It’s been 12 years since the Red Wolves (then Indians) started a season at 0-3. The difference with that team in 2004 and today’s program lies in the expectations. Steve Roberts (45-63, 9 seasons) led that team into the season playing three straight ranked opponents and losing those three contests by a combined score of 58-152 (19-51 avg score) never finding footing and eventually going 3-8. That was a team that had no foundation because it was built on a sand pile in a hurricane by former coach, Joe Hollis (13-43. 5 seasons). Speaking of the ghost of Joe Hollis, he had three seasons from 1999-2001 where his teams all started 0-3 and we know how that story ended on a dreary Thanksgiving Day in 2001.
Those teams weren't preceded by championships, facilities upgrades, high level recruits, or by high fan and administration expectations. That's the burden that the 2016 team carries, but it’s also the fuel that propels this team forward. Many fans thought the days of getting drummed by P5 teams were gone at least for the present time. However, the memories of 63-7 at Virginia Tech in 2002 still haunt the dark corners of the Red Wolf fan brain.
Auburn rolled over Arkansas State 51-14 in week 2, bringing flashbacks of that fateful game back in 2002. That performance was followed up by another loss in week 3 against Utah State and one of the worst halves of football played by ASU. At one point there was a glimmer of hope as the downfield passing improved in the second half. QB Justice Hansen tossed for 277 yards, made a touchdown and stretched the defense out of the box. Blake Anderson took notice.
The defense found some swagger, though still wildly undisciplined with penalties and missed tackles held Utah State to 77 yards of offense in the second half. More importantly the team seemed to find their misplaced confidence let their athleticism show on the field.
The Red Wolves face UCA on Saturday night in Jonesboro and barring a complete and should come away 1-3, ready to start the Sun Belt season with some confidence. What awaits Arkansas State in the four remaining home and road games?
- Georgia Southern @ Home - A preseason favorite comes to Jonesboro for a mid-week matchup and ASU will find out early on how they stack up. This can either be a confidence builder or a leap off the diving board into an empty pool. Georgia Southern surprisingly struggled before finally beating ULM this week 23-21 on a blocked FG attempt at the end. ESPN FPI SAYS: GA Southern by 6
- South Alabama @ Home - Preseason #7 in the coaches poll, but found a way to beat Miss State in their opener. Lost 24-9 at home to Georgia Southern and had a chance to beat La-Lafayette this last weekend on the road before falling 28-23. ESPN FPI SAYS: ASU by 4
- Louisiana Monroe @ Home - Always a tough game for ASU, the Warhawks have a new staff and head coach in former McNeese coach, Matt Viator. Saturday’s game at Georgia Southern made everyone second guess what ULM is actually capable of this year. ESPN FPI SAYS: ASU by 7
- Georgia State (Away) - 0-3 to start the season, but a surprisingly close game with Wisconsin last week losing 23-17. Both games at Troy and App State loom for the Panthers as they try to remain relevant. ESPN FPI SAYS: ASU by 3
- New Mexico State @ Home -This is a team that has shown offensive life despite the loss of All-Conference running back Larry Rose, averaging 44 points per game after the first three. ESPN FPI SAYS: ASU by 8
- Troy (Away) -This may be the one game of the year that most fans didn't have on their “must see” checklist, but with a rejuvenated offense under second-year coach, Neal Brown, the Trojans have shown that they are a contender in the Sun Belt race. Troy played #2 Clemson tight, losing only 30-24 and matched them yard for yard on offense. ESPN FPI SAYS: Troy by 8
- Louisiana-Lafayette (Away) - ULL fired defensive coordinator Melvin Smith after a 45-10 home loss to Boise State and many waited to see if the program would spiral. After the close game last week against South Alabama the old recipe is being used again which means healthy doses of running back, Elijah McGuire. He ran for 223 yards against the Jaguars and is in the top 10 nationally in rushing yards. ESPN FPI SAYS: Cajuns by4
- Texas State @ Home - Which Texas State team will show up in Jonesboro the last Saturday of the year? The one that went to Ohio and scored 56 on a solid Bobcat squad or the one that barely got off the bus against Arkansas falling 42-3? This was a blowout game for the Red Wolves last year. ESPN FPI SAYS: ASU by 5
So the power index shows ASU picked to win five of the last eight games, which would make them bowl eligible. We are most likely looking at 6-6, but also notice how small the margins are in these games, all basically one score games. It may be a nail biter finish to the season with every game hotly contested. However a 6-6 finish would be a slide for a team used to challenging for championships. Justice Hansen has two years of eligibility remaining and I expect a “build for the future” mentality will take root.