NWADG College Football


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which would be a substantial addition to All-Sun Belt Preseason First Team senior tight end Blake Mack. Senior running back Armond Weh- Weh is back from his season-ending ACL injury and will join returning starter ju- nior Warren Wand (879 yards, 7 touch- downs) and senior Johnston White (472 yards, 5 touchdowns) in a backfield Weh-Weh believes can "do some special things this year." ASU does not have a returning starter on the offensive line, and sophomore guard Troy Elliott, who started two games last season, missed a portion of fall practice with an ankle injury. Ander- son said he should return by the start of the season, where Elliott will join Iowa State graduate transfer Jaypee Philbert, who is a 6-5, 314-pound offensive tackle. "We have to get them healthy and working together." ASU has already suffered two major losses on defense. Senior linebacker Khari Lain — who led the team with 81 tackles in 2015 — was suspended for the entire season on July 31 for not meeting an NCAA policy during the team's appearance in the 2016 Cure Bowl, and senior defensive lineman Dee Liner — a former Alabama trans- fer who is 6-3, 325-pounds — injured his groin in a non-contact drill on Aug. 15, when Anderson announced he would be out 2 to 6 weeks. ASU's 4-2-5 defense still has senior defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, who was named the 2016 Sun Belt Player of the Year after ranking fifth in the nation with 13.5 sacks. Rolland-Jones and four other defenders were named to the Sun Belt's All-Preseason defense, including defensive backs Justin Clifton (junior) and Blaise Taylor (senior). "We've all picked up energy," Clifton said after the final scrimmage. "I think we've all been performing the way we need to." ASU open the season at Nebraska on Sept. 2, and then Miami will visit Jones- boro on Sept. 9 to complete a home-and- home that started with a 41-20 ASU loss in South Beach in 2014. The Red Wolves have not beaten a Power 5 opponent since an 18-14 victory over Texas A&M in 2008, and Anderson said that must change in order to reach a New Year's Six bowl. "Those games really matter," he said. "Without playing 3-1, 4-0 in nonconfer- ence, you don't have that opportunity at the end of the year to be ranked high enough to be in that conversation." 46 NWA Democrat-Gazette College Football Preview Sunday, August 27, 2017 Red Wolves at a glance COACH Blake Anderson (24-15 in fourth season at ASU and overall) LAST YEAR 8-5, 7-1 in Sun Belt Conference RETURNING STARTERS 9 (5 on offense, 4 on defense) OFFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH QB Justice Hansen, RB Warren Wand, WR Dijon Paschal, TE Blake Mack DEFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH DE Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, LB Kyle Wilson, DB Justin Clifton, DB Blaise Taylor 2016 RESULTS DATE OPPONENT RESULT Sept. 2 ...................Toledo.................. L, 31-10 Sept. 10 .............. at Auburn ............... L, 51-14 Sept. 16 ............at Utah State ........... L, 34-20 Sept. 24 ........ Central Arkansas .......... L28-23 Oct. 5 ........... Georgia Southern* .......W, 27-26 Oct. 29 ......... Louisiana-Monroe* .......W, 51-10 Nov. 3 ........... at Georgia State* ........W, 31-16 Nov. 12.........New Mexico State* ......W, 41-22 Nov. 17.................. at Troy* ................. W, 35-3 Nov. 26 .....at Louisiana-Lafayette* ... L, 24-19 Dec. 3 ............. at Texas State* ......... W, 36-14 Dec. 17 .......... Central Florida^ .........W, 31-13 * Sun Belt Conference game ^ Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla. ASU v Continued from Page 45 Arkansas Democrat Gazette file photo Arkansas State Red Wolves running back Armond Weh-Weh returns this year after a season-ending ACL injury in 2016. Patient Dingle ready for his turn at Harding The new starting quarterback at Harding University plays with a start- ing quarterback who's been the starter far too long. Terrence Dingle presses his thumb against the joystick and rolls Clemson's Tajh Boyd out of the pocket, searching the video screen for a digital receiver or some room to run on the animated grass. Boyd has been a senior in the game for four years now — or maybe he's technically Player No. 10, since EA Sports discontinued the game because