Matt Stolz has been calling Arkansas State athletics for the better part of the 21st century and is a well-respected broadcaster. We appreciate him giving us his time to preview Saturday’s game between the Bulldogs and Red Wolves.
What are the primary goals for Arkansas State this year?
“With eight straight winning seasons and eight straight bowl games, the bar has been raised significantly. The goal is to always win a conference championship and the Red Wolves have done that five of the last eight seasons.”
This program has been to eight straight bowls, what has been the key to that success?
“It’s been a complete buy-in for everyone involved with the program. From the administration to the coaches and players and the fan base. This was a team that saw five head coaches in five years. When Steve Roberts took over in 2002, A-State was considered to be one of the worst programs in America. Over an eight-year span, he brought things to respectability, including a conference championship in 2005. Then, when Hugh Freeze took over in 2011, everything went to another level. The Red Wolves won conference titles under Freeze in 2011, Gus Malzahn in 2012, then Bryan Harsin in 2013. A big reason for A-State’s continued success is Blake Anderson bringing stability to the program. This is now his sixth season and is currently the longest-tenured coach in the Sun Belt. Some major facility upgrades have also come with the recent success, which are nothing less than phenomenal. Everything from the press box, suites, indoor facility, and new football operations building are on par with most Power Five programs around the country.”
Your team has shown it will play any team, any place, does your fan base enjoy playing against some of college football’s traditional powers year in and year out?
“Arkansas State has a fantastic athletic director in Terry Mohajir. He will schedule one Power 5 opponent every year and he’s done a great job at negotiating some of the bigger payouts in recent history. The Red Wolves played Alabama last season, so this is the second straight year they’ve played an SEC opponent. It’s something our fans enjoy and I know they’re looking forward to making the trip to Athens.”
What does Arkansas State need to do to beat Georgia?
“It will be a huge task, but the Red Wolves know to have a chance, they need to be clean in every area. They can’t afford to turn the ball over, and they’ll have to create some turnovers. Previous games on big stages like Auburn and Alabama certainly help, but the younger players can’t be intimidated by the environment.”
Fill in the Bulldog faithful on some of Arkansas State’s standout players to keep an eye on?
“Justice Hansen was the Red Wolves quarterback the last three seasons and last year he was the Sun Belt Player of the Year as a senior. Now, it’s Logan Bonner’s turn. He has patiently waited for his opportunity at that position and he looks like he has a chance to have a great year. He has a very strong arm and plays with a lot of emotion. Meanwhile, the A-State receiving corps is one of the best in the country. Kirk Merritt is a senior who led the Sun Belt in receptions and receiving yards last year and is someone that has the talent to play at the next level. Dahu Green is a 6’5 Oklahoma transfer that is also a tremendous talent. He’s battled injuries most of his career and missed the last part of preseason camp. However, there’s a lot of folks looking forward to seeing what he can do when he’s healthy. Omar Bayless is also a very dependable weapon who tied the school record with four touchdown catches against SMU in Week One. Defensively, the Red Wolves have a lot of experience, but the strength is the defensive line. Defensive tackles Kevin Thurmon and Forrest Merrill are a great combination in the middle, while William-Bradley King has a chance to be one of the better defensive ends around.”
What is your take on the Bulldogs?
“Tremendous respect for what they do in every area. This will be the biggest challenge of the year for the Red Wolves and they’ll treat it as such.”
What are some changes you’d like to see in college football?
“The popularity of college football shows you that there’s so much right about the game. However, one thing that is apparent on the FBS level is the gap that is closing between the Power Five conferences and the Group of Five. While it was a big upset, Georgia State defeating Tennessee in Week 1 is not as shocking as what it might have been before now. There’s plenty of talent to go around across 130 FBS programs and the best Group of Five programs don’t always receive the national credit they deserve. Teams like Boise State and Central Florida have shown that they can not just play with, but can beat top-tier Power Five programs on the big stage. In the Sun Belt, the level of play has risen significantly in recent years, and with programs like Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Troy continuing to win year in and year out, they hope to be more and more a part of the national conversation as well.”