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Miami cancellation adds to ASU’s frustration

It is unusual to write sympathetically about Arkansas State while positioned in the heart of Razorbacks country, but I will proceed anyway and deal with the backlash later.

There should’ve been two games involving top-25 opponents in Arkansas on Saturday. No. 23 Texas Christian University and the Razorbacks played in Fayetteville, but Arkansas State’s much-anticipated matchup with No. 16 Miami was canceled by Miami over concerns about Hurricane Irma.

Florida Atlantic (Wisconsin), Florida International (Alcorn State) and Florida Tech (McNeese State) left ahead of the storm in an effort to keep their scheduled road games.

“The coaches are working out a way to stay an extra couple days until the storm passes through Florida,” Florida Tech Sports Information Director Daniel Supraner told the Lake Charles (La.) American Press before the team arrived on Friday. “Whether it’s staying until late Sunday night or wait until Monday, we still don’t know.”

So, tiny Florida Tech can make arrangements to play a Division II game while hotshot Miami with its big budget and five national championships can’t?

Let’s be clear. The threat of severe weather is not to be taken lightly, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered all state colleges and universities closed through Monday. But Miami didn’t want to play this game at Arkansas State and the folks in charge there now can’t believe the program agreed to it in 2013.

Miami is accustomed to high-profile games against traditional powers such as Notre Dame, Michigan and Florida State. Add the fact Arkansas State came within a touchdown and two-point conversion of winning at Nebraska raises questions as to why Miami rejected offers to move the game to Friday night.

“I appreciate the Sun Belt Conference office, Commissioner Karl Benson and ESPN’s work to give us the option to move the game and broadcast to Friday night,” ASU Athletic Director Terry Mohajir wrote in a press release on Wednesday. “Ultimately, the Miami administration made the decision not to travel.”

So, Miami got Saturday off to prepare for Florida State, and Arkansas State turns its attention to this week’s home game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. That’s a double dose of Debbie Downer if you’re an ASU supporter.

Having its biggest-ever home game canceled because of a hurricane half a continent away is the latest in a long line of bad breaks for the Red Wolves. Arkansas State has either won or shared five of the past six Sun Belt Conference championships, and the Red Wolves finished strong last year by beating Central Florida 31-13 in the Cure Bowl. But that signature win against against a Power 5 Conference opponent continues to elude them.

Arkansas State lost 43-36 at Nebraska the previous Saturday after a pass into the end zone went over the outstretched arms of the intended receiver. Arkansas State thought it had a touchdown on a previous play but an official ruled the receiver did not have control of the football before he stepped out of the end zone.

Two years ago, then-No. 21 Missouri overcame an early deficit and defeated Arkansas State 27-20 before a near sellout crowd at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro.

Back in 1984, Arkansas State was leading 19-3 at Texas A&M when a 75-yard punt return was called back because of a clipping penalty. ASU lost the game 22-21.

ASU also lost 17-16 at Kansas and 18-16 at Ole Miss years ago.

Those frustrations extend to basketball, where ASU lost first-year coach Grant McCasland last spring after he led the Red Wolves to a 20-win season that included victories over Georgetown, Cleveland State and Chattanooga. In addition, no longtime sports fan in Northwest Arkansas can forget the NIT game in 1987 when Cannon Whitby banked in a late 3-pointer and helped the Razorbacks beat ASU 67-64 in overtime.

Arkansas State will have more opportunities against top teams in football, starting in 2018 when the Red Wolves play at Alabama and in 2019 against Georgia on the road. But knowing ASU’s luck, those games will be canceled because of Hurricane Nick and Tropical Storm Kirby.

Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@ nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.

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