Tag:Louisiana-Monroe
Posted on: February 16, 2012 5:05 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 9:08 am
 

A sad goodbye to Karl Benson & perhaps WAC

The enduring image of Karl Benson will be his practically skipping through the University of Phoenix Stadium press box on Jan. 1, 2007.

Boise State had just shocked Oklahoma, college football and the world. The commissioner of the Broncos’ league was along for the ride. Karl Benson, a former Boise State shortstop, had just seen the gosh-darndest thing in his life. Along with the rest of us.

He was proud that his lowly-but-proud Western Athletic Conference had taken advantage of the BCS rules to – put in terms of the conference’s marketing slogan – Play Up. Yes, the loosening of BCS bowl access rules in 2006 contributed to Boise’s rise. But it took the team’s performance on the field to convince the world that college football wasn’t the exclusive domain of the Big Six conferences.

WAC member Hawaii went to the Sugar Bowl a year later but the new wave punk band that was the WAC slowly broke up over the years. Boise State skipped from the Mountain West to the Big East. Others followed.

The plucky little conference that couldn’t be killed was on its death bed Thursday with the news that Benson had become the new Sun Belt commissioner. On the surface, Benson is trading a job at the 10th-rated conference in FBS to one rated 11th(and last in the division).

In reality, it is the latest shift of conference realignment tectonic plates. The 50-year old WAC that Benson leaves behind be damaged beyond recognition.  It was formed in 1962 in order to grab an NCAA tournament automatic bid – there were only 24 at the time. The Original Six included Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.  The current seven-team league (in football) could be absorbed like rain into the soil by some combination of Benson’s new conference and the emerging Big Country (Conference USA/Mountain West conglomeration).

It really depends on the intentions of the Big Country. 

Benson, 60, fought the good fight out West with dignity. Now it’s time to keep the Sun Belt alive and kicking. Time after time on the conference call announcing his hiring, Benson was not shy about saying he wanted the 10-member Sun Belt (in football) to grow to 12. At least. It doesn’t take too much to figure out where those two (or more) teams are going to come from.

As mentioned, in 2012 the WAC is down to seven teams, one above the NCAA minimum. The teams that emerged from that conference to gain BCS bowls under Benson’s watch – Boise State and Hawaii – are long gone. Just a guess but look for the Sun Belt to go after WAC member Louisiana Tech – if the Big Country doesn’t get to Ruston first. The New Orleans-based Sun Belt already has members at Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe.

“There are schools in the [Louisiana] footprint that would make sense,” Benson said.   

Other possibilities: Any combination of Appalachian State, Georgia State, Jacksonville State and Liberty. All four are moving up or in the process of moving up to FBS.  

Benson has literally held the WAC together by force of personality. First, reorganizing after half the then-16 team league left in 1999 to form the Mountain West. (He got the news lying down on the couch at home after eye surgery.) Then with the departure of Boise State (Mountain West, then Big East) as well as Fresno, Hawaii, Nevada (Mountain West) Benson hustled within the last year to add Texas State and Texas-San Antonio. The next FBS game those two schools play will be their first.

The pity is if in the end Benson was somehow forced out of the WAC. The conference owes its current existence to him. With the Sun Belt’s Wright Waters stepping down, the lowest-ranked FBS league is about to experience a rebirth. The so-called Group of Five non-BCS conferences (WAC, MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt) could to shrink to three.

In a way it consolidates Big Six conferences’ power. The apparent end of BCS automatic qualifying conferences in 2014 means that access to the game’s biggest bowls becomes more important for the “non-AQs” that Benson helped make famous.

“I often asked who is the next Boise State?” he said. “With my Sun Belt hat on, why not someone from the Sun Belt?”

 

WAC football membership in 2012

Idaho 
Louisiana Tech
New Mexico State
San Jose State
Texas State
Utah State


Sun Belt football membership in 2012

Arkansas State
Florida Atlantic
Florida International
Louisiana-Lafayette
Louisiana-Monroe
Middle Tennessee
North Texas
South Alabama
Troy
Western Kentucky


Posted on: February 10, 2011 2:28 pm
Edited on: February 10, 2011 2:33 pm
 

National notes leading w/ TCU-Wisconsin

Let's straighten out this TCU-Wisconsin mini-controversy. There's a huge reason the Horned Frogs did not want to play the Badgers for the second time in nine months. Its 2011 schedule is all but full.

