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2006 Sun Belt Preview
League Parity Leaves Conference’s Top Spot Wide Open
By: Jordan Adams
As many as five teams could potentially take the Sun Belt in 2006, with Louisiana-Lafayette, Troy, North Texas, Arkansas State heading the class. This year’s race should be the closest in just the sixth this conference has been around.
Louisiana-Lafayette finished last season winning its last five games and have the best talent in the Sun Belt. Returning 16 starters along with the most favorable conference home schedule, many expect the Ragin’ Cajuns to be at the top of the league. Its biggest issue will be the wide receiving core, lacking needed experience. If the run defense continues to improve, its unit will be difficult to move against.
Troy’s 2006 should be fun to watch with its open-attacking offense. Led by Juco transfer quarterback Omar Haugabook, the Trojans should find the end zone plenty of occasions. Troy’s offensive punch might be formidable, but its defense lost key starters that will set the unit back. Despite finishing 2005 with a 4-7, Troy should see better days ahead.
North Texas will continue to will its games by running the ball. 17 starters return, none greater than 2004 NCAA rushing champion Jamario Thomas. He will again be the best player on the field throughout conference play, but the Mean Green’s lack of a defining quarterback could be its downfall. Finishing 2-9 last year, 2006 should provide for more wins and that will be necessary if North Texas wants to get back to the conference’s elite status.
After finishing tied for first in the conference in 2005, Arkansas State will look to get back to another bowl game this year. The New Orleans Bowl showed its players a taste of success and they will want more. The Indians have valuable experience at most positions, but lack of capable starters in the backfield could do them in. The defending champs should play a role in this year’s title race, but they will need to go a long way to repeat.
Louisiana-Monroe is a team that is flying under the radar in ’06. Although they finished tied with Arkansas State for first last year, not many see them getting to the top again. All its wins came in the conference, so its only chance to make a bowl game will be to win the Sun Belt title. The strength of this team is the offensive line as all five starters return from last year’s group. However, blocking for new quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster and his unproven arm could be more difficult that anticipated. The Warhawks have improved every year under head coach Charlie Weatherbie, but ’06 will be the biggest test to continuing that streak.