GAME 1: Arkansas State (0-0) at Illinois (0-0)
Sept. 3, 2011 l Memorial Stadium (62,870)
Champaign, Ill. l 2:30 p.m. CT
Radio: EAB Sports Radio Network (107.9 FM, flagship)
TV: Big Ten Network (DIRECTV, Ch. 610)
LIVE STATS: AStateRedWolves.com
ON TAP: Hugh Freeze will make his debut as Arkansas State's head coach when the Red Wolves open their 2011 campaign Saturday at Illinois in a Big Ten Network televised game. Every A-State game can be heard live on 107.9 FM in the Jonesboro area and the live radio broadcast can be accessed through the Arkansas State athletic Web site (AStateRedWolves.com).
THE PRINCIPALS: A-State is coming off a 4-8 season, but five of its eight setbacks were by a touchdown or less. The Red Wolves' offense returns all of its statistical leaders from last year's team that ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference, and seven defensive starters are back to take part in a revamped defensive scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.
HEAD COACH HUGH FREEZE: After enjoying successful stints as both a head and assistant coach at the NCAA FBS, NAIA and high school levels over the last 18 years, Hugh Freeze was named Arkansas State's 27th head football coach on Dec. 2, 2010. Freeze most recently completed his first season as Arkansas State's offensive coordinator, guiding the Red Wolves' offense to a record-breaking year in 2010.
THE ARKANSAS STATE-ILLINOIS SERIES: Saturday's game will be the third meeting ever between Arkansas State and Illinois. The Red Wolves and Fighting Illini last met during the 2002 season, with Illinois winning 59-7. ASU and Illinois also met in the 1999 season opener, with Illinois prevailing 41-3. Both games were played in Champaign at Memorial Stadium.
A-STATE vs. THE BIG TEN: Arkansas State is 0-5 all-time against Big Ten opponents, but have been close to breaking into the win column the last two years. The Red Wolves dropped a 24-21 decision to No. 13 Iowa in 2009 and most recently fell by just two points, 36-34, at Indiana last year. Illinois claimed a pair of victories against ASU in 2002 and 1999 and Minnesota topped A-State 17-14 in 1998.
ON THIS DATE: ASU has played just four times on Sept. 3 and holds a 2-2 record in those games, winning its first two before dropping the last two. A-State first played on the date in 1983, picking up a 31-0 win over Tennessee-Martin in its season opener. ASU also knocked off Delta State by a 28-15 score on the date in its 1988 debut. The Red Wolves two setbacks on Sept. 3 came against Virginia Tech in 1994 (34-7) and Missouri in 2005 (44-17).
AN A-STATE VICTORY WOULD . . .: Improve its record in season openers to 3-1 over the last four years . . . Snap a seven-game non-conference skid . . . Give the Red Wolves their first victory over a Big Ten opponent . . . Give the Red Wolves their second win over a team from an automatic qualifying BCS conference since joining the FBS.
97th SEASON UNDER WAY: Arkansas State will kick off off its 97th season of football on Sept. 3 at Illinois. ASU holds a 406-451-37 record since the inaugural 1911 season and has played in seven bowl games. A-State did not field a football team from 1942-44 due to World War II. ASU also didn't have a team in 1918 as World War I was ending.
MAKING AN ENTRANCE: Hugh Freeze will have the opportunity to accomplish something that hasn't been done by an ASU coach since 1979 when the Red Wolves play Illinois, and that's to win his first game. Larry Lacewell was ASU's last coach to win his debut game, leading the A-State to a 24-14 victory over East Texas State 32 years ago. ASU's previous five head coaches all suffered setbacks in their first game, including Al Kincaid, Ray Perkins, John Bobo, Joe Hollis and Steve Roberts.
FOR STARTERS: ASU is 44-45-6 all-time in season openers. A-State dropped a 52-26 decision to eventual national champion Auburn to start last season, but won its previous two season openers against Mississippi Valley State (2009) and Texas A&M (2008). The Red Wolves will open the year against Illinois for the second time in school history, also starting with the Fighting Illini in 1999.
CHALLENGING START: Since moving to Division I-A in 1992, the Red Wolves have kicked off 14 of 19 seasons against an opponent from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten or Big 12. A-State's lone victory in those 14 games came in 2008 when it knocked off Texas A&M 18-14, but the Red Wolves fell by just eight points (21-13) against Texas in 2007, seven points (38-31, 2OT) to North Carolina State in 2000 and three points (17-14) versus Minnesota in 2008.