TCU took a bit of a beating in the court of public opinion this week when Badgers coach Bret Bielema casually mentioned on a radio show that he had been approached by a third party to play the Horned Frogs in Madison in 2011. TCU turned down the "offer." Words like "rematch" and "ducking" entered the conversation on the always level-headed Worldwide Interweb. 

It wasn't a true rematch in that Wisconsin wasn't willing to return the game. There was no ducking because, in truth, TCU's schedule is about to be finalized. The public just doesn't know about it yet. 

The only other opening on the TCU schedule is expected to be filled by BYU on Friday, Oct. 28 at Cowboys Stadium. Pending the final contracts, that's the way it's going to be. TCU's other non-conference games are against Baylor, SMU, Louisiana-Monroe and Portland State. The Froggies will be playing five non-conference games because there are only seven conference games in its final season in the Mountain West.

AD Chris Del Conte's "Anytime, anyplace, anywhere," blast was in reference to Ohio State after Gordon Gee's "Little Sisters of the Poor," comment during the season. It doesn't apply to Wisconsin which was not committed to a return game. TCU is at a level now that it doesn't have to take one-off games on the road. 

It has future home-and-homes scheduled with Oklahoma, Virginia, LSU and Arkansas.




England, Hong Kong weigh in on the BCS: Nothing like a little foreign influence in the BCS. 

The San Diego State International Sports MBA Case Competition is taking on the postseason system in its annual contest involving some of the world's best MBA programs. Twelve schools are being asked to present their best alternatives for postseason college football. The winning group of students will present their case this summer to Mark Cuban, a noted BCS critic and NBA referee baiter who proposed his own playoff plan last year.

Among the MBA programs involved are San Diego State, UCLA, USC, Cal, Notre Dame, Texas, Florida as well as -- wait for it -- Oxford and Hong Kong University.

"We're really interested in what they say, they have no skin in the game," said Greg Block, a media relations director at San Diego State. 

Per the press release, "The largest hurdle ... is to work around the existing personalities and relationships in the current system, making it possible for an independent, outside company to navigate the existing power structures, earn a profit and enact lasting change that is supported by all (I-A) universities."

A time-saving hint for the MBAers: They might start by calling the Rose Bowl, Big Ten and Pac-12 to figure out how to get those three entities in a playoff. No one inside the system has been able to do it yet.

A winner will be determined Friday night. 



Signed and sealed: If you want to view the inner workings of an NCAA CEO you'll have to wait another 57 years. 

Bumping around the NCAA website this week, I discovered something called the Richard D. Schultz Papers. If that sounds like something akin to presidential papers, you're right. Schultz was the NCAA's second executive director from 1987-1993, following the iconic Walter Byers. During his time NCAA basketball revenue skyrocketed, a football playoff became topical and gender equity became a major issue as Title IX took hold.

The point is, you may have to wait a while to read about it.  Schultz' papers were sealed back in 1993 for 75 years or until 2068. All 111 boxes, taking up 57 linear feet. 

"There are some documents the public will never see," said NCAA librarian Lisa Douglass. 

The records are open only to NCAA employees and to "outside researchers" at the discretion of NCAA librarian, according to the site. I don’t know how much juicy stuff is in there but Schultz was not without a bit of controversy in his career. He resigned in 1993 after an investigation into improper loans given to athletes while he was AD at Virginia. 

Juicy stuff, if you're an NCAA nerd like me and love poking around that that kind of stuff. For some reason Byers' papers are more accessible. Those of Cedric Dempsey, who replaced Schultz and Myles Brand are still being assembled.
Posted on: September 15, 2010 10:27 am
Edited on: September 15, 2010 10:31 am
 

National notes

Don't tell anyone but we didn't learn much from Showdown Saturday except that Virginia Tech would have a hard time winning the Colonial Athletic Association.

For the most part, Showdown was a letdown.

Mark Twain could have replaced Mark Ingram and Alabama still would have beaten Penn State. OK, Ingram has better top end speed than Twain but you get my point.

Alabama's season is boiling down to three-week stretch during which Bama plays at Arkansas (Sept. 25), at home against Florida (Oct. 2) and at South Carolina (Oct. 9).

