Next year’s Red Wolves will be a completely different animal.

For the first time since 2014, the Arkansas State Red Wolves will start the season with a new head coach at the helm. But whatever Butch Jones has up his sleeve for A-State, his signature buzz cut won’t be the atmosphere’s lone alteration.

With Blake Anderson, we had consistency and stability – he demystified the program. Good, bad and mediocre, we knew every ingredient tossed in the stew: lots of passing, an exciting transfer, shaky defense, tickets to a bowl game, way too much discussion about a snack closet, and maybe a video of players hanging out in Anderson’s backyard swimming pool.

Today, Blake Anderson is trying on snow pants in Utah (along with co-quarterback Logan Bonner) and Jonesboro is a different place, like when Andy’s opened up with a retro look on Red Wolf Blvd. Fresh vibe!

When Butch is finally finished counseling Alabama to another championship, he’ll arrive to his freshly Pledged office at Centennial Bank Stadium not needing to rebuild a program. Rather, all that’s really needed is a good shaking. As a fan, we should see a distinct difference in the team.

Layne Hatcher Is (The Only) “The Man”

Everybody likes Logan Bonner. Also, everybody like Layne Hatcher. For an entire season, the Red Wolves quarterback was the plot of a 1980s rom-com, with the Red Wolves coaching staff attempting to appease both without losing either one. But Bonner has bailed, making Hatcher the undisputed “The Man,” provided Butch Jones doesn’t decide to bring some kind of super-transfer to the mix.

But let’s assume that Hatcher is the guy. Now Jones has a quarterback who’s two years deep with personnel knowledge and possesses a nearly supernatural knack for finding his receivers. Behind Hatcher are a couple of intriguing guys – rostered redshirt freshman Coltin Clack and incoming recruit Wyatt Begeal. But neither are expected to push Hatcher. This is Layne Hatcher’s offense now.

We’re gonna miss you guys

Arkansas State loses linebacker Justin Rice, OL Jarret Horst, LB Caleb Bonner and wide receiver Jonathan Adams. That’s a pile of tackles, blocks and receptions. As of this writing, it’s assumed (but not ascertained) that the Red Wolves will be without Forrest Merrill as well. The Red Wolves have about 20 or so guys eligible for the NCAA’s “COVID Year” exemption. Do we get another year of Dahu Green (already with a medical exemption), Brandon Bowling and 29th year senior running back Jamal Jones?

Corey Rucker and Jeff Foreman are the next wave of Super Receivers

Dahu Green and Brandon Bowling’s status notwithstanding, the receiving squad is now headlined by Rucker and Foreman, who put on a clinic in the 2020 finale. Both are tremendous. Neither are Jay Adams and Omar Bayless – at least not yet. But man, with Hatcher behind center, it looks promising, doesn’t it?

Check out the new staff, you guys

Full disclosure: I don’t know a good assistant coach from a big bag of onions. But I do know that I love seeing A-State demigods Ryan Aplin and Brandon Joiner on the staff. Defensive coordinator Rob Harley from Pitt looks like the legit guy to repair the Arkansas State defense, and I have no reason to doubt Butch Jones’ faith in young A.J. Milwee as OC. He did some nice things in Akron with the Zips. Should we be upset that Major Applewhite shunned us for South Alabama? Nah.

We bid “adios” to Faith, Family and Fun

This mindset delivered a couple Sun Belt titles and multiple bowl trips. But today’s Sun Belt is more competitive and cutthroat than ever. The program requires a sharper edge, and Butch Jones is the whetstone. Some will miss Blake Anderson’s decency and locker room diplomacy. Others will find Jones’ SEC mindset more suitable to unseating Coastal, Louisiana and Appalachian State from the Sun Belt’s Sheriff Department.

Fan interest is vibrating with positive energy

As new-blood teams like Coastal, Appalachian State, and Georgia Southern began to reshape the SBC standings, Red Wolves fans were beginning to feel left behind. The grumblings about dumping season tickets and abandoning the program were growing in frequency. The executioner’s axe of apathy was raised high. The hire of Butch Jones reminded fans that A-State is still a golden brand, and that retrieving the Sun Belt Sheriff’s Badge was still within reach. Expect fresh fan energy in 2021.

Hopefully, no more of this COVID-19 shit

At the time of this writing, COVID-19 has taken the lives of 330,000 Americans, stressed out healthcare system to the limit, and exposed many of us as selfish assholes. But behold! We have a vaccine, and if we can push through this winter, we might be back to normal by summertime. By that virtue, 2021 will be a season we see packed stadiums and zero game cancelations. I’ll be raising my glass to this on New Years Eve.