the company was in a dispute with for- mer players for using their likeness. Some young No. 4 will never get his shot at the starting job — not while Din- gle uses No. 10 to try and beat his team- mate, preseason Division II All-America offensive lineman Gavin De Los Santos. But Dingle will get his shot in his junior season at Harding. The team's 2016 lead- ing rusher and quarterback of the uni- versity's only undefeated regular season, Park Parish, graduated, which left the future of Harding's flexbone offense up to Dingle. "He's waited a long time for his time," said first-year Harding coach Paul Sim- mons, who has been a defensive assistant since 2006. "And his time is here. I look forward to seeing him get his chance." The 13-1 season in 2016 ended in a 35-0 quarterfinal loss to eventual cham- pion Northwest Missouri State, and Din- gles' only start came in a Week 8, 35-7 win over East Central University, which finished the season 1-10. The quarterback transition — paired with the loss of four out of Harding's five leading tacklers last season — set the returning Great American Conference champions at No. 2 in the GAC's pre- season coaching poll, behind Southern Arkansas University. "It just motivates you," said Dingle, who will be joined in the backfield with returning running backs Zach Shelley (688 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Romar Reades (486 yards, 7 touchdowns). "A lot of people focused on what we lost instead of what we still have. A lot of guys who are going to have big roles this year had big roles last year. I don't think Harding has lost to Southern Arkansas since I've been here, and I don't plan on that happening now." Harding will play at Southern Arkan- sas on Sept. 9, which will be the earliest the teams have played each other since they also played each other in Week 2 in 2011. Harding will open this season at Henderson State, which is picked No. 3 in the coaches poll, on Aug. 31. "The schedule-maker didn't do us any favors, that's for sure" Simmons said. "But I like the urgency it's created in practice all summer long." Southern Arkansas coach Bill Keop- ple is just getting used to his team being picked at the top. "From what I know, it's not something that's happened here in the history of the school," said Keopple, who in 2009 inherited a team that had gone 18-35 in the years since its 2003 playoff appear- ance. "I've never known us to be picked to win the league ever. That means we've turned the corner." Keopple has a 42-42 record in eight seasons at Southern Arkansas — a career that started 7-23 in his first three seasons. "It couldn't really have been a whole lot worse as a program at the time," said Keopple, a Parkview High graduate who served as an assistant under Houston Nutt in 1998 and 1999 at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. "It's just about the kind of guys you get… and we have the best team we've probably had here." The Muleriders return 9 starters on defense and 8 starters on offense — which includes junior running back Michael Nunnery (1,110 yards, 12 touch- downs) and junior quarterback Barrett Renner, who led the GAC in passing (3,371 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 inter- ceptions) last season. Senior defensive back and leading tackler Elgin Moore (80) returns along with senior lineback- er and tackle-for-loss leader Corey Jen- kins (10.5) "There's depth everywhere," Keopple said. Six GAC players to watch LB Seth Culp, Arkansas Tech COMMENT Second leader in tackles (95) on the GAC's third-ranked scoring defense WR Jalen Tolliver, Arkansas-Monticello COMMENT Don Hansen Honorable Mention All-American after leading the GAC with 1,090 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns RB Zach Shelley, Harding COMMENT First-team All-GAC pich after rushing for 688 yards and 6 touchdowns on the GAC's leading rush offense DE Sam Johnson, Henderson State COMMENT First-team All-GAC pick and was second in the GAC with six sacks K Cole Antley, Ouachita Baptist COMMENT AFCA All-America pick after making 19 of 24 field goals including a 53-yarder RB Michael Nunnery, Southern Arkansas COMMENT Second-team All-GAC pick after rushing for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns BROOKS KUBENA ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

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