(Part 2 of an 11-part Sun Belt Conference football preview series)
If the recent ritual upholds, Arkansas State will win the Sun Belt Conference and begin its search for a new head coach.
Former North Carolina offensive coordinator is the Red Wolves' fifth head coach in five years. His three predecessors, Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss), Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and Bryan Harsin (Boise State) all used their one season in Jonesboro as a springboard to more lucrative jobs.
A-State (8-5, 5-2), which shared the Sun Belt title with Louisiana-Lafayette under Harsin, went on to defeat Ball State 23-20 in the GoDaddy Bowl.
Junior quarterback Fredi Knighten threw for 215 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in 11 appearances last season. He was also the team's fifth-leading rusher with 344 yards and five scores. Making the most of his lone start, Knighten completed 15-of-20 passes for 115 yards with a touchdown and a pick and ran for 97 yards en route to earning MVP honors in the GoDaddy Bowl.
Electrifying junior running back/wide receiver/return specialist J.D. McKissic led the Red Wolves in receiving (81 receptions, 650 yards, 4 touchdowns), rushed 19 times for 151 yards and 1 TD and returned 21 kickoffs for a 30-yard average and another score. A year after being named the Sun Belt's Freshman of the Year, McKissic was rewarded with two spots on the first team All-Conference team as a wide receiver and all-purpose player.
A-State also returns its leading rusher in junior running back Michael Gordon (112 carries, 754 yards, 10 TDs; 16 receptions, 206 yards, 1 TD).
Junior tight end Darion Griswold (24-312-3) was fourth on the team in receiving.
Right tackle Colton Jackson, who started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman, anchors an offensive line which helped A-State rush for a conference-best 206.6 yards per game.
First-team All-Sun Belt middle linebacker Qushaun Lee returns after leading the Sun Belt with 134 tackles while chipping in six tackles for loss, an interception and two forced fumbles.
Also back are senior free safety Sterling Young (80 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 fumble recoveries), junior end Chris Stone (47 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FF), senior cornerback Artez Brown (39 tackles, 1 INT, 10 pass breakups) and senior end Dexter Blackmon (30 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks).