Tag:Sun Belt
Posted on: October 20, 2010 11:08 am
Edited on: October 20, 2010 11:29 am
 

Todd Dodge out at North Texas

Dodge Ball is done. The movie did better than the label attached with so much excitement to Todd Dodge's offense when he arrived at North Texas in 2007.

Dodge was fired Wednesday after 3 1/2 frustrating seasons in the Sun Belt. The Mean Green had won four consecutive conference titles under previous coach Darrell Dickey. Under Dodge, North Texas sunk to the bottom of the conference.

His hiring was a bold move for both the school and the coach. Dodge, a former Texas quarterback, had gone 79-1 in his last 80 games as a high school coach at nearby Southlake Carroll. A high school coach. The winning prep percentage did not translate to success in even the lowest-rated Division I-A conference.

I feel for Dodge. When I spoke to him shortly after he got the job, he was still bitter over the way he was treated at times at Texas. Those teams were a shadow of the powerhouses Mack Brown has put together recently in Austin.

"Everything about you as a man will be exposed," Dodge said of being the Longhorns quarterback. "Character, toughness, resilience. There's times when you walk around town and everybody wants to love you up. It's ridiculous. Other times, you walk around town and you're a leper."

I feel for Dodge for having relive those feelings today. The usual factors applied in his firing. He was 6-37 in those 3 1/2 seasons. His son, Riley, was the quarterback but broke his wrist a few weeks ago. The team has gone through four starters at the position. There have been 12 players suffer what are considered season-ending injuries. Let's see Ohio State win under those circumstances. A new $78-million, 30,000-seat stadium is due to open next season. It needs to be filled.

Those are the reasons Dodge is gone, but will emerge somewhere. Dodge is a decent man and a good coach who will end up as a successful offensive coordinator in his next job. It was his spread option offense at Southlake Carroll that spread like a virus around to the state's high schools. His former quarterback at Southlake, Chase Daniel, is in the NFL.

I feel for him today. I don't want all those repressed feelings about being Texas' quarterback coming up again. He deserves better.

Posted on: October 1, 2010 12:18 am
 

Son of Weekend Watch List

The Pistol formation is sweeping the country, if you consider sweeping a list of about 10 schools. The variation on the shotgun was invented by veteran Nevada coach Chris Ault in 2005. It features a quarterback four yards behind center and a running back three yards behind him.

The advantage for the offense is more downhill running than in a zone read where the running back frequently is running parallel to the line. Because the backfield is essentially in an I-formation it's harder for defenses to target their blitzes. Alabama, Arkansas, Boise State, Duke, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and UCLA are using it in varying degrees this season.

Nevada (at UNLV) is 4-0 for the first time since 1992 and ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 1948.

Boise State (at New Mexico State) is chasing a national championship.

UCLA (vs. Washington State) switched to it to jump start its offense this season. The Pistol produced 264 rushing yards last week against Texas.

Alabama, Boise, Indiana (vs. Michigan) and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are undefeated.

"Most great ideas are born out of necessity," UCLA's Rick Neuheisel said. "We needed to run the football better. Looking at the equipment we had, it just wasn't working. We had to accept that. We were very fortunate to have been given some great advice from the University of Nevada coaching staff. We kind of poured ourselves into it. It was a little bit of a leap of faith." ...

NC State (hosting Virginia Tech)  is ranked for the first time in seven years ... In a game that might go a long way toward deciding the ACC's best quarterback (non-Russell Wilson division), Miami's Jacory Harris plays at Clemson against Kyle Parker. Each of the last three games between the teams have gone into overtime ... Former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis goes against the Vols for the first time when Tennessee visits LSU ... The problem at LSU is offense, specifically Jordan Jefferson's passing. Jefferson has yet to throw a touchdown pass and has completed less than half his passes to go with three interceptions ... A.J. Green returns for Georgia in its game at Colorado. The losing coach should check the temperature of his chair. Mark Richt and Dan Hawkins, are all but on notice about their job security ...  Florida Wildcat sensation Trey Burton is the grandson of Lawrence Burton who finished fourth in the 100 meters at the '72 Olympics, was a first-round pick of the Saints and played receiver at Purdue ...