Miami still has work to do in its long-awaited comeback. Jacory Harris has a lot of work to do with his judgment.  After throwing four picks vs. Ohio State, Harris is tied for second nationally (at least in the NCAA top 100) with four interceptions.  Last year Harris was No. 2 in picks (17) behind Ole Miss' Jevan Snead (20).

Tennessee put up a good fight for a half against Oregon.

Florida State didn't even make it that far.

Player of the week besides the obvious (Denard Robinson)?  South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore who looks like a combination of George Rodgers and Herschel Walker for the OBC. More on him later in the week.


*
Interesting stuff here regarding Jeremiah Masoli's transfer to Ole Miss. Masoli contends he was given his release to transfer from Oregon before he was dismissed from the team. The NCAA initially ruled that Masoli would not get a transfer waiver to Ole Miss because he had been kicked off the team.


*
Not sure if I want Mike Leach back in coaching. Not because he isn't good at it. It's because he might be better as a radio pirate. Leach let loose on his satellite radio show.

On the lack of mercy given to outgunned opponents:

"If my third offense went in and we were up on them, we weren't going kneel on the ball. We were going to try to score. The reason we were going to try to score is because I spend all my time teaching that offense to score, not to sit and evaluate the feelings of the other team."

On his not having Alabama in his top five:

"A lot of folks are frontrunners and if you win last year they assume you're going to win this year and the next year. If that was the case, everybody was going to win the thing 20 years in a row. I'm prepared to be proven wrong."

Leach also said he had a standing $500 bounty on shady agents hanging around Texas Tech. Supposedly, that was for players to turn in those shady agents. Problem though:  Wouldn't paying off that bounty be a possible NCAA violation?

Leach is also an analyst for CBS College Sports.


*
USC might be the most unimpressive 2-0 ranked team. The Trojans have committed 24 penalties for nation-leading 240 yards in two games. Lane Kiffin's solution? Silence.


*
Three quarterbacks who have taken snaps at Michigan are in the top 10 in NCAA total offense this week:

1. Robinson, 442.5 yards per game
T6. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas, 351.0
10. Steven Threet, Arizona State, 322.5



*
Joker Phillips is first head coach to start his Kentucky career 2-0 since Bear Bryant in 1946.


*
Phillips might have the most versatile player in the country to this point. Through two games receiver/returner/holder Randall Cobb has scored a touchdown four different ways -- rushing, receiving, passing and on a punt return.


*
Steve Spurrier, a longtime playoff honk, on Boise State:  "The only way to settle those kinds of situation is a playoff. They aren't going to play the kind of completion that SEC schools play. We settle it with voting."



*
Thoughts and prayers for Arkansas kick returner Dennis Johnson who suffered what was termed a painful "bowel injury" returning a kick vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Here's the video


*
Who will coach Northern Illinois this week against Illinois? Huskies coach Jerry Kill was hospitalized Sunday after complications resulting from surgery earlier this month. Kill underwent surgery on Sept. 3, a day after Northern Illinois lost its season opener to Iowa State. Initial reports stated Kill, who had a tumor removed from a kidney in 2005, was suffering from dehydration this time. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys could take over if Kill can't go.

 

Posted on: July 6, 2010 11:38 am
Edited on: July 7, 2010 12:47 pm
 

Son of fresh faces

Friday I offered up 10 fresh faces to watch for 2010. Here are 21 more ...


Nick Becton, OT, Virginia Tech -- This sophomore replaces three-year starter Ed Wang at left tackle.

Kolton Browning, QB, Louisiana-Monroe -- Redshirt beat out senior Trey Revell.

Clemson quarterbacks -- Depending on whether Kyle Parker signs a major-league contract. That means either fifth-year senior Michael Wade or redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd will take over.

Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn -- Alabama-Auburn is heating up again. Gene Chizik landed a top five recruit to go with new quarterback Cameron Newton.

Vidal Hazelton, WR, Cincinnati -- Transfer from USC could take over for Mardy Gilyard as the go-to guy.

Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State -- The progress of Florida State's defense under Mark Stoops will be one of the biggest stories going into '10. This redshirt sophomore is starting at rush end, a glamour position.

Skylar Jones, QB, Wake Forest -- Takes over for Riley Skinner. The junior won the job in the spring after not throwing a pass last season.

Logan Kilgore, QB, Middle Tennessee -- Transfer from Bakersfield (Calif). College, threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. Dwight Dasher is the man but Kilgore could be the next man.

