2012 Pre-Preseason Rankings - Sun Belt
Louisiana-Lafayette WR Javone Lawson
Louisiana-Lafayette WR Javone Lawson
Posted Jan 18, 2012

The too early look at how good the Sun Belt teams should be in 2012.

CFN 2012 First Look Rankings

Sun Belt

2011 CFN Pre-Preseason First Look Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-25 | Rankings 26-50
- Rankings 51-75 | Rankings 76-100The Bottom 20  

2011 CFN Final Season Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-25 | Rankings 26-50
- Rankings 51-75 | Rankings 76-100The Bottom 20

- CFN 2011 FINAL Rankings

It might seem way too early, but considering the returning starters and the teams coming back, where does everyone stand before Signing Day and spring ball? Here's CFN's first look at all the teams for 2012 based on how good they appear to be at the moment. 

1. FIU (8-5)

After a second straight excellent season, can Mario Cristobal keep the production going? With four starters back on one of the Sun Belt's best offensive lines, the foundation is there for a running game that should be excellent with Kedrick Rhodes and Jeremiah Harden pounding away. Jake Medlock is ready to take over the starting quarterback job full time, and he has a nice receiving corps to work with. However, playmaker T.Y. Hilton is done meaning the O has to find explosion from somewhere. The league's best scoring defense gets everyone back. Everyone. All 11 starters return to a D that was 30th in the nation in yards allowed and 14th in scoring defense.

2. Western Kentucky (7-5)

With one of the biggest improvements of 2011, WKU showed that it's on the verge of being a special Sun Belt program on a yearly basis. Gone is the offense with Bobby Rainey off to the next level, meaning bruising power back Keshawn Simpson needs to shine right away for the ground game. Can QB Kawaun Jakes become a more efficient and more effective playmaker? He'll have to be, but he should improve with all his receivers back including TE Jack Doyle. LT Wes Jeffries is done, but that's it off the line. In all, nine starters return on the offense that started six underclassmen. The defense that was so strong in Sun Belt play gets eight starters back including top pass rusher Quanterus Smith and leading tackler Andrew Jackson, who'll legitimately deserve preseason All-America consideration.

3. Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4)

One of the biggest surprises of 2011, the Ragin' Cajuns should come back even stronger. Star pass catching tight end Ladarius Green is done, but QB Blaine Gautier, top back Alonzo Harris, terrific WR Javone Lawson, and nine starters overall are back to the Sun Belt's No. 2 scoring attack. The defense has a ton of work to do losing three starters up front and five in the back eight. New Orleans Bowl star Brett Baer is back as both the punter and kicker – and should rock at both spots.

4. Arkansas State (10-3)

Rarely does a program get a rent-a-coach like Hugh Freeze, lose him, and improve with the next hire, but that might be what happens with Gus Malzahn taking over and former Auburn star Michael Dyer – who hasn't been cleared yet for this year - transferring. Malzahn has a star quarterback to work with right away in Ryan Aplin, and the receiving corps is loaded with Josh Jarboe, Taylor Stockemer, and Allen Muse making up for the loss of Dwayne Frampton. Three starters are gone off the line, but the running game should be a bit better. Can the pass rush still be among the best in the nation with Brandon Joiner and three starters gone off the line? Eight starters are gone off the D.

5. North Texas (5-7)

Dan McCarney is one of the Sun Belt's better coaches, and he showed why by starting to revive the program last year. He'll have to go on without RB Lance Dunbar to work everything around, and little-used reserve Brandin Byrd has to prove he can handle the work. Derek Thompson is a big passer who should be better with a decent receiving corps returning. The defense made a little bit of improvement, and it should make great strides up front with six starters back in the front seven. However, all four starters are gone from the secondary.

6. ULM (4-8)

The league's best run defense loses two key starters – Ken Dorsey and Troy Evans – up front, and leading tackler Jason Edwards and top safety Darius Prelow are gone. Both corners – Nate Brown and Tim Taylor – have to be replaced, too. The offense needs to be more explosive, and that starts with more production up front with three starters back including sophomores-to-be Joseph Treadwell and Ben Risenhoover on the left side. QB Kolton Browning is a playmaker, and he has a good group to help with leading rusher Jyruss Edwards back along with top target Brent Leonard.

7. Middle Tennessee (2-10)

After a disastrous 2011, the Blue Raiders should be stronger with QB Jeff Murphy leading an offense that moved the ball, but didn't score. Benny Cunningham and William Pratcher will handle the running game behind a decent-looking line, while the passing attack gets three key targets back including leading receiver Tavarres Jefferson. The defense that was such a nightmare last season will be experienced up front with all four starters returning, but the linebackers have to be better even though Roderic Blunt is the only returning starter. The big problem is a secondary that loses all four starters.

8. Troy (3-9)

A major disappointment, the Trojans couldn't seen to do much of anything right but throw the ball. QB Corey Robinson will put up huge numbers with all his receivers returning, but he loses LT James Brown, his top pass protector. Nine starters are back on an offense that should lead the Sun Belt in yards, but can the defense stop someone for the first time in years? Losing pass rushing end Jonathan Massaquoi hurts a line that had a hard time getting into the backfield. Five starters are gone from a D that couldn't afford to lose too much experience.

9. South Alabama (6-4)

The Jaguars enter the Sun Belt with a good-looking veteran team coming off a decent year. They battled well in a loss to NC State and lost to Kent State 33-25, but there weren't any good wins. This year, the 16th best defense in the FCS gets back ten starters in the 3-4 including the entire front seven. The offense needs to find some semblance of a passing game with C.J. Bennett back. Three starters are gone off the line, but the running attack should be terrific with Kendall Houston and Demetre Baker both big, promising backs. True sophomore J.J. Keals, Baker, and Tyrone Bivins will form one of the nation's best kickoff return trios.

10. Florida Atlantic (1-11)

The Owls have to find an offense right away under new head Carl Pelini, and it starts with getting more from QB Graham Wilbert. The O line gets three starters back and the top receivers return for a passing game that was the least efficient in America. Alfred Morris was the offense, and now the attack has to find a running back to work around. The defense should be better under the new coaching staff, and while end Kevin Cyrille is gone, ten starters return.