Not surprisingly, the Big Ten and the SEC combined have almost half the teams in the top 25 (six each). You can see what this is coming down to: The Big Ten and/or SEC champion vs. Boise State in the polls/BCS/public discussion ... Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh on playing at Oregon:  "Just thinking about it, we're going to be ready to walk out of that tunnel, 80,000 screaming Duck fans. We'll have our team huddled around us beneath that stadium. It doesn’t get any better than that. I'm getting excited thinking about it." Sounds lyrical except that Autzen Stadium seats only 54,000 ... Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker will miss his fourth consecutive game because of what are reportedly complications from diabetes ...  The Sun Belt player of the year so far is Troy's Jernell Jernigan. The sophomore receiver is second nationally in all-purpose yards (208 per game). In addition to averaging almost 100 yards in receptions per game, Jernigan returns kicks and punts and lines up in the Wildcat. Troy is No. 14 in total offense and plays perhaps the Sun Belt game of the year Tuesday at Middle Tennessee ... Central Florida's George O'Leary (Wednesday vs. Alabama-Birmingham) is 1-19 against BCS teams. That's the same record as the man he replaced in 2004, Mike Kruczek. That's according to research done by CBSSports.com's Matt Brodsky.

Posted on: September 28, 2010 7:47 pm
 

National notes

What the hell happened to the Big East?

No one was predicting a national championship this season, but things were looking up weren't they? Pittsburgh had a bonafide Heisman candidate in Dion Lewis. UConn was going to beat Michigan and begin the end for Rich Rod. West Virginia had Noel Devine. Cincinnati wasn't 12 wins good, but it was 10 wins good. Right?

The only thing good about the league at this point is that September is ending. At least the Big East can start 0-0 in October. It was 1-10 against BCS conference schools in September. Every team in the league has at least one loss. There are no ranked teams. UConn has changed quarterbacks. There has been an APB sent out for Lewis. Syracuse? There's hope. The Orange are 3-1.

Remember, this was the league that Paul Tagliabue thought was worth saving.

Here's what went (really, really) wrong.

Brian Kelly left Cincinnati. The Bearcats were thinking the worst and hoping for the best. Turns out that Kelly did have the magic touch to get a mid-major into a BCS bowl. It also turns out that the growing pains under Butch Jones were going to be significant.  A 1-3 start means the Bearcats have one less loss than they have had in last two seasons combined (four).

Rutgers never capitalized. It was almost four years ago that Rutgers lit up the nation and New York with that magic win over Louisville. The Scarlet Knights didn't follow through to win the Big East and capture that BCS berth. Greg Schiano keeps recruiting well but Rutgers has lost that Cinderella the program had. It dropped to 2-1 Saturday with a loss to North Carolina.

Ditto for South Florida. Wasn't it just three years ago that the Bulls rose to the No. 2 in the country? South Florida was a fun story for a while under fiery coach Jim Leavitt. Then they always seemed to fade in November. Leavitt got sideways with the administration and may have struck a player. A lawsuit trying to dispel that assertion is what takes most of his time lately. Skip Holtz was the right hire but it's going to take time. Actually, the Bulls might have the brightest outlook after one month. They stuck with Florida for a half and should be 4-1 heading to Morgantown on Oct. 14.

Pittsburgh underachieved again. The Panthers were a prohibitive favorite to win the league in the preseason. They still might do it but have already lost twice. Thursday's four-touchdown rout by Miami was embarrassing. There will be no 10-win repeat.

Four of the league's eight teams have switched coaches in the last two years.
Remember, continuity is a good thing.

There's always Temple and/or Villanova. The two schools have been rumored to join the league as a way of bolstering its major-market profile if and when the Big Ten gets the expansion jones again. There was a report that the league may be interested in TCU. Makes sense for both sides, sort of. If TCU loses once in the Mountain West, it could be out of the BCS running. If it loses three times (non-conference games) while playing in the Big East, it could still get a BCS bowl.

None of that fixes what's wrong now. 

The top 10 September teams (No preseason polls involved. Strictly based on accomplishments to date)

1. Alabama -- beat two ranked teams, one top 10 team on the road. No drop off after losing nine defensive starters.
2. Boise State -- beat two ranked teams, one on the "road" (Virginia Tech). No drop off after undefeated season.
3. Stanford -- Most underrated team in the country. Andrew Luck could win the Heisman. Cardinal could win the Pac-10.
4. Auburn -- Complete team now with Cam Newton.
5. Nebraska -- Defense alone could get it to national championship game.
6. Oregon -- Scorched the earth until Arizona State, then Devils handed them a game by turning it over seven times.
7. Arizona -- Win over Iowa was biggest in years.
8. NC State -- Won twice impressively on the road (Central Florida, Georgia Tech). Suddenly an ACC favorite.
9. Ohio State -- Against the only upright opponent showed flaws but still picked off four Miami passes. Still waiting for Big Ten sked.
10. Michigan -- Can't argue with 4-0 for the second straight season. Denard Robinson emerging as Heisman favorite.

