Sun Belt Preview

NEW FACES, NEW RACES FOR CHAMPIONSHIP, BOWL SPOTS IN NEW-LOOK SUN BELT

If there was ever a conference where you really needed to buckle down and FOCUS, it’s the 2014 Sun Belt. Teams with the most promising financial futures have moved up in recent years to Conference USA (including Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International). And, there are plenty of new faces now playing for the Sun Belt trophy.

Idaho and New Mexico State: Both were Independents last year, now both are inexplicably playing in a league associated with the Southeast part of the country because it’s so hard for non-entities to make a go of up as Independents.

Appalachian State and Georgia Southern: both schools are stepping up from the Southern Conference in a lower division…though both have scored high profile victories in recent memory. Everyone remembers the day Appalachian State stunned Michigan in Ann Arbor. Last year Georgia Southern shocked fading Florida in Gainesville.

This will be our biggest report so far because the 11-team league isn’t split into two divisions…which means we’d better jump right in…

Sun Belt

Louisiana-Lafayette
2013 Record: 9-4
2013 Rankings: 56 on offense, 56 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth
Notebook: The Ragin’ Cajuns are the clear favorite to win the title because they had a winning record last year, return more starters than anyone else, and are the only team that has any confidence in its quarterback. Terrance Broadway didn’t necessarily live up to his showbiz name considering the poor stat rankings for the offense. Everybody else has question marks at the position, and less depth overall.

South Alabama
2013 Record: 6-6
2013 Rankings: 50 on offense, 50 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Joey Jones
Notebook: It’s gotten so bad for the Sun Belt that recent newcomer South Alabama is now seen as a potential contender for the title. That speaks well of head coach Jones. But, we’re talking about a team that went 4-3 in league play last year, while losing to Southern Utah, and losing BADLY to Navy in non-conference action. A lot of experience on offense, except at the most important position…quarterback.

Arkansas State
2013 Record: 8-5
2013 Rankings: 65 on offense, 74 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Blake Anderson
Notebook: Last year’s head coach Bryan Harsin went to Boise State, without really impressing with the Red Wolves to the degree it usually takes to move to better paying gigs. Good tests early at Tennessee and Miami will set the tone for the season.

Troy
2013 Record: 6-6
2013 Rankings: 27 on offense, 112 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Larry Blakeney
Notebook: This program had some great years…but recruiting faded a bit…and the team is nowhere near as scary as it used to be. The defense in particularly is atrocious…and there’s no evidence that’s going to get any better. Georgia may score 70 against them in a September meeting.

Louisiana-Monroe
2013 Record: 6-6
2013 Rankings: 98 on offense, 90 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 9 on defense
Head Coach: Todd Berry
Notebook: So few returning quarterbacks in the Sun Belt this year. Monroe will miss Kolton Browning, who would have led the team to a better offensive ranking if he could have stayed healthy. Handicappers should pay A LOT of attention to September performances from Sun Belt quarterbacks because Vegas oddsmakers are notoriously slow to react in this conference.

Texas State
2013 Record: 6-6
2013 Rankings: 111 on offense, 58 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Dennis Franchione
Notebook: Tyler Jones is listed as a returning quarterback…but that can’t mean much given the horrible stat ranking for the offense last year. A lot of 6-6 teams in the Sun Belt…which means there’s parity in the league, and everyone’s figured out a way to win 1-2 non-conference matchups against opponents like Prairie View (last year) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (this year).

Georgia Southern
2013 Record: 7-4 (in Southern Conference)
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Willie Fitz
Notebook: Remember that going 7-4 in the Southern Conference may not mean much in the Sun Belt. Yes, the Eagles shocked Florida in their season finale. They also lost to Wofford, Samford, Appalachian State, and Furman. Truly an unknown quantity with so much new talent in the lineup.

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Appalachian State
2013 Record: 4-8 (in Southern Conference)
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Scott Satterfield
Notebook: Wow…how bad do you have to be to go 4-8 while playing in the Southern Conference?! The Mountaineers do return their quarterback and plenty of other offensive talent. That will give them a chance to win some shootouts. Oh, guess where Appalachian State begins the season. August 30 at Michigan!

Idaho
2013 Record: 1-11 (as an Independent)
2013 Rankings: 90 on offense, 121 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Petrino
Notebook: This was a horrendously bad team last season, and there’s no reason to expect improvement until you actually see it. Brutal travel schedule if they insist on playing in this league, and adding road trips to Florida, Ohio, and San Diego State. Maybe they’ll enjoy some home field advantage in a cold November against Arkansas State and Troy.

Georgia State
2013 Record: 0-12
2013 Rankings: 103 on offense, 107 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Trent Miles
Notebook: The team was actually much better than their 0-12 record makes it sound. Hey, they were still pretty bad! But, they lost by only two points at Arkansas State, and also had single digit losses to Texas State and Troy. Perhaps they’ll be a value team again this season, if not any sort of contender.

New Mexico State
2013 Record: 2-10 (as an Independent)
2013 Rankings: 81 on offense, 123 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 2 on defense
Head Coach: Doug Martin
Notebook: Basically another version of Idaho. They did beat Idaho last year, but that was a late season home game. The other win was over Abilene Christian, a small-college program.

Ugly conference for the most part…but one that could still yield beautiful winners to smart handicappers!

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More football on tap Sunday. Here’s the upcoming schedule…

Sunday: College Football…Independents Preview (including Notre Dame, BYU, & Navy)
Monday: NL Review at the All-Star Break
Tuesday: AL Review at the All-Star Break
Wednesday: College Football…ACC Atlantic Division Preview
Thursday: College Football…ACC Coastal Division Preview

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25
Sep

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