Our vision – why we are doing all this – is to be one of the top programs in the group of five. – Terry Mohajir, Arkansas State Athletic Director.
The statement is more than words. It's a commitment Mohajir and the A-State program have supported with the most aggressive build and expansion the campus has ever seen. The program sits at or near the top of the Sun Belt in recruiting, attendance, and conference championships. The Red Wolves have enjoyed four straight GoDaddy Bowls and have seen several alums drafted into the NFL.
Things are great for the Red Wolves. And yet, the primary goal remains unfulfilled.
The G5 is a Ferris wheel, with programs rising and falling with almost predictable regularity. In recent years, we've seen Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, South Florida, UCF, Boise State, Marshall, Toledo, Temple, Memphis and Houston ascend to the top of the G5, and while Arkansas State is considered by many to be among the best of the "smaller resourced" programs, the Red Wolves have yet to become elite.
The Red Wolves have had opportunities to break through the membrane, playing an extremely challenging out-of-conference schedule every year. But the loss to Missouri at Jonesboro will haunt A-State the most. It was the program's chance to prove it was ready for the spotlight. And while Blake Anderson and his Red Wolves played well, the scoreboard underscored a deepening dismay among A-State fans: we're just not there yet.
But the pieces are in position.
While cracking the Top 25 ceiling will likely not happen in 2015, the immediate future of the program looks strong – perhaps even strong enough to make good Terry Mohajir's goal to become elite. Here's why:
A-State Has A Big SAC
The importance of the new, 78,000 square-foot Student Activity Center (also known as an "indoor practice facility") cannot be understated. The $25M facility is both an executional and marketing tool that even surging Memphis is scrambling to duplicate. Not only is the SAC enabling Blake Anderson to conduct practices during poor weather, it's a dramatic campus landmark that impresses the recruits.
The Cent Is Shining
Renovations to Centennial Bank Stadium have transformed the fan experience, giving big boosters a venue to rub elbows while enjoying a top tier product on the gridiron. Donors are crucial to growth. The private suites and Club provides a big time feel for diehard Red Wolves fans with deep connections and pockets.
The Staff Is In Place
Mohajir and the A-State system is committed to bringing top-tier coaching talent to campus and retaining them. Coach Anderson and his entire staff returned for the 2015 season, and now the Red Wolves feature one of the most dynamic defenses in the country. A third season of constancy could improve what is already a dangerous football team.
The Sun Belt Is Improving
If Arkansas State is to become elite, then so must its competition.The Sun Belt endured a fairly miserable out-of-conference slate this season, but the top of the conference is shaping into competitive contenders. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern appear to be perennial powers, and Sun Belt lifers Troy and Louisiana will field quality teams more years than not. Add newcomer Coastal Carolina to the mix, and the strength of schedule doesn't take a huge hit once conference play begins.
Red Wolves Reloaded
Finally made a decision on where I want to play ball at I will be attending Arkansas State University! Thank for the opportunity! #Gov
— Dee Liner ✈ (@Liner_25) April 3, 2015
A great deal of talent graduates from the program this year, including Fredi Knighten, Darion Griswold, J.D. McKissic, Tres Houston, Chris Stone, Rocky Hayes, Luke Ferguson and Michael Gordon. But Coach Anderson and his staff have done well recruiting and acquiring. Next year, Red Wolves fans will enjoy the production of defensive stud Dee Liner (formerly of Alabama), QB/WR Cameron Echols-Luper (formerly of TCU) and JUCO standout Joe Sanders. Sack Monster Tajhea Chambers returns from injury, and several true Freshman contributors return a year stronger: Warren Wand, Donovan Ransom, Cameron Davis, Justin Clifton and Omar Bayless. Oh yeah, and Red Wolves recruiting currently sits atop the Sun Belt.
Whether or not the Red Wolves become an elite program depends on many factors. But hard work from Terry Mohajir and Blake Anderson is guaranteed. Glory awaits.