OPPOSITE SIDELINES: Illinois has one player on its roster from the state of Arkansas in sophomore Spencer Harris. Harris is from Greenwood and actually played two seasons (2009 and 2008) with 2011 ASU signee Stephen Hogan. Hogan and Harris were both named all-conference in 2009.
GOING BACK TO ILLINOIS: ASU offensive lineman Jake Campbell will be making a return to his home state this weekend as the only player on the Red Wolves' roster from Illinois. Campbell is from Belleville, which isn't far from St. Louis and the Missouri border, and was a three-year starter for Belleville East.
300-PLUS: Dating back to last season, Arkansas State posted at least 300 yards of total offense in all 12 games last season for the longest streak in school history. ASU posted over 300 yards of total offense in just six games the season prior to Hugh Freeze taking over as offensive coordinator.
PRESEASON ALL-SBC ACCOLADES: Five Arkansas State football players were tabbed Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference, including senior wide receiver Dwayne Frampton, senior center Tom Castilaw, senior defensive lineman Dorvus Woods, senior linebacker Demario Davis and senior safety Kelcie McCray.
PRESEASON PREDICTIONS: The Red Wolves finished fifth in the preseason poll that was voted on by the league's nine head coaches. Arkansas State received 49 points in the poll with one first-place vote, with FIU receiving the nod as the preseason favorite with 75 points and five first-place votes. The Golden Panthers were followed by Troy with 66 points and two first-place votes, with Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe tying for third at 54 points each.
NATIONAL COVERAGE: Arkansas State will play at least one nationally-televised game for the third consecutive year in 2011. The Red Wolves will host a nationally-televised game for the second straight season as well, catching Florida International at ASU Stadium on Oct. 18.
RIMINGTON AWARD WATCH LIST: Senior center Tom Castilaw is on the 2011 Rimington Award Watch List issued annually to the nation's top center, making him the second ASU player to ever earn the preseason recognition. Tanner Jenkins was also on the list in 2006. Castilaw was a 2010 Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference selection after starting the final 11 games of the season.
LOMBARDI AWARD WATCH LIST: Senior linebacker Demario Davis is the fifth player in school to be named to the Lombardi Award Watch List, issued to the top college lineman at the end of the season. Davis, a 2010 First Team All-Sun Belt choice, joins Alex Carrington (2009), Matt Mandich (2008), Tanner Jenkins (2006) and Garry Johnson (2001 and 2002) as A-State players that have been named to the award's watch list.
BILETNIKOFF AWARD WATCH LIST: Senior wide receiver Dwayne Frampton is the first player in school history to ever be named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List for the nation's top receiver. Frampton finished his junior season with the second most receptions (69) and seventh most receiving yards (738) in school history.
PRESEASON ALL-SUN BELT RECOGNITION: Sixteen different ASU players have been named to at least one of the major preseason publication's preseason All-Sun Belt Conference teams. The Red Wolves have at least one player on a preseason all-conference squad at 12 different positions, including quarterback (Ryan Aplin), running back (Derek Lawson), wide receiver (Dwayne Frampton, Allen Muse, Taylor Stockemer), center (Tom Castilaw), offensive tackle (James Williams), defensive tackle (Dorvus Woods, Amos Draper), linebacker (Demario Davis, Nathan Herrold), defensive end (Brandon Joiner), linebacker (Demario Davis), cornerback (Darron Edwards), safety (Kelcie McCray) and punt returner (Rod Hall).
TOP PRODUCERS ON OFFENSE RETURN: The Red Wolves return their leading passer, top five rushers and three of their four most productive receivers from last year's team that finished second in the Sun Belt Conference in total offense and broke nine school records. The Red Wolves also return starting tight end Kedric Murry. While A-State graduate four of its five starting offensive linemen on last year's team, it can look to Tom Castilaw to anchor its line.
STRONG DEFENSIVE CAST: ASU returns seven starters on defense, including four of its top six tacklers, seven players that accounted for 17.5 of its 27 sacks and five more that recorded eight of its 11 interceptions. Not included in that group is corner Darron Edwards, who led ASU last season with 10 pass break-ups.
REVERSE SCENARIO: ASU is in an entirely different situation at special teams than it was a year ago at this time. With the exception of deep snapper, the Red Wolves had no players with game experience filling any of its special teams positions entering the 2010 season. Now, ASU must fill its deep snapper position, but returns its leaders at every other spot.