Here we are on the eve of the second straight bowl appearance for the Arkansas State University Red Wolves, and the school’s third bowl game since the 2005 New Orleans Bowl, and we wonder how close the school’s football program is to the “Next Level?”
But for a while Sunday night, beginning at 8 p.m. on ESPN, the Red Wolves will be in the national spotlight. They are the only game in town that night, and any football fan wanting to get a final fix before Monday night’s BCS title game will be watching. That is a chance to make an impression on a lot of folks.
Bowl games for the other end of the college football world, the non-AQ (automatic qualifiers) schools are not about making money. Last year ASU made less than $20,000 and expects to be in the same neighborhood this time around. The hope is to break even and capitalize on national attention.
In the last two seasons, A-State has won 19 football games. A win Sunday would make it 20 (good math there huh?) and that is lofty status for any program.
An impressive win over No. 25 Kent State just might be enough to give the Red Wolves their first national ranking on the FBS (although I still prefer to call it I-A status) level. It would also be the first for any Sun Belt Conference team. With the game being played two days before the final poll is released, voters are more likely to notice a game just played than one that was lost in the cluster of games over the past three weeks.
The bowl games are a nice reward, and the way the ASU program has burst on the scene the last two years is startling. Is this the foundation?
Two nights ago on the Sports Night radio show on the Arkansas Radio Network, in an impromptu interview with ASU defensive end Tim Starson, he talked about how far the program had come since he arrived in Jonesboro five seasons ago. And most of that growth has been in the past two seasons. He pretty much said it was amazing.
In a section of the state that is used to earth-moving experiences, this growth the past two years has been beyond expectations. Attendance records have been set, tailgating at games is enormously popular. It has truly become part of the college football landscape.
Maybe ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir said it best at the press conference announcing Bryan Harsin as the head coach: “We are not this sleepy little school in Northeast Arkansas anymore.”
It does seem that the slumber is gone.
Of course our world has become a “what-have-you-done lately microwave society.” And there is always next season.
There will be a strong chance for a third straight bowl game. The schedule shapes up nicely for more success. Harsin comes in with a solid reputation and many expect him to continue the success.
Hiring offensive coordinators has been a good formula for success the last two seasons — but Harsin will not have the good fortune of having Ryan Aplin on hand like Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn did.
Aplin is the best quarterback in school history, and you can read more about that tomorrow. But there is a lot of talent returning, and a lot of that is really young. The program appears to be in good shape.
The foundation has been laid.
Now you just have to keep building.