Dan Mason, LB, Pittsburgh -- Pittsburgh's starting middle linebacker has been All-Big East first team each of the last five years. Will Mason make it six in a row as a sophomore?

Lamar Miller, TB, Miami -- With Graig Cooper rehabbing a knee hurt in the bowl, this homegrown redshirt freshman could be a savior.

Jason Peters, DE, Georgia Tech -- Al Groh was hired to install the 3-4. There is more pressure on the ends in that alignment. Peters was one of the stars of the spring.

Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina -- Overshadowed on one of the best defenses in the country.

Ryan Radcliff, QB, Central Michigan -- If you're asking who will replace Dave LeFevour, this is the guy. The redshirt sophomore threw 21 passes last season.

Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State -- This sophomore is replacing NCAA rushing leader Ryan Mathews in the Central Valley. Runs like Jacquizz Rodgers with similar measureables -- 5-foot-7, 185.

Rutgers Super Sophs -- Six-foot-five quarterback Tom Savage threw for 14 touchdowns as a freshman. Receiver Mohamed Sanu (51 catches) is one of the fastest players in the game.

Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois -- Redshirt freshman from high school power Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst was named starter by Ron Zook in the spring. Dual-threat guy needs to jump start Illini offense.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia -- For the first time in five years, the Mountaineers don't have an experienced quarterback returning. Smith could be great (65 percent on 49 passes in '09) but will have to come back from a broken foot in the offseason.

Josh Snead, TB, Duke -- Early enrolling freshman is a home-run hitter for a program desperate for a bowl.

Tino Sunseri, QB, Pittsburgh -- The Panthers always seem to be a quarterback away from doing great things. Coming off a 10-win season, Sunseri could be the difference in Pittsburgh getting back to a BCS bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on: October 18, 2009 6:27 pm
 

Thoughts on a football Saturday

Coaches of the year at the halfway point (seven weeks down, seven weeks to go)

ACC: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech. With the upset of Virginia Tech, Johnson is on track to win the league in his second season. Who says the triple option won’t work in major-college football. The Yellow Jackets completed one pass on Saturday.

Big East: Brian Kelly, Cincinnati. They were picking for the middle of the pack after losing 10 starters on defense. Kelly took a bunch of offensive players, made them linebackers and balanced a team that was going to score points with Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard on offense. The question is how long can Cincinnati hold onto Kelly if he wins the Big East again, especially if Notre Dame opens up?

Big Ten: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: No one expected 7-0, especially after an opening-day squeaker against Northern Iowa. Now the Hawkeyes are to be feared after a comeback win at Wisconsin. Don’t be surprised if they’re favored on Nov. 14 going to Ohio State.

Big 12: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. That loss to Houston is looking better all the time.  The dude isn’t exactly Mr. Rogers but he does know how to call an offense and the addition of Bill Young on defense has made a difference. The NCAA took away Dez Bryant. Injuries took away his best running back, Kendall Hunter. The Cowboys, 5-1 and second in the Big 12 South, control their own destiny for the conference title.

Conference USA: Kevin Sumlin, Houston. Not “Sumlan” as a wire story called him on Saturday. Be assured, the Cougars’ coach is known throughout the industry. After defeating three BCS-conference teams, Houston is the favorite to win Conference USA. Kelly should be up for every major job that opens.

MAC, Al Golden, Temple: The Owls have won four in a row for the first time since 1985 and are tied for the MAC East lead. The division could come down to a Nov. 27 date at Ohio. As late as 2006 this program had lost 20 in a row.

Mountain West: Gary Patterson, TCU. Fort Worth’s favorite has the Froggers chasing their first BCS bowl and first conference title since 2005. No Heisman candidates, a great defensive end (Jerry Hughes) and Patterson’s scheming.

Pac-10: Chip Kelly, Oregon. In his first season as head coach, Kelly lost his best runner and his quarterback. All he did was win the next five after the opening-night loss to Boise. USC should be worried, very worried, when it goes to Eugene on Oct. 31.

SEC: Nick Saban, Alabama. Until Saturday, it might have been Steve Spurrier but Saban quashed that talk. In his third season, Saban has the Tide back among the elite. They control their road to the national championship; have a Heisman candidate (Ingram) and perhaps the nation’s nastiest defense.

