Coach: Steve Roberts (4th season, 14-22) 2004 record: 3-8 Sun Belt finish: 3-4 (6th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 64th (151.8 ypg) Passing: 69th (206.4 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 98th (196.6 ypg) Passing: 73rd (225.7 ypg)
at Oklahoma State
at UL Monroe
at North Texas
at Middle Tennessee
*Kansas City, MO
Depth Chart: Offense
4 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
6 returning starters in red
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It's been nine seasons since Arkansas State reached the .500 mark, and with Oklahoma State and Missouri on the schedule the prospects for breaking that streak aren't good unless the Indians can make some noise in Sun Belt Conference play.
But even in league play, ASU hasn't accomplished what most Indian fans had hoped. Arkansas State hasn't won more than three conference games in any season, and the big question is whether there are enough offensive weapons to improve on that mark.
Arkansas State's Indians opened up their attack in 2004, and it wasn't just because ASU was trailing in most of its games. Strong-armed Nick Noce completed 52.1 percent of his throws for 2,115 yards and 13 scores, and he was also the Indians' second-leading rusher. Noce's biggest problem was his 16 interceptions, and reducing turnovers is the key to any improvement.
ASU coaches monitored Antonio Warren's classroom efforts closely during the spring, and with good reason. Warren, who powered his way for 1,036 yards and a 5.3 average last year, will get back the year of eligibility he lost as a freshman if he meets academic requirements. Warren will also become a more frequent pass target because of the Indians' dearth of experienced receivers. Four of the top five receivers departed, and likely starters Levi Dejohnette (25 catches) and Gary Vincent (10 catches) have no starts between them. Tight end Manuel Burton has played in 31 games and will get help from converted defensive end Terrance Chavis.
The offensive front is the Indians' biggest concern. Only junior center Tanner Jenkins returns from a unit that opened holes for only eight rushing scores. Jenkins has started 17 of the last 19 games, but no one behind him has played more than 11 games.
The Indians' defensive front improved drastically from the start of '04 to the end, and two starters are back (and another has moved to linebacker) from a unit that features a budding star in tackle Myron Anderson. Jamarrow James at nosetackle gives ASU a solid inside group.
The Indians' defense took a big hit in late April when Josh Williams was dismissed from the team for violating team rules. Williams was a first-team All-Sun Belt pick, and was the nation's leading freshman tackler with 110 in '04. Outside, converted defensive end Brian Flagg also started as a true freshman while Elias Ellis returns after a year of fighting diabetes problems.
Second-team all-league pick Tyrell Johnson had 94 stops and a team-high four interceptions, and Khayyam Burns (85 tackles) is also back at safety in a revamped secondary. Montis Harrison emerged as the lock-down corner that ASU coaches were seeking late in the season.
Opponents kicked away from Darren Toney on kickoffs after midseason, but he still averaged 21.5 per return.
Kicker Eric Neihouse, a picture of inconsistency early in his career, made eight of his last 10 field goals in '04. Punter Jarod Little averaged 41.5 and was a weapon with one-fourth of his punts downed inside the 20.
Only four offensive starters return from last year's 3-8 squad, including zero receivers and one lineman, so the pressure is on a defense that allowed 45 or more points five times last season. But that unit improved during the season and has many of its key cogs in place -- albeit in different places, with the Indians switching from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 alignment this year.
If both units show improvement and Arkansas State is able to pull off one or two Sun Belt upsets, the Indians could flirt with a .500 record for the first time in quite a while.