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2009 Sun Belt Conference College Football Preview and Picks
The Sun Belt Conference is perhaps the least popular of all the college conferences in which there is a betting line posted. But that may gradually start to change. For starters, the Sun Belt Conference just signed a 4 year TV deal with ESPN which will give them plenty of exposure. The quality of play, at least among the Sun Belts top teams, is there. Last year for example, Troy led LSU 31-10 before giving up a bunch of points in the 4th quarter. They also played respectably against Ohio State. The year before that, Troy beat Oklahoma State and stayed close to Georgia. So there's some talent in the Sun Belt, and with the added TV exposure, we'd expect that talent level to continue to rise.
Let's take a look at our Sun Belt Conference Preview for 2009-2010 along with a few picks.
Troy Trojans-Things look good for
Coach Larry Blakeney and the Troy Trojan atop the Sun Belt Conference. Last
season resulted in a record of 8-5 and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl. They will
return 8 starters on offense. The Trojans have two proven weapons at QB. Levi
Brown stepped in for the injured Jamie Hampton last year and went 5-3 while
passing for 2,030 yards and 15 touchdowns and a very small 3 interceptions. The
senior has great physical assets at 6’ 4”. RB Dejuan Harris rushed for 1,077
yards last year and is quite a speedster. Troy returns 5 starters to a defense
that led the Sun Belt in total defense last year. LB Boris Lee led the team with
126 tackles in 2008. They will start the season on the road against Bowling
Green. After that they will be headed to play Florida. The Troy Trojans are the
clear choice to win the Sun Belt Conference.
Arkansas State Red Wolves- Last season resulted in a 6-6 record for the Red Wolves. The offense returns 6 starters for this year. QB Corey Leonard is not just a threat to pass, but he can also run the ball. This will be his third year as a starter. He threw for 2,000+ yards and 16 touchdowns last year, and also rushed for 500 yards and 4 touchdowns. RB Reggie Arnold will seek to become the eighth player in NCAA history to rush for at least 1,000 for four years. The offensive line is a bit inexperienced, but should be able to handle the load. This offense is possibly the best in the Sun Belt. The defense returns 8 starters, and allowed just 23 points per game in 2008. DE Alex Carrington was Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. The Arkansas State Red Wolves have a good team, and could challenge Troy for the Sun Belt title.
Florida International Golden Panthers- Coach Mario Cristobal has helped this program make BIG strides. After going winless in 2006, and winning a single game in 2007, he was able to get 5 wins out of this team last year. If he wishes to keep moving forward, the offense has to provide more points. They will return 9 starters from last season. FIU finished 96th in the nation in total offense last year. The running game should make progress with sophomore Darriet Perry getting the starting job. The defense brings back 6 starters. The secondary looks good with Anthony Gaitor at CB. He had 5 INTs last year, 2 of which were returned for TDs. Offensive production will be the key to moving forward in the Sun Belt for the Golden Panthers.
Florida Atlantic Owls- The Owls became the only Sun Belt team to win a bowl in 2008 when they took the Motor City Bowl. The offense returns 6 starters, including Sr. QB Rusty Smith. Standing 6’ 5” tall, Smith can really throw the ball. He has amassed over 7,000 yards and 56 TDs while playing for Florida Atlantic. His main target, WR Cortez Gent, is also back. Alfred Morris is an unknown commodity at RB, but he did play well in the spring. The offense is very high powered. The defense brings back just 3 starters. DT Josh Savidge did well last year, after missing the previous season. The pieces are in place on offense. However, if the Florida Atlantic Owls want to make it back to Bowl play, the defense will have to do its part.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders - The highlight of last year’s season was a home win against Maryland in week 2. The Blue Raiders ended the year with a record of 5-7, and gave some good teams a ball game. They will bring back a league high 10 starters on the offense. The line will be strong for the Blue Raiders. QB is a question with Dwight Dasher taking over. The junior is undersized at 5-10, and has little experience. RB Phillip Tanner will continue to do damage for the Blue Raiders. Tanner had 15 TDs in 2008. The defense returns 7 starters on defense. The secondary and defensive line will be tough. Middle Tennessee has the potential for a big year, but they have to play conference foes Troy and Florida Atlantic on the road.
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks- Coach Charlie Weatherbie’s team regressed last year to finish with a record of 4-8. The only good thing about last year was beating conference champ Troy by a single point. The Warhawks will return 7 offensive starters this year, and they must do a better job of getting points on the board. Frank Goodin returns to run the ball. The junior averaged 71.2 YPG in 2008. QB could be a problem for Louisiana-Monroe. The defense looks tough. Sr. LB Cardia Jackson led the team with 127 tackles last year. He also had 4 sacks. If new QB Trey Revell does well, so will the entire team.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns- This team went 4-1 at home last year. That would’ve been great had they not gone 2-5 on the road. The offense brings back 7 starters, but lost players at the QB, RB, and WR positions. Despite that, they should still be able to get points on the board thanks to a stellar offensive line. G Brad Bustle and C Chris Fisher were both first team All Sun Belt in 2008. The defense brings back 9 starters. Describing the Ragin’ Cajuns defense as bad would be generous. LB Antwyne Zanders is one of the only bright spots. The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns will be rebuilding in 2009.
North Texas Mean Green- Coach Todd Doge is 3-21 in 2 years with the Mean Green and has done little to improve the team. He has installed his son and former Texas Longhorn’s recruit, Riley Dodge as the starting QB this year. Riley is a good passer and has experience running an offense. He should provide an immediate jumpstart to the offense. The defense was atrocious in 2008, but has added several upgrades from the JUCO ranks. 2009 will likely see the Mean Green continue as a punching bag for better programs.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers- Say hello to the newest and worst member of the Sun Belt Conference. Western Kentucky finished 2008 with a record of 2-10. The offense brings back 8 starters. The defense will return 6 members of last year’s team. While they aren’t ready to compete yet, the Hilltoppers bring in one of the best recruiting classes they have ever had.
While Troy looks to be the frontrunner, in reality, this conference is wide open. Look for some Sun Belt teams to pull some huge upsets this season. Teams from the Sun Belt Conference play Nebraska, Florida, Maryland, Memphis, Clemson, Texas, Kentucky and Alabama just to name a few. With the added TV exposure and the chance to knock of some of the big boys, you can pretty much take it to the bank that there will be some upsets. If you see a game in prime time, featuring one of the Sun Belts top teams taking on one of the big boys, look to take the points. The motivational edge in that set up is huge!
Check out all of our 2009 College Football Conference Previews!