Sun Belt: Charlie Weatherbie, Louisiana-Monroe. Among the lowest-paid coaches in I-A, Weatherbie has the Warhawks off a 3-0 conference start. That's the longest conference winning streak in 16 years. At a school that usually gets beaten down by guarantee games against  BCS schools, Louisiana-Monroe is 4-2 overall.

WAC: Robb Akey, Idaho. The Vandals are 29th in the first BCS which should be cause for a street party in Moscow. Idaho is nine miles away from the BCS (Pullman, Wash., home of Washington State is that close), but miles away from a BCS bowl. Still, Akey has taken a program that was picked for the bottom of the WAC to contention with mighty Boise State. Halfway through the season the Vandals are bowl eligible. Their only bowl as a I-A program came 11 years ago.

National coach of the (half) season: Check back on Wednesday.

The right-now, no-hype, no-b.s., not-what-they-did last year Heisman rankings for this week:

1. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. Behind Tebow, the best player in the SEC.
2. Case Keenum, QB, Houston. Leads the country in touchdown passes (19), yards (2,464) and has beaten three BCS schools.  That’s as many as Jimmy Clausen.
3.  Jacory Harris, QB, Miami. The physical and spiritual momentum behind Miami’s rise back to the top.
4. Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh. The nation’s leading freshman runner is on pace for 1,580 yards.
5. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida. Harassed by Arkansas but came through again during the game-winning drive.

Posted on: October 14, 2009 6:22 pm
 

National notes

Thank you Florida State for releasing the 695-page transcript of the school's hearing with the NCAA earlier this year.

What the school gained in transparency, it lost in embarrassment. In the transcript we found out that one academic advisor said a player had a 60 IQ and was unable to read. Gee, what was he doing at Florida State then?

 Jan. 1 used to be a holy day of obligation. Hook up an IV of beer, spread out the snacks, let the belt out a notch and veg in front of the TV.

Lately, our day of football daze has been denuded of significance. The calendar for Jan. 1, 2011 now shows at least six games. Six! The announcement of the Dallas Classic beginning in 14 months further degrades what used to be the best football day of the year.

Just what the world needs, a No. 7 team from the Big 12 vs. some slug from Conference USA. Jan. 1 used to be special. All the majors played on the same day. Now the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange are so spread out you need a GPS to locate them all.

In addition to the Rose and Sugar, this year we’ll get the Gator, Capital One and Outback. The roster swells next year because Dallas felt the need to replace the Cotton Bowl game it is losing to the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The new Dallas Classic will be played in the Cotton Bowl.

Can’t wait to see the attendance in the 92,000 stadium which is essentially used twice a year. The other time being for Texas-Oklahoma. Got a birthday or a bar mitzvah coming up, the Cotton Bowl is available.

The Rose Bowl has been the Jan. 1 stalwart. We could always look forward to seeing the parade and the San Gabriel Mountains each New Year’s Day. Nurse that hangover, suck on a Bloody Mary. It was all good. In recent years, even the Rose has been moved around in years it is in the BCS championship rotation.


The game itself has become almost an afterthought with the Big Ten having lost seven Grandaddys in a row.

Sure, it’s a national holiday and advertisers know we’re going to be home to watch, but we want our NYD back. The beer is going flat.


 Expanding on the Ndamukong Suh angle. If the Nebraska defensive tackle is on top of the list, here are the other top five defense players in the country.

2. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee. The SEC defensive player of the year hasn’t backed off. Berry has an incredible 50 tackles and one interception of Tim Tebow.

3.Tyler Sash, S, Iowa. Tied for the national lead in interceptions with five.

4.Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida. The fastest, meanest linebacker around playing for the No. 1 defense. Thirty-two tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks.

5. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama. Bama has the No. 2 defense in the country. McClain is the center of it with 42 tackles, 5 ½ for loss, two sacks and two interceptions.

  This week’s Scripps Howard Heisman poll which yours truly votes in.

            (10 voters. First-place votes in parentheses.)
            1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida. 40 points (8).
            2. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas, 25.
            3. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati, 13.
            4 (tie). Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame;
            Case Keenum, QB, Houston, 12.
           
            Others receiving votes: Nebraska DT Ndamukong, Suh, 7; Miami QB Jacory Harris, 6; Texas WR Jordan Shipley 5 (1); Kansas QB Todd Reesing 5 (1); Alabama RB Mark Ingram 5; Stanford RB Toby Gerhart, 2; Boise State QB Kellen Moore, 2.
 
