2013 Sun Belt Spring Preview
Arkansas State RB David Oku
Arkansas State RB David Oku
Posted Mar 6, 2013

The 2013 CFN Sun Belt Spring Preview, Lookaheads & Analysis.

2013 Spring Preview   

Sun Belt

2013 Sun Belt Spring Preview  
- 2013 CFN Sun Belt Schedule Breakdown
- 2013 CFN Sun Belt Composite Rankings
- 2013 CFN Pre-Preseason Sun Belt Rankings
Arkansas State
Start: March 11, Spring Game: TBD

Why To Be Excited Many of the pieces are still in place from the powerhouses that rolled through the last few seasons. Four starters return to the offensive line with Aaron Williams at left tackle the best of the bunch helping to pave the way for running back David Oku. Replacements are needed across the defensive front, but the secondary should be among the best in the league with three starters returning.

Why To Be Grouchy There has to be a step back. Head coach Bryan Harsin has some tough shoes to fill over the success of the last few seasons, but the bigger problem is the loss of all-star quarterback Ryan Aplin and leading tackler Nathan Herrold. Phillip Butterfield and Fredi Knighten will battle it out to take over for Aplin, but the focus this spring should be on a defensive front seven that loses four starters.

What Needs Working On The special teams can't be much worse. Brian Davis is one of the team's biggest positives hitting 17-of-21 field goals last year, but that's about it for the special teams. The punting game was the worst in America netting 31.43 yards per kick, but Neely Sullivent is gone. Oku and the kickoff return unit didn't do much, while the punt return game averaged an abysmal 4.27 yards per try. Defensively, coming up with more of a pass rush is a must after coming up with a mere 19 sacks.

Georgia State
Start: March 27, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Be Excited The Panthers are loaded with veterans coming off a disastrous 1-10 season. Ten starters return to an offense that gets all five starters back including four seniors up front to protect quarterbacks Ben McLane and Ronnie Bell, who each got their feet wet last year. The defense might have been awful against the run, but it welcomes back the entire front line working around big nose tackle Terrance Woodard and should be better on the outside hoping for John Kelly and C.J. Stephens to add more punch into the backfield.

Why To Be Grouchy The team needs 57 miles to go to be even decent. At the FCS level, GSU wasn't even close losing nine of the ten games by double digits. How did it do against FBS teams? It was blasted 51-13 by Tennessee and 38-14 by UTSA, but everyone else did whatever they wanted, too. The secondary that was ripped apart by anyone who could throw a forward pass loses safeties D'Mario Gunn and Demazio Skelton, two of the team's top four tacklers.

What Needs Working On The offense has to stop turning the ball over and it has to find a running game. Youth and inexperience were the issues to work through, but the turnovers never stopped and the problem got worse as the season went on with 23 interceptions on the year and 12 lost fumbles. The ground game has to do something right after hitting 100 yards just three times all seasons long with the only 200-yard day – a 274-yard, three score effort against Rhode Island – the only win of the season.

South Alabama
Start: February 28, Spring Game: April 6

Why To Be Excited 2012 was a season of building up and preparing with several young players thrown to the wolves. The hope is for a payoff with 18 starters returning including nine on an offense that started to find some nice things that worked as the season went on. Quarterback Ross Metheny and all the top skill players return. The diminutive Jereme Jones should be one of the Sun Belt's most dangerous weapons, and Bryan Lavender should come up with a strong season at flanker.

Why To Be Grouchy While there's a ton of experience returning on offense, the line has to replace two starters in veteran center Trey Clark and versatile left guard Tremain Smith. While the defense is also full of experience, it loses tackling machine linebacker Jake Johnson and third leading tackler, safety B.J. Scott. One of the other big positives, kicker Michael Chapuseaux, is also gone after hitting 20-of-27 field goals and constantly bailing out a pedestrian offense.

What Needs Working On The team has to get tighter and eliminate the big mistakes. Penalties weren't a consistent problem, but there was a stretch when the Jaguars couldn't stop getting flagged getting nailed a whopping 28 times in a two game stretch against Troy and Arkansas State and being penalized 11 times against North Texas and Middle Tennessee. Losing fumbles was a huge problem, failing to jump on 17 of the 22 put on the ground to go along with 16 picks, going just four games without losing multiple turnovers.

Texas State
Start: March 1, Spring Game: April 6

Why To Be Excited There were signs last season that Dennis Franchione's team was pointed in the right direction with a few massive rushing performances here and there, starting out the year ripping up Houston and finishing up with 446 yards and five scores on the ground against New Mexico State. Terrence Franks looks ready to take over the main duties in the backfield working behind a line that returns four starters. All the top receivers are back to help ease in the new starting quarterback, while the defense gets all four starters back and all are seniors.

