2011 Sun Belt Preview - CFN Thoughts
Troy DE Jonathan Massaquoi
Troy DE Jonathan Massaquoi
Posted Jul 31, 2011

Preview 2011 - Thoughts from the CFNers on the 2011 Sun Belt season

Preview 2011

Thoughts on the Sun Belt

- 2011 Arkansas State Preview | 2011 Florida Atlantic Preview
- 2011 FIU Preview | 2011 Louisiana-Lafayette Preview 
- 2011 Middle Tenn. Preview | 2011 North Texas Preview 
- 2011 Troy Preview | 2011 ULM Preview | 2011 WKU Preview 

- 2011 Sun Belt Preview
- CFN Thoughts on the Sun Belt | 2011 Sun Belt Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN All-Sun Belt Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 Sun Belt Schedules & Picks
- 2011 Sun Belt Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2010 Sun Belt Preview  

E-mail Pete Fiutak
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- There will be more celebrated running backs in America than North Texas star Lance Dunbar and WKU's Bobby Rainey, but there won't be two who'll be more impressive. These two are worth the price of admission every time out.

- Watch out for the pro scouts to start to go nutso for Troy DE Jonathan Massaquoi. He won't be another Demarcus Ware, but he has the speed, the quickness, and the closing ability to become a terrific pas rushing specialist at the next level.

- The hiring of Dan McCarney at North Texas will quickly undo all the problems of the last few years. He'll bring a real fire and the needed passion for the job. Don't be shocked if the the Mean Green becomes a powerhouse again very, very soon.

- I'm still stunned the Todd Dodge experience didn't work for UNT. How did the offense sputter and cough so much?

- Oh yeah, UNT couldn't keep a quarterback in one piece.

- It might not be this year, and it might not be next year, but at some point in the very near future Miami is going to regret not hiring Mario Cristobal.

- Alright, Todd Berry, after nine years between Army and ULM and a 34-67 record, it's time to start showing that you can put together a winning football team.

- Who's going to be the team that makes the next jump up and becomes a player? It was FIU last year, and watch out for Arkansas State this season. New head coach Hugh Freeze will make the offense rock, and while it won't be enough to win the Sun Belt title, it'll be enough to get close.

- Troy QB Corey Robinson is going to have a monster season. He's not going to have Jerrel Jernigan to work with anymore, but the passing game is going to blow up like it did two years ago when Levi Brown was winging it around the yard.

- I know this type of thing matters to the people involved, but I'm tired of Louisiana-Lafayette people yelling at us that it's Louisiana, and I'm tired of ULM people yelling at us that it's not.

- WKU fielded among the most miserable teams in college football over the last few seasons. Willie Taggart is quickly changing all of that.

- Howard Schnellenberger has one more big year in him. He has to. He's Howard Schnellenberger.

- If you've read this far, thank you. Really, thank you. We'd like the Sun Belt, but it's a tough gospel to preach.

By Richard Cirminiello

Resist the temptation to assume Western Kentucky RB Bobby Rainey piled up more than 1,600 yards on the ground exclusively against soft competition. In the senior's four games versus AQ schools, Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana and South Florida, he rushed for 508 yards and five scores.

Florida International playmaker T.Y. Hilton is the single best commodity in the Sun Belt Conference this season. The dynamic receiver and return man wouldn't be such a hidden gem entering 2011 had he received the proper attention from ACC and SEC schools four years ago.

How is it that Troy has been able to keep Larry Blakeney on the Troy sidelines the last two decades? Playing in the long shadows of Alabama and Auburn, all the coach has done the last seven years is go to five bowl games and send eight Trojans to the NFL.

Blakeney's next pupil to play in the NFL could be DE Jonathan Massaquoi, who still has two years of eligibility remaining. The latest in a growing line of fantastic Troy edge rushers, he's itching to improve on last season's 20.5 stops for loss and 13.5 sacks.

With even a little more support from his blockers, Louisiana-Monroe QB Kolton Browning will emerge as one of the Sun Belt's brightest young stars. Despite getting flushed more than the Malone Stadium toilets on gameday, the sophomore threw 18 touchdown passes and rushed for 648 yards before deducting sacks.

By Matt Zemek

First things first: Florida International won the 2010 Sun Belt championship, Troy did not. The home of the Weekly Affirmation Conference Championship Audit Series does not honor split titles unless there was no head-to-head matchup between the two teams involved in a contentious conference race.

Yes, Troy quarterback Corey Robinson wobbled last year, display the kind of inconsistency that coach Larry Blakeney didn't have to worry about during the latter years of the golden Levi Brown era. Yet, all things considered, Robinson handled his first season with aplomb and resourcefulness. The truly shocking aspect of the Trojans' struggles – particularly in the second half of the season – came on defense. Florida International lit up the Sun Belt's standard bearers for more than half-a-hundred points in Southeastern Alabama. How Troy's defense performs this year will be the main determinant of Sun Belt supremacy in one direction or another.