 
 Weird meeting of the headsets Thursday in South Florida.

Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly fired defensive coordinator Joe Tresey after last season. Tresey was then hired by Bulls’ coach Jim Leavitt. South Florida enters Thursday’s showdown fifth in scoring defense (9.4 points per game) after allowing 20 per game last season.

Advantage Tresey who knows Cincy’s personnel and whose team is at home? Not exactly. Kelly’s new d-coordinator Bob Diaco has the Bearcats at No. 10 in scoring defense (13.8 points).

 Props to Lousiana-Monroe which has its longest conference winning streak (three games) since 1992. The Warhawks have one of the smallest budgets in I-A and are coached by the coach thought to be the lowest paid in the division, Charlie Weatherbie.

 The WAC is at it again. Idaho’s Tre’Shawn Robinson was reprimanded by the conference after throwing a punch against San Jose State. Reprimanded, not suspended. Sound familiar, Boise State?

 We’ll know more next week but Washington looks to be the most improved team in the country at the halfway point. The Huskies are 3-3 heading to Saturday’s game at Arizona State. That’s a net improvement of six games over last season’s 0-12 record. The season reaches its halfway point on Saturday.

Posted on: May 18, 2009 10:49 am
Edited on: May 18, 2009 1:05 pm
 

Picking the Sun Belt

(Over the next few weeks I'll pick the order of finish in each I-A conference. Why? Because it's the offseason and I can't get cfb out of my mind....Starting with the Sun Belt.)

The Sun Belt has graduated from pushover to pesky. Last season four of the eight teams were bowl eligible. Two went bowling and one (Florida Atlantic) became the first Sun Belt team to win consecutive bowl games.

The likes of Maryland and Texas A&M got stung by Sun Belt teams. Typically on the lowest rung of Division I-A conferences, some of the programs have more stability than some power conferences. Howard Schnellenberger nurtured Florida Atlantic from zygote to a share of the conference title in 2007.  Larry Blakeney (2008 Sun Belt coach of the year) is beginning his 19th season at Troy. Steve Roberts is in his eighth season at Arkansas State.

This how an improved Sun Belt stacks up for 2009:

1. Troy -- Blakeney has won eight games each of the last three seasons. That's almost impossible to do in the Sun Belt. Look for at least eight wins this season. Troy might have the league's most loaded team.

You've got to like a linebacking crew named Boris and Bear. That's seniors Boris Lee (126 tackles) and Bear Woods (nine TFLs), who might be among the best pair of linebackers in the country.

Quarterback Levi Brown and receiver Jerrell Jernigan will hook up frequently. Brown threw only three interceptions in 326 attempts. Jernigan caught a school-record 77 passes.

The schedule does Blakeney no favors. The Trojans end the season against Arkansas, Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Lafayette. If Troy is intact after the Arkansas game, the conference title might be on the line in the final two weeks against the Owls and the Cajuns.

Wait a minute: Bear Woods?

2. Arkansas State -- If a rebuilt offensive line comes around the Red Wolves could upset the Trojans and win the league. Quarterback Corey Leonard broke his own record for total offense in 2008. Tailback Reggie Arnold (1,074 yards) was the league's No. 2 rusher. Eight starters return on defense including Sun Belt defensive player of the year Alex Carrington (10.5 sacks, 19 TFLs) at defensive end.

Texas A&M is still trying to figure out how it lost to Arkansas State. It's pretty simple: The Red Wolves were that good and A&M was that bad.

3. Florida Atlantic -- After a 6-1 finishing kick, the Owls became the first Sun Belt team to win back-to-back bowl games. Will there be a hat trick? It's up to the defense, which returns a bunch of starters but must get better. It finished 110th in sacks.

Any team with Rusty Smith will have a chance. The senior quarterback has thrown for 62 touchdowns and for more than 8,000 yards. 

Returning tight end Jason Harmon went from jock to picking up jocks. An all-conference pick in 2007, Harmon tore his knee up in 2008 spring practice and decided to become a student equipment manager while he rehabbed.

4. Middle Tennessee -- Rick Stockstill might be the next big thing for some I-A power. In three seasons with the Blue Raiders he has won the league, led them to a bowl game and beaten Maryland.