The Quarter Pole

(The best after four games. Team and player)

Best of the Big East: West Virginia, Jordan Todman (UConn)
Best of the Big 12: Nebraska, Taylor Martinez (Nebraska)
Best of the Big Ten: Ohio State, Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State)
Best of the ACC: NC State, Russell Wilson (NC State)
Best of the SEC: Alabama, Ryan Mallett (Arkansas)
Best of Conference USA: East Carolina, Bryce Beall (Houston)
Best of the Pac-10: Oregon, Andrew Luck (Stanford)
Best of the Mountain West: TCU, Ronnie Hillman (San Diego State)
Best of the Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee, Jerrel Jernigan (Troy)
Best of the WAC: Boise State, Kellen Moore (Boise State)
Best of the MAC: Temple, Bernard Pierce (Temple)

Posted on: August 20, 2010 11:48 am
Edited on: August 20, 2010 5:01 pm
 

CUSA and MWC discuss BCS play-in and updated info

The commissioners of Conference USA and the Mountain West have had preliminary discussions regarding a BCS bowl play-in game between the two conferences' champions that would lead to an automatic BCS bowl berth, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson confirmed Friday after CBSSports.com's initial report.

Thompson and his Conference USA counterpart Britton Banowsky spoke Thursday in the midst of upheaval below the BCS conference level according to the source. There are few specifics at this point but the idea is to make both conferences more relevant and perhaps coax BYU into staying in the Mountain West. Thompson stressed the preliminary nature of the talks. Here is how the MWC couched things on its website.

"We had probably set this up about a month ago," Thompson said. "We said, 'Let's just talk about what's going on if there are going to be all these superconferences ...' We did speak about, 'What if a group of 22-24 teams were to approach the BCS about an automatic bid vs. the nine, or eight or 10-mmeber Mountain West?' That was on the table. I'd like to label it a 'think session.' "

No information has been submitted to BCS officials from the two leagues. In fact, 2010 begins a new four-year cycle for the BCS. That would mean the soonest anything could be in place is at the end of the 2014 season.

"The conferences have agreed to this format for the next four years," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said.

Conference USA and the Mountain West were among those conferences.

"We talked [with CUSA] about marketing 24 instead of 12, 10, whatever," Thompson added. "The bottom line is this is the first of four years. We haven't played this year's BCS games. This is like kindergarten in formal education. We're just talking."


Nothing much has changed in terms of access in the new BCS agreement. The champions of the six BCS leagues get automatic BCS bowl berths (ACC, Pac-10, Big 12, SEC, Big Ten, Big East). The other four BCS bowl berths are filled by schools that reach at-large qualification standards. In the Mountain West, Utah (twice) and TCU have gained at-large berths in recent years. Conference USA has not had a BCS bowl team.

CUSA and the MWC are among the conferences that are halfway through a four-year evaluation process to determine a possible temporary BCS automatic-qualifying status in 2012 and 2013. The Mountain West was close to achieving that status until it lost Utah in the offseason and invited Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada into the league.
 
The subject of a BCS bowl play-in game among non-BCS leagues has been discussed informally in the past. Conference USA and the MWC would probably have to get approval from the other nine Division I-A conferences. One potential roadblock: The three other non-BCS leagues (MAC, WAC, Sun Belt) probably would have an issue with those two conferences playing for a BCS bowl instead of them. The WAC probably isn't on the best terms with the MWC right now. The WAC has placed teams in BCS bowls three times (winning twice) since 2007.

This would not be a merger between Conference USA and the MWC, but a play-in game to advance to the BCS after both leagues decided their conference champions. Conference USA already stages a conference championship game. The Mountain West is in a state of flux as BYU decides if it wants to leave the league and play as an independent in football. Fresno State and Nevada accepted invitations to join the MWC this week, supposedly beginning in 2012. Since it's not certain how many members the MWC will have going forward, it's not certain if it will attempt to stage a conference championship game of its own.

A play-in game could mean at least one of the leagues would be playing 15 games in a season, counting a conference title game, BCS play-in game and bowl game.