Will the real Middle Tennessee stand up? Great when under the radar and disappointing when thrust into the spotlight, the Blue Raiders – more successful than most Sun Belt programs but still something of a tease – will enter the post-Dwight Dasher era with more questions than answers. Then again, they'll also be free of the swirling winds of scandal that upset the program's apple cart last August. Middle Tennessee needs to find mental refreshment and play with the uninhibited mentality of the 2009 club that surged to a New Orleans Bowl victory. Troy, MTSU's nemesis in recent years, is not quite as self-assured as it was when Levi Brown put the Sun Belt at his feet. The 2011 Sun Belt season promises 2010-style chaos. The door is open for Middle Tennessee; will the Blue Raiders step through the portal?

Getting rid of Charlie Weatherbie? Bush-league move, Louisiana-Monroe. It's not as though anyone else has turned the Warhawks into a top-flight team. Weatherbie, who did decent work at Navy in the 1990s, won at Alabama in 2007. He wasn't – to reference a famous quote by former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards – "found in bed with a live boy or a dead girl," so just why was he axed? Let's see Monroe win eight games if it's that easy to get a quick-fix coach at Malone Stadium.

Has Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal already punched his ticket to a Conference USA program, or does the miracle worker in Miami need to squeeze another big season from his Golden Panthers? Cristobal should be coaching in El Paso right now, but the powers that be at UTEP still think Mike Price is worth another season. At any rate, FIU needs to enjoy Cristobal while it can.

Howard Schnellenberger of Florida Atlantic is obviously the top program repairman among active Sun Belt coaches, but Cristobal has made his own mark in the city Schnellenberger once owned (in 1984). In order for the feel-good movie of the 2010 season to witness a soaring Sun Belt sequel in 2011, the Golden Panthers can't get fat and happy. It's up to Cristobal to teach his players how to handle success, a first in the life of the Florida International program.

Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee

- The Troy Trojans are essentially a dynasty in the Sun Belt, having won or shared the conference title in each of the last five seasons. The loss of six starters on offense will be difficult to overcome, but at Troy, head coach Larry Blakeney has made a habit of filling in holes and succeeding on offense. Troy will get a battle from FIU and Middle Tennessee this season.

- ULM travels to Florida State, TCU and Iowa. That's just mean.

- One of these days, Rick Stockstill is going to lead Middle Tennessee to a conference championship. Keep an eye on November 26, when the Blue Raiders welcome FIU to "The Big Blue Skillet." That game could decide an awful lot.

- Western Kentucky opening up in Nashville on the first Thursday night of the season is something the Hilltoppers should do more of. When you're the youngest program in FBS, make a habit of playing anyone, anytime, anywhere. It will only help.

- 2011 Arkansas State Preview | 2011 Florida Atlantic Preview
- 2011 FIU Preview | 2011 Louisiana-Lafayette Preview 
- 2011 Middle Tenn. Preview | 2011 North Texas Preview 
- 2011 Troy Preview | 2011 ULM Preview | 2011 WKU Preview 

- 2011 Sun Belt Preview
- CFN Thoughts on the Sun Belt | 2011 Sun Belt Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN All-Sun Belt Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 Sun Belt Schedules & Picks
- 2011 Sun Belt Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2010 Sun Belt Preview  


By Russ Mitchell

1. Which of the current ACC teams would fit best into the SEC when the latter expands to 16? In order: (i) FSU, (ii) Miami, (iii) Clemson.

2. Yes, Mike Glennon will likely be a good quarterback for NC State, maybe even a great one at some point. But you're less certain about that then the bird you had in the hand: Russell Wilson. Who are you kidding O'Brien? Russell Wilson was the first frosh in ACC history to make first team all-conference QB. Yes, with him off playing baseball in the spring, there would have been less consistency, but you traded a fourth year, amazing athlete for a rookie - what kind of consistency is that. NC State's first game of the season is Liberty - not exactly a barn burner. You could have used fall practice and the Liberty game to get Wilson back into fighting shape. Besides, it's not like he hadn't been running the offense for three straight years. And what about the unnecessary pressure you just saddled Glennon with? Way to put ego ahead of team, coach.

3. When is a second team going to step up in this conference so we can take it seriously again. I mean really care about it. I'm talking to you, Miami. Boston College? Virginia Tech can't do this by itself. Clemson? Georgia Tech on, then off. Sure, FSU appears set to return to the land of the living, but we need to see three straight years of consistent performance before we'll be converts. Until then, it's Virginia Tech, et al.

4. Wasn't it just a few years ago that Wake Forest was turning heads? I blinked, and - POOF - they're showing me Chris Paul highlights.

- 2011 Boston College Preview | 2011 Clemson Preview
- 2011 Florida State Preview | 2011 Maryland Preview
- 2011 NC State Preview | 2011 Wake Forest Preview 
- 2011 Duke Preview | 2011 Georgia Tech Preview
- 2011 Miami Preview | 2011 North Carolina Preview 
- 2011 Virginia Preview | 2011 Virginia Tech Preview 

- 2011 ACC Preview | 2011 ACC Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN Schedules & Picks | 2011 ACC Thoughts
- 2011 CFN All-ACC Team & Top 30 Players
- 2011 ACC Atlantic Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 ACC Coastal Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish 
- 2010 ACC Preview