Like all Group of Five conferences, a rising tide raises all ships. When South Alabama bests Ole Miss, or when ULM upsets Arkansas, the entire Sun Belt basks in the halo. (The Sun Belt’s 4-2 bowl record in 2016 was a nice bragging point for the conference.) When Arkansas State pitches a clunker against Central Arkansas, the college world smirks and says, “Well, that’s the Sun Belt.”
The Anderson Era is especially perplexing. Attached to his two conference titles is a wart-ugly 3-9 regular season OOC record. All three of those victories have come at home, two against FCS opponents. Last year, the futility came to a head when the Red Wolves dropped a 28-23 decision to UCA, an in-state FCS program.
Can the Red Wolves do the Sun Belt proud in 2017?
Well, kids, it ain’t gonna be easy.
Like most Sun Belt programs, the Red Wolves routinely test their health insurance against a bruising out-of-conference schedule. In 2017, Arkansas State has scheduled the industry standard two Power 5 programs, a quality peer conference team, and an FCS tuner. Buuuuuuuuuuut….one of those P5 games is in Jonesboro. And the road G5 game may be tougher than the road P5 contest. Let’s take a quick assessment.
@ Nebraska, September 2
The Cornhuskers are very nice hosts who generally destroy the Red Wolves (38-9 in 2009, 42-13 in 2012). Buuuuuuuuut….Nebraska lost about 30 seniors in 2017, including its starting and back-up QBs. Expected to start under center, Tanner Lee, a transfer from Tulane who’s tossed 23 career TDs on top of 21 interceptions. Is this game winnable? You bet.
Miami, September 9
The last time the Red Wolves hosted a Power Five team was in 2015, when the Missouri Tigers dropped by newly refurbished Centennial Bank Stadium. The Red Wolves dropped a heartbreaker 27-20, and allowing the Tigers to escape with a W still stings. Miami, who is expected to compete for the ACC title this year, is an upgrade in competition. Buuuuuuuuuuut….the Red Wolves are the home team. Funky magic happens with home teams.
UAPB, September 16
The last time the Red Wolves hosted the Golden Lions, new head coach Bryan Harsin dropped 62 points on UAPB. Anderson might decided to double that, because the Golden Lions are expected to finish dead last in the SWAC Western Division. Then again, the last FCS program to visit Jonesboro came away with a victory. Nothing is certain. Nothing.
@SMU, September 23
When Bryan Harsin left for Boise State after the 2013 season, Clemson OC Chad Morris was a hot name among Red Wolves fans. Morris opted to spend another year at Clemson before accepting the HC gig at SMU. It’s been a challenge! The Mustangs went 2-10 his first year, than improved to 5-7 the next season. The ‘Stangs are getting better, buuuuuuuuuut….the Red Wolves concluded last season year by dispatching another rebuilding AAC team, UCF, at the Cure Bowl. Mediocre American teams are a Red Wolves specialty.
The Red Wolves have an intriguingly good team this year, with veterans returning at the skill positions and a defensive line that is lethal. Once again, Arkansas State is predicted to contend for a Sun Belt title.
But what might determine the Red Wolves’ OOC success is that in 2017, Blake Anderson is calling the offensive plays. Arkansas State averaged 16.75 points in its four OOC losses last year. Perhaps Anderson’s attention will jumpstart the offense early.
And just maybe, the terrible OOC curse will be lifted.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.