Orlando Sentinel ranks Arkansas State #79 in the College Football Countdown

ORLANDO (Orlando Sentinel) - We are continuing our Preseason College Football Countdown, ranking every team at the Football Bowl Subdivision level from 120 down to 1.

Matt Murschel compiled the rankings based on several factors including: returning letterwinners, returning starters, 2010 performance, coaching staff changes, strength of schedule and strength of the conference.

No. 79: Arkansas State

Coach: Hugh Freeze (0-0, first season)

2010 record: 4-8 (4-4 in Sun Belt Conference, tied for fourth)

Look back: While Arkansas State recorded more than 400 yards of total offense in seven games and took Indiana down to the wire in 2010, the Red Wolves finished with another disappointing four-win season. Head coach Steve Roberts resigned in December after posting a 45-63 in nine seasons. The Arkansas State Athletic Director Dean Lee took a chance on a rising star, hiring offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze to take over the program six years removed from coaching high school football in Memphis.

Freeze coached at Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis for 13 years before he broke into the college ranks. Freeze coached offensive lineman Michael Oher, whose rise from poverty to football star was chronicled in the book and film "The Blind Side." The same year Oher signed with Ole Miss, Freeze accepted an administrative job then-Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron's staff. Freeze has repeatedly insisted in interviews that he earned the job thanks to his own coaching success and personal relationships with people on the staff, denying he shopped Oher around to schools in exchange for a job. Freeze spent one season on the administrative staff, then was promoted to wide receivers coach during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

When Orgeron was fired, Freeze took over as head coach of NAIA Lambuth College in Tennessee, leading the school to a 20-5 record in two seasons. He was hired to jumpstart the Arkansas State offense in 2010 and was the team's new head coach at the end of the season. The Red Wolves thrived running Freeze's offense, improving from finishing No. 98 out of 120 schools in total offense during the 2009 season to No. 40 during the 2010 season. Freeze has been praised as a strong motivational speaker who has shown the ability to connect with recruits, players and fans.

Freeze retained running backs coach David Gunn, who is entering his 10th season at Arkansas State; offensive line coach Darren Hiller, who is entering his 10th season at Arkansas State; tight ends coach Maurice Harris, who is entering his fourth season at Arkansas State; receivers coach Tyler Siskey, who is entering his fourth season at Arkansas State; and cornerback coach Corey Batoon, who is entering his third season at Arkansas State.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7

Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/7

Key losses: OL Derek Newton, OL Sifa Etu, OL Dominic Parta, OL Kiano Prater, DL Bryan Hall, S M.D. Jennings, LB Javon McKinnon

Top returnees: QB Ryan Aplin, LB Demario Davis, DL Dorvus Woods, WR Dwayne Frampton, WR Allen Muse, OL Tom Castilaw

Strengths: Quarterback Ryan Aplin, who earned first team All-Sun Belt honors during the 2010 season, returns to lead the Arkansas State offense. He enters his junior season Aplin enters his junior season ranked fifth all-time at Arkansas State in completions (329), tied for fifth in touchdown passes (24), seventh in total offense (4,558 yards) and eighth in passing yards (3,828). Aplin thrived running Freeze's no-huddle offense for the first time during the 2010 season, breaking the school's single-season school records for total offense (3,416 yards), total offensive plays (548), pass completions (252), pass yards (2,939), passing touchdowns (21) and pass attempts (410).

Dwayne Frampton and Allen Muse return to lead a talented receiver rotation. Frampton and Muse proved to be strong playmakers during the 2010 season and they have a chance to earn at least 1,000 receiving yards apiece during the 2011 season.

Center Tom Castilaw, who earned second team All-Sun Belt honors last season, was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He is the sole returning starter on the offensive line and is expected to be a strong leader for the young group.

Linebacker Demario Davis, who earned first team All-Sun Belt honors during the 2010 season; defensive lineman Dorvus Woods, who was named to the All-Sun Belt second team; and safety Kelcie McCray, the team's top returning tackler, are the strongest performers back on defense.

Weaknesses: Arkansas State will be working four new starters on the offensive line, a critical position for a team that relies on its offense for success. Freeze and his staff signed six offensive linemen, including four junior college players with a chance to make an immediate impact.

While the offense took flight during the 2010 season, the defense struggled. Arkansas State ranked No. 110 in rushing defense (206.92 yards allowed per game), No. 105 in total defense (437.08 yards allowed per game), No. 91 in scoring defense (30.75 points allowed per game) and No. 82 in pass defense (230.17 yards allowed per game). The team lost its top two tacklers from the 2010 season — linebacker Javon McKinnon and safety M.D. Jennings.

Outlook: Freeze has had some success putting together a potent offense, but it won't be easy to replace four starting offensive linemen. Arkansas State hasn't won more than six games since 1987 and it may be challenging to break the streak again in 2011.

2011 Schedule
Sept. 3 At Illinois
Sept. 10 Memphis
Sept. 17 At Virginia Tech
Sept. 24 Central Arkansas
Oct. 1 At Western Kentucky
Oct. 8 At Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 18 FIU
Oct. 29 North Texas
Nov. 5 At FAU
Nov. 12 University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Nov. 19 At Middle Tennessee
Dec. 3 Troy

Rest of the countdown:

No. 80 Ohio

No. 81 Kent State

No. 82 Western Michigan

No. 83 Idaho

No. 84 Purdue

No. 85 Iowa State

No. 86 Virginia

No. 87 Louisville

No. 88 UTEP

No. 89 Colorado State

No. 90 Louisiana-Monroe

No. 91 Kansas

No. 92 Marshall

No. 93 Louisiana Tech

No. 94 Wyoming

No. 95 Utah State

No. 96 Minnesota

No. 97 Wake Forest

No. 98 Indiana

No. 99 Duke

No. 100 Vanderbilt

No. 101 Ball State

No. 102 UAB

No. 103 Central Michigan

No. 104 FAU

No. 105 Eastern Michigan

No. 106 Louisiana

No. 107 Rutgers

No. 108 Washington State

No. 109 Rice

No. 110 Bowling Green

No. 111 Tulane

No. 112 UNLV

No. 113: Buffalo

No. 114: New Mexico State

No. 115 Western Kentucky

No. 116 Akron

No. 117 North Texas

No. 118 Memphis

No. 119 New Mexico

No. 120 San Jose State