Watch the offense which has 10 starters back and is being led by Tony Franklin, Auburn's deposed offensive coordinator. With no one looking over his shoulder and better pieces to fit his scheme, Franklin should thrive. Get ready Dwight Dasher (38.6 percent passer as a backup), your life is about to change. Dasher is one of the more athletic players in the league. Franklin, though, will emphasize the quick passing attack.

5. Louisiana-Lafayette -- It would seem the Ragin' Cajuns have to slide. They lost Sun Belt player of the year (tailback Tyrell Fenroy) and offensive player of the year (quarterback Michael Desormeaux).  The offensive line, however, is the best in the league with center Chris Fisher (Rimington Trophy watch list) and coach Rickey Bustle's son Brad (Lombardi Award watch list ) at left guard.
 
If Rickey Bustle is relying on the defense to get the Louisiana-Lafayette to a bowl he might be disappointed. The Cajuns defense gave up more than 200 yards per game rushing and was 100th in sacks last season.

6. Florida International -- The provost can't get the all-star basketball coach's name right. Where does that leave Mario Cristobal? After somehow scratching out five victories in '08, the third-year football coach has a bigger task ahead: Getting bowl eligible with a schedule that includes road trips to Alabama, Rutgers and Florida.

Nine starters return on offense but the unit was last in Sun Belt rushing and total offense. That's the good news. A whole new defensive line must be installed. The D gave up at least 31 six times last season.

It is South Florida and Christobal has recruited well. Freshman All-American T.Y. Hilton averaged 180 yards in all-purpose yards.

7. Louisiana-Monroe -- Entering his seventh season, coach Charlie Weatherbie has yet to finish above .500. After losing quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster, the Warhawks could lose eight again (4-8 in '08). A lot will be put on Trey Revell who was impressive in nine games as a backup.

Louisiana-Monroe falls into that Sun Belt trap of having to play too many guarantee games. How do the Warhawks get better when they have to travel to Texas, Arizona State and Kentucky?

8. North Texas -- Things have not gone well for Todd Dodge in his first two seasons since coming from Southlake Carroll High School. Three victories in 24 games have Dodge on the hot seat.

Offense hasn't been a problem. North Texas scored at least 26 points five times last season. Todd's son Riley takes over at quarterback. The pair were deadly in high school. Riley originally committed to Texas but signed with the Mean Green. Now both have to produce.

The defense has to get better. Try to figure out this dichotomy: The D was the worst in I-A last season but is one of the more experienced groups in the Sun Belt this season.

9. Western Kentucky -- The Hilltoppers officially enter Division I-A as its 120th member and are eligible for the Sun Belt title. Welcome to the big time, boys, now accept your whipping. Playing only six conference teams last year, Western Kentucky went 2-10. Against I-A competition outside the Sun Belt, the Hilltoppers went 0-5 and didn't score more than 13 points in any game.

Posted on: August 5, 2008 12:16 pm
 

Five things you should know about the Sun Belt

1. Is it possible to be at the top your game at age 74? Howard Schnellenberger is doing it again, having led Florida Atlantic to the conference's first win over a Big Ten team (Minnesota) the Sun Belt title and New Orleans Bowl victory. It's the same formula Schnellie used at Miami, scour the state for fast Florida talent. Why not extend him through 2010?

2. Better times ahead. The Sun Belt is usually whipped with a belt by I-A powers in gurantee game. But for the second consecutive year at least three of the league's eight teams finished .500 or better.

3. The best program is ... Troy. Coach Larry Blakeney is entering his 18th year with the Trojans. Troy is competing for bowl games and producing NFL talent on a regular basis. Blakeney has won eight each of the last two years and has one losing season since 2002.

4. Bouncing back from the Alabama hangover. In a season of upsets the Louisiana-Monroe's stunning win at Alabama was one of the biggest. Journeyman coach Charlie Weatherbie was in charge of a team that had lost its first four games by 18, 23, 40 and 17 points. The 24-point underdogs hung in against an uninterested Crimson Tide and perhaps turned around the program.

5. The Sun Belt is the home of the best spread option offense in the country. Unfortunately, North Texas coach Todd Dodge ran it in high school. The transition of the offense to I-A was not pretty as the Mean Green finished 2-10 allowing 45 points per game. Something is wrong when you score 62 -- and lost by 12 to Navy. Better days are ahead for Dodge but the conference is getting tougher too.

 

 
 
 
 
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