JONESBORO, Ark.--The Sun Belt Conference announced its 2017 preseason football coaches poll Thursday, and back-to-back league champion Arkansas State has been tabbed third after receiving one first-place vote and 122 total points.
The Red Wolves finished just five points behind Troy, while Appalachian State was chosen the favorite with 136 points. The Mountaineers and Trojans received seven and two first place votes, respectively.
Following Arkansas State, South Alabama was picked fourth (98 points), Louisiana fifth (95 points), Idaho sixth (84 points), Georgia Southern seventh (82 points), Georgia State eighth (48 points), ULM ninth (46 points), New Mexico State 10th (41 points), Texas State 11th (31 points) and Coastal Carolina 12th (26 points). The Ragin’ Cajuns and Aggies both gained one first-place vote.
The only FBS program in the nation to win five conference championships over the last six seasons, A-State has now been picked to finish among the top three teams in the league nine of the last 12 years. The Red Wolves have never been picked in the preseason coaches’ poll to win the Sun Belt Conference.
Beginning with the 2011 season, the Red Wolves have strung together six consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1912-17, won seven or more games each of the last six years for the first time in A-State history, made a school-record six consecutive bowl game appearances and piled up 52 victories that are tied for the 23rd most in the nation over that span.
Arkansas State most recently won the 2016 Sun Belt title and defeated UCF 31-13 in the Cure Bowl under head coach Blake Anderson, who is set for his fourth season in Jonesboro with back-to-back league championships under his belt. Anderson is the first head coach to win 24 or more games his first three seasons at the school and 22 of those victories have come by a double-figure margin.
The Red Wolves’ head coach has seen 29 of his players earn a league-high 43 All-Sun Belt Conference selections the last three seasons, and nine of those players are back for the 2017 campaign. The list includes senior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, who became in 2016 just the second defensive player in Sun Belt history to be named the conference’s Player of the Year.
Rolland-Jones returns alongside fellow All-Sun Belt picks Justin Clifton (DB), Justice Hansen (QB), Khari Lain (LB), Blake Mack (TE), Dijon Paschal (WR), Blaise Taylor (CB/RS), Warren Wand (RB) and Kyle Wilson (LB). The standouts account for eight of the team’s nine starters back who helped lead the team a year ago to a 7-1 conference record.
The Sun Belt Conference will hold its annual media day in New Orleans at the Superdome Monday, July 24. A-State Director of Athletics Terry Mohajir, Anderson, Wand and Hansen will all be representing the Red Wolves at the event.