The Sun Belt Conference's preseason prognostications weren't too kind to Arkansas State, but that doesn't seem to faze ASU Coach Butch Jones.
He's looking more toward where his Red Wolves will be situated by season's end.
"I think we've had a really good and productive offseason," Jones said during the opening session of the conference's media days Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans. "We had a really good winter, had a very good spring and then we've had a very good summer. You look back, and everybody's filled with optimism, everybody's excited about the upcoming season, everybody's working hard.
"But really at the end of the day, it's the team and the programs that can manage the natural adversity that a long football season brings about that are going to be the ones that really like where they're at in December. Right now, I really like where our football team is."
Where ASU is currently is where Jones said he figured they'd be, especially after taking more of a calculated approach to construct his group. But that didn't stop the Sun Belt from offering up an opinion on where it feels the Red Wolves will be once the dust is cleared on the 2023 season.
After going 3-9, including 1-7 in conference play, last season, ASU was selected to finish sixth in the West Division -- the second consecutive year the team was picked that spot -- according to the Sun Belt's preseason coaches poll. The Red Wolves lost six of their final seven games in 2022, but there is plenty of optimism after the program's 2023 recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the conference by 247Sports.
Reigning conference champion Troy was picked to win the division, with South Alabama, Louisiana and Southern Mississippi following in succession. Texas State was tabbed to finish fifth, and Louisiana-Monroe was chosen seventh.
The East Division, whose coaches and players will speak today, was paced by James Madison, which narrowly outpointed Appalachian State 78-75 for first place in the poll. Coastal Carolina, led by the conference's preseason player of the year quarterback Grayson McCall, was third, followed by Marshall at fourth, Georgia Southern at fifth and Georgia State at sixth. Old Dominion took last.
But for Jones, preseason predictions won't mean much when his team kicks off the season Sept. 2 at Oklahoma. Instead, it's the players wearing the Red Wolves uniforms who'll ultimately decide how things play out. According to their third-year coach, the pieces are coming together for a team itching to get reclaim the league's throne.
"I never really believed in the analogy where coaches would say where Year 1 is Year 0, Year 2 is Year 1," Jones said. "Well I've experienced it in the building of this program. Year 1 was just lining up and really fielding a football team. We had to go through the portal, we had to fulfil our allotment of scholarships to be able to field a team. But then we made a decision.
"As a coach when you come in, you can look to get a quick fix through the portal and do that every single year, or you can kind of build it methodically. We made the decision that we're going to build it methodically, and we needed to improve the influx of young talent in our program."
Recruiting has been at the forefront of Jones' plan, and he's brought in impressive hauls in back-to-back years. He and his staff have also continued to add components through the portal, with several of those players having played at NCAA Power 5 programs.
The Red Wolves, who do bring back preseason All-Sun Belt kicker Dominic Zvada, either held a lead or were tied in the fourth quarter eight times last season. They eventually lost those eight games.
Still, Jones said he has high expectations for ASU, which is looking to make the kind of jump that could result in the team taking home their first conference crown since 2016 or reaching their first bowl game since 2019.
"We have more distributed leadership than we've ever had," Jones said. "The accountability, the expectations. ... everything is in place. We're a completely different football program than what we were a year ago. A lot of times, usually in Year 3, you can start to see the culture kick in, you can start to see basically the quality of players.
"Our three previous staffs were 30-9 in Year 3. Does that mean we're going to have success in Year 3 at Arkansas State? It doesn't guarantee us anything, but we know how the program is set up, and we know how far we've come."
Sun Belt preseason football poll
PL. TEAM (1ST)POINTS
1. Troy (10)92
2. South Alabama (4)85
4. Southern Mississippi62
5. Texas State36
6. Arkansas State33
PL. TEAM (1ST)POINTS
1. James Madison (4)78
2. Appalachian State (4)75
3. Coastal Carolina (3)71
4. Marshall (2) 68
5. Georgia Southern (1)52
6. Georgia State21
7. Old Dominion17