The 2018 Red Wolves Hype Manifesto Is Already Here
When it comes to the Arkansas State Red Wolves, the hype can’t be too hyperbolic. Or too early.
This was going to be my 100,000-word, goth-stye essay recapping my dark feelings on the 2016 Red Wolves loss to the Central Arkansas Bears, but I decided that unfiltered hype makes for far better summer content. Thank me now, and thank me later.
This will be the greatest Red Wolves season of all damn time
Unreasonable? Unfair? Unrealistic? Yes! Still, one cannot help but to feel good about the Red Wolves’ chances – provided you throw caution and recent history to the wind. Do not implore me to stop. Do not attempt to beseech me. I know what I’m doing.
Listen, I’m not making this grandiose claim capriciously. Just because I declare every upcoming Red Wolves season “the best season ever” doesn’t mean you should close this tab just yet. Walk with me.
The OOC schedule is sweet, like pie (that’s made with sweet ingredients)
You may (or may not) know that the Red Wolves take on defending national champion Alabama in Week 2. We’ll talk about more about winning that game later. Just understand that the Red Wolves open the season at home with FCS Southeast Missouri State, who delivered a 3-8 season in 2017. Then there’s that Alabama thing, followed by a jaunt to Tulsa to face the 2-10 Golden Hurricane. Finally, the Red Wolves host 5-7 UNLV at newly remodeled Centennial Bank Stadium, setting up the Red Wolves’ first winning OOC series since…well, I stopped checking after 2002. Let’s move on.
The Sun Belt schedule is favorable, too
The Red Wolves most difficult road games appear to be the Georgia Southern dust-up on September 23rd, and the Louisiana grudge-match on October 27th. Both programs are led by new coaching regimes and are rebuilding. Meanwhile, Arkansas State hosts both Appalachian State and ULM – the two programs most likely to threaten the Red Wolves finest damn season ever.
The Sun Belt Elite are losing some elite talent
In recent years, the Sun Belt Troika of Appalachian State, Troy and Arkansas State has remained unmolested by serious challenge. This season, the Trojans and Mountaineers endure an alarming talent drain on the skill positions, most notably at QB, where Brandon Silvers and Taylor Lamb bid us “adios.” Troy seems the most vulnerable, with Jordan Chunn and Steve Rowzee departing with Silvers.
Taking a step back, the entire Sun Belt is seeing a youth transition at quarterback. Starting (or mostly starting) signal callers for Texas State, Appalachian State, Troy, South Alabama, Louisiana, ULM and Coastal Carolina are gone. Making a return is All-Sun Belt First Team QB Justice Hansen, who seems to be approaching the Red Wolves Greatest Season Of All Damn Time with his usual chill.
The Red Wolves are comfortably set at many positions
Arkansas State is like any Group of Five program: there are generally gaps in talent at any number of positions. But the Red Wolves enter 2018 with harmony at nearly every group. Yes, the Red Wolves lost two-time Sun Belt POY Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, but Ronheen Bingham appears to be the real deal at defensive end. The defense may also be thin at defensive back, but there are a number of intriguing talents (Justin Clifton, Jefferie Gibson, Michael Johnson) who look to be breakout stars.
On offense, starting RB Warren Wand receives sizable help from Armond Weh-Weh, who looks healthy and strong, and freshman Donavan Marshall. In addition, there likely isn’t a wide receiver squad in the conference that can match Hansen’s enormous targets – Justin McInnis, Omar Bayless, Jonathan Adams and Kendrick Edwards all return with Dahu Green, Kirk Merrit and Bubba Ogbebor joining the huddle. The wealth of options is nearly obscene.
Coach Blake Anderson is a man on a mission
Entering his 5th year, Coach Anderson appears to have found his stride. 2017 was a disappointment, and Anderson is first to admit it and accept responsibility. While the offense put up good numbers behind Anderson’s play calling and Hansen’s arm, the team racked up way too many penalties, and discipline seemed lacking at both the sideline and huddle.
Discipline seems top of mind for Anderson, who saw his coaching staff remain largely intact for 2018. He begins the season without drama at quarterback. He has the dependable Joe Cauthen orchestrating the defense, Cody Grace and Blake Grupe return to reliable kicking duties, and he enjoys an offense filled with weapons with which to design his mad schemes. With so many pieces in place, Anderson is free to focus on the details. And winning.
Besides mighty Thanos, who (or what) can upend this magic season?
Nothing! 12-0 is the Red Wolves destiny! Except – holy Toledo Rockets! – something always thwarts Red Wolves magic. Unlike year’s past, I won’t ignore Arkansas State’s obvious challenges. Even though I really want to.
Alabama is a pretty good team
Full disclosure: I have more than a mere sporting interest in seeing the Red Wolves best Alabama. After the Red Wolves’ defeat of Kent State in the 2013 GoDaddy Bowl, I returned to the hotel to find several wedding revelers emerging from the elevator. A very drunk bridesmaid noted my sweatshirt and announced, “Red Wolves suuuuuuuuuuuck! Roooooolllll Tiiiiiiide!”
Man, if you’re going to besmirch the Red Wolves in Mobile, at least have the local courtesy to do it with the South Bama Jaguars.
I have too much werewolf in me to guarantee a Crimson Tide win. However, taking on Alabama in Week 2 is as close a Herculean task as it comes in college football. But from what I understand, even Nick Saban’s powerful dark sorcery can’t prevent a quarterback controversy in Tuscaloosa. Perhaps the discord lingers through September 8, giving Anderson and opening to pull a significant upset. Should the Red Wolves emerge from its fisticuffs with Alabama largely unscathed, many will find victory in that alone.
The Offensive Line is something
Last season, the Red Wolves running game ranked 79th in rushing, and the offense ranked 122nd in the red zone. The anemic run game could be attributed to Justice Hansen and his ability to throw. But from the bleacher seats, it often appeared that the running backs simply had few holes to exploit.
Depending on who you talk to, the Red Wolves offensive line is either in tremendous shape, or its a shaky Jenga stack waiting to collapse. What can’t be disputed is that the line is both big and experienced. With OL coach Allen Rudolph entering his third year, it will be interesting to watch this squad’s progression in Fall Camp.
Sun Belt Entropy
Sun Belt football doesn’t endure the same madcap chaos as endured by Sun Belt basketball. However, one could not predict the mighty leap ULM and Matt Viator took last season. Few could foresee Arkansas State’s thud against South Alabama, or the Mountaineer’s stumble at UMASS. While the state of the Sun Belt may appear clear on paper, it is widely known that any one at any time can stagger and rise in the SBC. Who knows? Maybe this is the year Texas State sets the universe aflame.
No Discipline Reigns Again
The Red Wolves “out-kick the coverage” through emotion and intensity. But too often, Arkansas State is assessed with a bone-headed penalty that ultimately leads to the deepest chagrin. This year, the staff is intent on creating a culture of accountability, and the no-nonsense manner in which the Red Wolves Spring Game played out bears this new approach.
Yeah, okay, whatever, this will be the Red Wolves’ greatest season ever, right?
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.