Bowl: Arkansas State Has Opportunity for Program-Changing Win

Alan BlackAnalyst IIIJanuary 7, 2012

QB Ryan Aplin leads an Arkansas State team enjoying unprecedented levels of success
QB Ryan Aplin leads an Arkansas State team enjoying unprecedented levels of success

The Arkansas State Red Wolves have had a breakout season, compiling a record of 10-2 and winning the Sun Belt Conference. First-year head coach Hugh Freeze did an absolutely incredible job of taking a program with little history of success and turning them into conference champions with double-digit wins.

Since transitioning to the FBS level from Division I-AA about two decades ago, the Red Wolves had never managed more than six wins in a season, and they had only managed that feat a couple times.  This year's Arkansas State team shattered the futility surrounding the programing, reaching heights monumental for a team with little history of success.

The Bowl on Sunday presents the Red Wolves with a shot at truly changing the program into a successful one, and shaping a future far more successful than Arkansas State football's past.

Coach Freeze is gone, leaving to coach his home-state team of Ole Miss after impressing the nation with the Red Wolves' turnaround this season. Now is the chance for the Red Wolves to prove that they weren't just a one-and-done product of a terrific coach.

The Red Wolves won't have Coach Freeze when they face off against Northern Illinois this Sunday.  Instead, they will be led by interim coach David Gunn. Winning without Freeze would prove to recruits, fans and the nation as a whole that the program is here to stay.

Freeze's long-term replacement will be highly touted Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who has plenty of name recognition and who will most likely be able to put together some pretty good recruiting classes based on that recognition. Winning the bowl would give a jump start to Malzahn's tenure, as Malzahn chose to retain Gunn on his staff for next season, so success would carry over to next year.

There's also the fact that Arkansas State has never won a bowl game at the FBS level. The first bowl win is always monumental, as evidenced by the national frenzy that followed fellow Sun Belt team Louisiana-Lafayette's first-ever bowl victory last month.

A victory in the bowl would also give Arkansas State an outside shot at becoming the first-ever Sun Belt team to reach the top 25 in the polls. It's hard to snub a team that has 11 victories an a bowl win, after all.

The Bowl may not capture national attention as much as some of the higher-profile bowls on the days surrounding it, but it carries a world of significance for the Arkansas State Red Wolves.