Arkansas State not ready to challenge its money opponents

Updated: August 28, 2003, 8:10 AM ET

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Economics force Arkansas State to play money games on the road against opponents such as Virginia Tech, Illinois and Ole Miss to help fund the athletic program.

Last year, the Indians lost those three games by a combined score of 174-31, but they made a total of $1.2 million on the trips. This season, Arkansas State only has two such games, this week at Texas A&M and a return trip to Ole Miss.

Steve Roberts made drastic improvements at Arkansas State last year, when the Indians were 6-4 outside of their money games. However, Roberts' team still has work to do before challenging to win a game played for cash.

"I think it's obviously good for our program in a lot of respects," Roberts said. "It gives us a measuring stick right off the bat. I think most would agree it impacts our budget. There's definitely some difficult tasks."

Texas A&M opens its season without R.C. Slocum on the sideline in some capacity for the first time since 1981. Slocum was fired after 14 years and a school-record 123 victories as head coach.

Dennis Franchione took over after leading Alabama to a 17-8 record in two seasons, including a 10-3 record last year. Had the Crimson Tide not been on NCAA probation, its 6-2 Southeastern Conference record would have won the Western Division.

The Aggies' defense fell off last year, giving up an average of 35 points while finishing 1-4 in the final five games to fall to 6-6. The only victory in that stretch was over then-No. 1 Oklahoma, when then-freshman quarterback Reggie McNeal came off the bench to throw four touchdown passes.

McNeal and junior Dustin Long (2,509 yards, 19 TDs, 16 INTs) will play quarterback against Arkansas State. The Aggies also return leading rusher Derek Farmer (739 yards, seven TDs), top receiver Jamaar Taylor (44 receptions for 760 yards) and eight of its top 10 offensive linemen.

Defense was Arkansas State's strong suit last year when it led the Sun Belt Conference in turnover margin during league games at plus-10 and it was second in points allowed at 18.2 per game.

Texas A&M's defense should start turning things around against an Indians offense using five running backs and a revamped offensive line.

TEXAS A&M 42, ARKANSAS STATE 13

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Other predictions involving college teams in Arkansas:

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF 27, ALCORN STATE 20

SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA 35, ARKANSAS-MONTICELLO 21

MCNEESE STATE 31, HENDERSON STATE 21

ARKANSAS TECH 17, MIDWESTERN STATE 13

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The season record last year was 61-32, a .656 winning percentage.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index