On Saturday, the UCF Knights will take on the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. We cover both teams here at Underdog Dynasty. But to be frank, I suspect many UCF fans aren’t overly familiar with the Red Wolves (the teams played once, in 1991, a UCF win).
Let’s fix that.
I’ve asked our Arkansas State writer Martin L. Ferguson some questions about his team. His answers are below. And if you want more of Martin’s Arkansas State insights, check them out here.
1. Martin, help us understand Arkansas State as a program. What has been its overall arc? Any program-defining moments, heroes, or stories that UCF fans should know about?
From 1992 to 2010, ASU felt the pains of transitioning to Division 1, going 77-162-2 with five different head coaches. The lack of investment in the program showed in salaries, facilities, and the general disinterest from the fan base. The recent history of ASU football (2011-2016) has been called "The One and Done Era," and started with the hiring of a string of young, eager, offensive minded coaches (Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn, Bryan Harsin, and finally Blake Anderson) that energized the program and brought success. But the program ultimately also lost the first three to jobs at larger programs (Ole Miss, Auburn, Boise State). That combined with the right school president (Chuck Welch) and AD (Terry Mohajir) guiding the program, helped lay the foundation for the first 6 consecutive winning seasons since 1912-17.
2. Arkansas State has won the Sun Belt – either outright or sharing the honor – five of the last six years. To what do you attribute the Red Wolves’ recent dominance?
The magic formula seems to be a mix of factors. First, hire young, aggressive, offensive-minded coaches who all had similar offensive philosophies so that when they leave for a bigger job, the recruits you have on campus somewhat fit the style and tempo of play of the next coach. The next factor is good recruiting, which shows in the conference rankings with ASU being one or two consistently in recruiting. The third part of that is the commitment to facilities. The school has already expanded its pressbox and added a club level with luxury suites, a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility, and eventually a new football operations center. All of these projects combined will be more than 40 million dollars invested in the program in 5 years.
3. Who should Knights fans be most concerned about on Saturday? Is it Sun Belt Player of the Year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones?
Rolland-Jones is the Sun Belt career sack leader, but at the other end is Chris Odom who also has 12.5 sacks on the season, one more than Rolland-Jones. The twosome were both on the Ted Hendricks Award watch list for best college DE in America, the only 2 teammates on the list.
Offensively 5'5" RB Warren Wand is one to watch. Some have called him the human Mario Kart for his agility and ability to bounce off tacklers. He has physically willed a Red Wolves offense that has struggled at times.
4. What do you view as the critical position match-up against my Knights?
This will be a defensive struggle I believe, so the ASU offensive line's ability to open run lanes and protect QB Justice Hansen will decide whether ASU can be consistent enough to get points on the board.
5. The advanced statistics says UCF has a 61% win probability. And the Knights are a 5 to 6.5 point favorite, depending where you look. Is that fair or unfair?
Seems fair enough with this team. It has had to rely on tough defensive play all year to be successful with the inconsistent play of younger offensive starters and new transfers.