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          ***** NCAA Football Preview - Arkansas State Red Wolves *****
 By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: In Hugh Freeze's first season as head coach of the
 Arkansas State Red Wolves, the team exceeded expectations to become the Sun
 Belt Conference champions.
 The season started off a bit rough, as ASU suffered hard-fought losses on the
 road against Illinois (33-15) and No. 12 Virginia Tech (26-7) in its first
 three games, but once the Red Wolves began conference play they were
 unstoppable. They finished the regular season on a nine-game win streak to end
 a perfect 8-0 in the Sun Belt.
 Their hard work landed them a berth in the Bowl, but they wound up
 losing to Northern Illinois, 38-20. Still, their 10-3 overall record was a vast
 improvement from the 4-8 mark posted in 2010.
 After the season, Freeze left the program to accept the head coaching job at
 Ole Miss, with former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn being named as
 his replacement.
 OFFENSE: Although the offensive scheme is sure to change with the transition
 from Freeze to Malzahn, the Red Wolves have plenty of returning talent after
 leading the Sun Belt in both scoring offense (33.5 ppg) and total offense
 (453.4 ppg) a season ago.
 Leading one of the nation's most prolific offenses yet again this season will
 be quarterback Ryan Aplin, who earned First Team All-Sun Belt honors for the
 second year in a row after completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 3,588
 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2011. Aplin is just as big a threat with his legs as
 he is with his arm, rushing for 588 yards and adding 10 touchdowns on the
 With Aplin at the helm, Malzahn feels comfortable implementing his up-tempo
 style offense.
 "We're going to be a no-huddle team," Malzahn said. "We want to play with great
 pace, but there's different kinds of pace. We're trying to go two-minute pace
 the whole game...I think you have a big advantage in college football nowadays
 if you can do that."
 Though the loss of fellow First Team All-SBC honoree Dwayne Frampton at wide
 receiver certainly hurts (94 catches, 1,156 yards, 6 TDs), Aplin still has a
 pair of reliable targets to throw to in Josh Jarboe (54 catches, 730 yards, 2
 TDs) and Taylor Stockemer (48 catches, 756 yards, 7 TDs).
 While Freeze's offense never really highlighted the running back position,
 Malzahn's time at Auburn and Tulsa suggests that the tailback will be much more
 prominent in the Red Wolves' attack this season, which is good news for Frankie
 Jackson (355 yards, 6 TDs) and Sirgregory Thornton (120 yards, 6.3 ypc).
 DEFENSE: Arkansas State was more than just a potent offensive team a year ago.
 The defensive unit allowed just 325.7 yards per game, and the 19.3 points
 permitted per game was tops in the conference. However, losing the top three
 defenders in Kelcie McCray (70 tackles, 4 interceptions), Brandon Joiner (19
 tackles for loss, 13 sacks), and Demario Davis (70 tackles, 10 tackles for
 loss) could cause those numbers to go up.
 Senior linebacker Nathan Herrold appears to be the anchor of the Red Wolves
 defense in 2012, as he is the top returning defender from a year ago (66
 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss). Nick Nelms (41 tackles) also returns as a
 veteran member of the linebacking corps.
 Ryan Carrethers (29 tackles, 1.5 sacks) is one of the few returning members of
 an effective defensive line rotation which helped contribute to the team's 35
 sacks. Don Jones (54 tackles, 1 interception) and Sterling Young (51 tackles, 1
 interception, 2 fumble recoveries) bring experience to the secondary. A pair of
 three-star recruits -- Chris Humes and Derek Keaton -- also expect to make an
 impact in the defensive backfield.
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Placekicker Brian Davis was effective last year, connecting on
 18-of-23 field goal attempts, though he missed three extra points. Ryan
 Wilbourn was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA, and he is
 expected to share punting duties with Neely Sullivent.
 Frampton was the team's top punt returner in 2011, while departed senior Rod
 Hall was the primary kickoff return man, so the competition for these jobs will
 continue throughout camp.
 OUTLOOK: Freeze was able to build this program up from obscurity to Sun Belt
 champions during his brief stay, but now that he's gone, there is some concern
 that the Red Wolves could suffer through a transition phase.
 However, with the return of Aplin, much of the high-powered offense and the
 hiring of Malzahn, expectations have never been higher in Jonesboro. Coming
 from the SEC, Malzahn is used to high-pressure situations, and he is up for the
 challenge in his first season as head coach.
 "We want to have high expectations, but this league is tough," Malzahn said.
 "There's no gimmes on that schedule. After they won 10 games last year and won
 the conference, we've got our work cut out for us. There's no way we're
 sneaking up on anybody."
 Expect a few stumbling blocks early in the season, particularly on the road at
 Oregon and Nebraska, but Malzahn and company should be ready to go once the Sun
 Belt schedule starts on Sept. 29 against Western Kentucky. While expecting
 another undefeated conference season may be setting the bar too high, the Red
 Wolves are certainly one of the favorites to win the Sun Belt once again.
 08/21 11:14:52 ET