The MWC is still waiting on BYU's decision. As of Friday afternoon, the Mormon flagship was supposedly still deciding whether to go independent in football. BYU had, or has, a standing agreement to play four-to-six games against WAC teams and put its non-football sports in the conference.


Thompson addressed the status of his conference's automatic BCS qualification in 2012 and 2013. If the MWC (and other non-BCS leagues) achieve a level of three mathematical benchmarks during a four-year evaluation period ending after the 2011 season they would earn a temporary automatic access to a BCS bowl. If they achieve two of the three benchmarks -- which is where the MWC is right now -- their admission would be subject to a waiver granted by the BCS. That waiver process has not been defined by the BCS.

In the past, the Big East has retained automatic BCS status by waiver.

"The numbers aren't that frigging difficult to figure out," Thompson said. "No, we are no qualified. We have not qualified. We've got two years left to go."


As of early June, the MWC's BCS prospects looked excellent. Boise State had joined the league, adding its numbers to the mix. Then Utah bolted for the Pac-10. When Fresno and Nevada joined that possibly diluting the numbers.

Thompson would not be specific on the status of The Mtn. contract with league. A source told CBSSports.com this week that the absence of Utah and/or BYU could allow conference's network to walk away from the MWC partnership. Thompson said only that there is language in the contract regarding membership. The Mtn. is owned by Comcast and CBS College Sports.



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: August 28, 2009 12:17 pm
Edited on: August 29, 2009 8:17 am
 

Seven more "things" to consider this season

You've read "25 Things". Here are seven more also getting votes ...


Terry Bowden

Eleven years out of the game and unable to find a suitable job in I-A, Bobby’s boy settled in at Division II North Alabama.

It seems that the celebrated former Auburn coach (.675 winning percentage) isn’t planning on retiring in Florence. He has brought in 24 I-A transfers, seven from his dad’s program alone. Not that the Lions were about to fall off the edge of the earth. They reached the I-AA semifinals last season and have won at least 10 in the last four years.

The idea is to win fast, win a lot and maybe grab a I-A job. Among the notable transfers are former North Carolina State and Nebraska quarterback Harrison Beck and FSU receiver Preston Parker.

Parker was kicked off Florida State in February after his third arrest since 2006. But he can play. Parker caught 104 passes in three seasons with the Noles. 



Mike Gundy is a man, he’s 42 but he’s no less paranoid

It hasn’t made much national news, but Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is up to his old media-baiting self.

Gundy recently cut off the team from media (practice, interviews, everything) saying the team needs to focus for its Sept. 5 opener against Georgia. That’s bad enough, but he hasn’t restricted all media. A couple of Cowboy-friendly types have been allowed in. Not surprisingly they are a guy who works on the Cowboys recruiting site and the radio color man.

So maybe “media” is too definitive a word in that case.

What grinds the legit media is that Gundy is a 27-23 coach bankrolled by a billionaire booster at a state institution. Where's the accountability? We don’t know if Gundy is beating players, denying them water breaks, hell, holding illegal tryouts.

Not saying it’s happening but with the doors closed, can’t say it’s not happening. It’s not just me talking. Read this excellent piece by the Tulsa World’s Bill Haisten. Pay particular attention to the lead.

I remember catching up to Gundy 3 ½ years ago the day it was announced that Pickens had donated $165 million to Oklahoma State.  Coaches were kidding him at the American Football Coaches Association annual convention about getting a loan. Gundy was almost oblivious. Pressure? What pressure?

Pickens is now 81 and is perhaps wondering what happened to all that money. Where has Gundy’s three-year old rant and this stunt gotten him? Nothing tangible. He is a YouTube celebrity. Recruiting hasn’t been hurt. It’s like an old hat in the closet. You pull it out years later and remark, “Man, did that look silly.”

Now the Cowboys are no longer a curiosity. Oklahoma State has a top 10 ranking. It’s about time Gundy started winning big. Unfortunately, that ranking and a quarter will get you a bag of chips.

The problem for Okie State, as it always has been, is Oklahoma and Texas. Those powers form a cement ceiling above Stillwater every season. That hasn’t changed. Neither has Coach Clandestine. Maybe he is feeling the pressure of having to deliver on Boone Pickens’ investment.
 


