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Big-money matchups have been a fixture of ASU’s non-conference schedule. Will it stay that way?

by Mitchell Gladstone | September 8, 2022 at 2:20 a.m.

JONESBORO -- With the fourth-youngest roster in all of college football, Arkansas State will have plenty of players on the field Saturday at No. 3 Ohio State who have yet to experience the spectacle that comes with playing in a venue like Ohio Stadium.

But the Red Wolves who have been around shouldn't be so caught off guard.

Last season, ASU made the trek to Seattle for a game at Washington. Go back to 2019 and the Red Wolves got to play between the hedges at Georgia.

For the select few who were with ASU in 2018, they got maybe the truest of college football experiences at Alabama.

Big-name matchups have been a staple of the Red Wolves' schedule over the past decade. The question is whether they'll remain a fixture.

"It's something [athletic director] Jeff [Purinton] and I spoke about that we've got to get our arms around immediately for the future," Coach Butch Jones said when asked about nonconference scheduling during his weekly news conference Tuesday. "You can't mortgage your football program. I think there's a balancing act, and I think that's part of the art of being at [the Group of 5] level."

Generating revenue through matchups with major power-conference opponents was a significant piece of the financial puzzle for Terry Mohajir, ASU's athletic director from 2012-21. The Buckeyes will pay the Red Wolves $1.8 million for Saturday's game as part of a deal consummated in 2019.

ASU received $1.7 million for the Alabama and Georgia games, with $1.75 million coming into the coffers last year from Washington. The Red Wolves will get another $1.8 million from Michigan in 2024, and ASU has games at Oklahoma and Arkansas on the schedule for 2023 and 2025, respectively -- both likely to provide notable payouts.

The problem with all those games is that they are almost certain to be losses. Although the Red Wolves did stun Kansas State in 2020, it was their only win against a Power 5 opponent dating to the 2008 season-opener.

For a program like ASU with its eyes on bowl eligibility, playing a big-name foe all but means one fewer opportunity to reach the six-win plateau.

A possible solution is setting up home-and-home deals with power-conference teams a little bit further down the pecking order. The Red Wolves are set to visit Iowa State in 2024 before hosting the Cyclones the next season.

Another could be a two-for-one like North Carolina and Appalachian State have done -- the Mountaineers nearly knocked off the Tar Heels last Saturday.

"[Playing a big opponent] gives you an opportunity to display your program and then it's on us to go on the road and play well, and it's a great challenge," Jones said. "I'm not opposed to them, you just can't have too many in a season."

Hunting for return

Te'Vailance Hunt didn't play in Arkansas State's victory over Grambling State last weekend and Coach Butch Jones did not have much in the way of an update when asked about ASU's presumed starting wide receiver Tuesday.

"Te'Vailance Hunt will still be day-to-day," Jones said. "We can't rush him back. We need to make sure when he's ready to go, he's ready to go, and there isn't anyone who wants to get back more than Te'Vailance Hunt.

In Hunt's stead, Khyheem Waleed got the start opposite Jeff Foreman, with Champ Flemings manning the inside spot.

ASU also used several two-tight-end sets featuring Emmanual Steveson and Seydou Traore, but Flemings was a significant piece of the Red Wolves' passing game from the outset. He caught two passes on the first drive, including a 29-yard touchdown.

Even when Hunt is back in the lineup, Flemings is expected to remain a focal point of ASU's offense.

"Going into the game ... we talked about being able to manufacture some touches for me early and try to get me going," Flemings said. "That helped me a lot just as far as confidence goes and getting into a rhythm.

"I wasn't too happy with the way I finished certain plays, so I've got to continue to take steps and be better. I hold myself to a high standard.

Back to Columbus

One of several power-conference transfers on ASU's roster, Brian Snead began his career at Ohio State in 2018. In fact, the former top-100 recruit from Tampa, Fla., scored a touchdown in his first game, a 77-31 rout of an Oregon State team that included ASU receiver Champ Flemings.

Snead had four carries the following week against Rutgers but was suspended before Ohio State's next game and did not play for the Buckeyes again.

According to disciplinary records obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette through a Freedom of Information request, Ohio State charged Snead with non-consensual sexual intercourse and non-consensual sexual conduct.

After a university investigation, Snead was found in violation of the school's code of student contact on both charges and dismissed on Nov. 27, 2018.

Coach Butch Jones said he and Snead had not discussed the running back's return to Columbus ahead of this weekend's game.

"Sometimes you can talk things into existence," Jones said. "[Snead] is a very mature individual. He understands [the history], so there really hasn't been much dialogue."

Vs. Big Ten

Ohio State will become the 75th FBS opponent for the Red Wolves, but this weekend will mark only their eighth game against a current Big Ten opponent.

ASU has lost all seven previous matchups -- three at Nebraska, two at Minnesota and one each at Indiana and Iowa. Four of those defeats have been by seven or fewer points, including their most recent game, a 43-36 loss to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., on Sept. 2, 2017.

Quarterback Justice Hansen set a single-game school record with 46 completions that day as ASU piled up 497 yards and had a chance to send the game into overtime in the final seconds.

Print Headline: Payout vs. credibility for ASU

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