JONESBORO, Ark. – When Arkansas State hosts SMU on Saturday night to open its season, it will be playing for head coach Blake Anderson, who lost his wife to cancer on Aug. 19. Anderson had previously taken a leave of absence to be with his wife, leaving defensive coordinator David Duggan at the helm.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Plus. LINE: Arkansas State -2.5
"I have 100 percent confidence in Coach Duggan, our football coaching staff and student leadership on this team to move us forward with our academics and competition," the Arkansas State Athletics Department said in a statement. But the show must go on for the Red Wolves as they take on a Mustangs team that just missed out on a bowl game in 2018. SMU is sporting a host of new players, consisting of freshmen and graduate transfers who look likely to make an immediate impact on the team. The most prominent new face in Dallas is quarterback Shane Buechele, who is just three seasons removed from starting every game as a freshman at Texas.
ABOUT SMU (2018: 5-7)
Buechele is not the only graduate transfer the Mustangs are excited about -- linebacker Richard McBryde transferred from Auburn after missing last season with a neck injury and will contribute to a defense that finished 110th nationally in 2018. As for younger new faces, coach Sonny Dykes told the Dallas News that freshmen wide receivers Keke Burns and Calvin Wiggins are "further along than they expected." Leading the receiving corps is James Proche, who had 93 receptions for 1,193 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns last season.
ABOUT ARKANSAS STATE (2018: 8-5)
After losing quarterback Justice Hansen to graduation, the Red Wolves will turn to redshirt junior signal-caller Logan Bonner, who has 24 completions in two years as the backup, including two touchdowns. But a familiar face is returning in sophomore running back Marcel Murray, who was third-team All-Sun Belt as a freshman, leading the team with 874 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball, the team returns eight of their top 10 tacklers, highlighted by senior defensive back Darreon Jackson and junior linebacker Tajhea Chambers.
1. Arkansas State, looking to become bowl-eligible for the ninth straight season, was 7-1 when giving up 21 points or fewer in 2018.
2. Proche had five 100-yard games last season, giving him nine for his career.
3.The Red Wolves were picked to finish second in the Sun Belt's West Division while SMU was tabbed to finish fourth of six teams in the American Athletic Conference's West Division.
PREDICTION: Arkansas State 30, SMU 17