Chill pill

In the middle of one of the hottest Southwest summers in recent history, Oklahoma and Texas can agree on one thing:

Taking a pill to monitor players’ core temperature is a good idea. The CorTemp capsule is about the size of a vitamin and ingested about five hours before practice. Players thought to be at high risk of heat-related maladies are selected each day.

Trainers pass a monitoring device over a player’s stomach (the pill  is somewhere in the intestines) to check body temperature. Texas trainer Kenny Boyd calls it an “ingestible thermometer.”

The $35 pill is too pricey for some programs but with heat-related illnesses killing players at a record pace this decade, no price is too high. Sickle cell trait (usually brought on my physical exertion) became the leading killer of Division I players this decade.

The Eagles, Vikings and Jags in the NFL use the pill as well as Nebraska and North Carolina on the college level.

If you’ve read this far you’re still wondering how the players get rid of a pill filled with electronics. It is, um, passed. No word on how, or why the pills are recycled.



… Or they could just forget the whole thing and let those state troopers fight it out

A proposal from the American Football Coaches Association calls for both coaches and ADs to accompany their teams on the field for a pregame handshake before each game. The initiative starts with next week’s opening games.

A thoughtful gesture, but college football isn’t exactly the Stanley Cup playoffs where teams form a handshake line at the end of playoff series. These guys are minutes away from tearing each other’s heads off. It’s hard to imagine Alabama and Auburn exchanging handshakes. More like haymakers.

Forced to confront Lane Kiffin on Sept. 19 in Gainesville, will Urban Meyer shake hands or whip out a taser?

AFCA executive director Grant Teaff says the association’s code of conduct calls for coaches to shake hands before the game. Is that the same code of conduct that Rick Neuheisel adhered to when he committed 50-plus secondary violations?

 

Possible bowl rematches

The bowls are loathe to stage regular-season matches in their games, but with the rash of TV-arranged non-conference games, rematches could become more frequent. The reason these games are being arranged in the first place is because the teams are TV draws.

And what are bowls looking for? These big regular-season games could be the first of a doubleheader to be completed in the postseason.

Sept. 5: Georgia at Oklahoma State, also in the Cotton Bowl.
Sept. 5: BYU vs. Oklahoma in Irving, Texas, also in the Fiesta Bowl
Sept. 19: Kansas at UCLA, also in the Insight Bowl
Oct. 17: Texas vs. Oklahoma in Dallas, also in the BCS title game (don’t laugh, it could happen)
Oct. 24: Boston College at Notre Dame, also in the Gator Bowl



Technology meet the economy

It's possible now to go an entire season in the Sun Belt, Ohio Valley and Big Sky conferences without ever meeting another human coach.

Those conferences cancelled their in-person preseason media days as a way to save money. In the case of the Sun Belt, it went to video streaming its media days. You already know that several schools no longer print media guys, the assumption being that everyone has a large hard drive, a speedy processor and time to stop in the middle of a story, slip in a CD and look up something.

Now that human contact has been removed from the equation, can alien probes of various orifices be far behind?

Point being, the cost-saving excuse in some ways is a sham. Michigan is saving one-half of one percent on its budget. There are ways to save money, but once the boulder gets rolling down the hill there are a lot of copy cats.

These schools wouldn't be in this economic crunch if they weren't all operating under the same model. Remember, teams have been staying overnight in a hotel for years the night before home games.


Smelly, cussing guy in overalls? Text CNHSKRHELP

By allowing fans to text for help, isn't Nebraska admitting it has a problem?

Campus police say they will accept "citizen crime reports" in the form of texts from fans at games. Nice move. But when are they going to do something about that freakish mascot?

 

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: April 30, 2009 6:29 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2009 6:36 pm
 

Football in empty stadiums...

This is the first ominous sign. The press release moved Thursday afternoon from the NCAA. I've wondered if the swine flu gets bad enough, when do we start playing our own games in empty stadiums? It's already happening in Mexico with soccer games.

The NCAA is closely monitoring the H1N1 flu outbreak and any impact the illness could have on spring championships and overall operations.

The NCAA national office is in regular contact with federal officials for updates on the outbreak. The office also is in contact with all championship host institutions regarding on-site planning and conditions. As of now, no changes are expected at any NCAA championship sites.

Additionally, the national office is in communication with member conferences regarding their ongoing planning for conference championships.

Depending on the progression of the outbreak, adjustments could be made in the best interests for the health and well-being of student-athletes who are competing in NCAA championships.


Category: NCAAF
Tags: Sun Belt
 
 
 
 
 
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