Why To Be Grouchy The key parts of the offensive puzzle are gone. Eight starters return, but tackle Adley Eshraghipour was one of the team's top blockers for the team's two leading rushers, Marcus Curry and quarterback Shaun Rutherford. It was running back-by-committee throughout the season, and while Curry was hardly a workhorse, he was the team's most effective rusher. On the other side of the ball, the team's top defender, middle linebacker Joplu Bartu, is gone along with running mate Brian Lilly in the 4-2-5 scheme.

What Needs Working On Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. The Bobcats destroyed New Mexico State in the season finale with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss – Bartu's four sacks had a lot to do with the huge day. Before that, over the previous 11 games the defense generated a mere six sacks total with two in the Opening Day win over Houston, two against New Mexico and two against Idaho while suffering through a stretch of five straight games without popping a quarterback. Bartu along with the team's second-leading pass rusher, end Chase Harper, but he only came up with two sacks.

Start: March 21, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Be Excited The Trojan offense should be the Trojan offense again after leading the Sun Belt in both total offense and passing. There are plenty of major changes and replacements needing to be made, but quarterback Corey Robinson is back with 10,258 passing yards and 61 career scores under his belt. Eric Thomas is a terrific receiver who should be one of the Sun Belt's biggest producers, while tight end Jim Teknipp will play a bigger role. There are playmakers waiting in the wings, and Robinson should make everyone better.

Why To Be Grouchy The offensive line isn't starting from scratch, but it's not far off. Tackle Terrence Jones is the lone holdover from a front five that was fantastic in pass protection and paved the way for 167 rushing yards per game. Gone is leading rusher Shawn Southward and top target Chip Reeves, while the defense that finished last in the Sun Belt has to replace six starters including leading tacklers Kanorris Davis, Brynden Trawick and Brannon Bryan.

What Needs Working On Pass rush. The defense has been an issue for several seasons, and losing so much talent won't help the continuity. The team only came up with a mere 13 sacks, and the trickledown effect kicked in with the secondary struggling and opposing backfields doing anything they wanted. Inexcusably, there weren't any tackles for loss against Arkansas State and just 50 on the year. Leading sacker Tony Davis is gone, but he only came up with three sacks – he can be replaced.

Start: March 11, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Be Excited After all the success, somehow, Mark Hudspeth is still the head coach and hasn't been picked off by a bigger-name program. The Ragin' Cajuns are coming off a terrific season with a great finishing kick, winning five of their last six games with the lone loss coming in the late collapse at Florida. Seven starters are back to the league's No. 1 scoring offense with quarterback Terrance Broadway and running back Alonzo Harris a rising backfield tandem. The great pass rush of last season gets back defensive tackle Christian Ringo, one of the Sun Belt's best interior presences.

Why To Be Grouchy The offensive line that gave up a mere 13 sacks on the season has to replace tackles Leonardo Bates and Jaron Odom, and the team's two best receivers – Javone Lawson and Harry Peoples – are gone. The defense has to come up with outside pass rushers to replace Cordian Hagans and Emeka Onyenekwu, and that's a big problem with the secondary needing to find three new starters with corners Melvin White and Jermarlous Moten gone along with free safety Rodney Gillis.

What Needs Working On The pass defense. The pass rush was fine and the secondary was full of veterans, but it didn't matter as team after team routinely threw at will. It's one thing for Oklahoma State to crank up 412 yards and four scores, and Troy going for 528 yards isn't a stunner, but South Alabama and Florida Atlantic were able to throw like the New Orleans Saints. On the year there were just 13 picks to 21 touchdown passes; there were big plays, but they were followed up by giving up scores.

Start: February 25, Spring Game: March 23

Why To Be Excited As good as the 2012 season was – throwing aside the clunker of a bowl loss – 2013 could be even better with 18 starters coming back including quarterback Kolton Browning and four starters off the line. The scoring could come in bunches like it did at times last season, while there should be a little bit of an improvement on the other side of the ball. The defense struggled with its consistency, but nine starters are back including the entire front three and all five starters in the secondary for nickel packages.

Why To Be Grouchy Tavarese Maye and Je'Ron Hamm are good receivers who should be able to pick up the slack, but losing a reliable safety valve like Brent Leonard will hurt. Losing a right guard usually isn't a big deal, but Jonathan Gill was a good one for a line that needs to be a big tighter and more effective. Leading tackler R.J. Young and running mate DaCorris Ford a gone after a big year getting behind the line.

What Needs Working On The secondary has to tighten up. Usually teams with great offenses give up great pass defense numbers because teams have to bomb away to try to keep up the pace, but ULM's secondary was just bad. A mediocre pass rush didn't help the cause for a secondary that allowed a whopping 33 touchdown passes, giving up fewer than two scores in two games. Overall, the defense has to do a far better job of coming up with takeaways after recovering a mere four fumbles, and two of those coming early in the year against Baylor.

Western Kentucky
Start: March 22, Spring Game: April 20

Why To Be Excited Bobby Petrino is the head coach. Willie Taggart might have been a special talent to bring WKU to Sun Belt prominence, but Bobby Petrino is Bobby Petrino. Even if he's just a rental for one season before taking over a bigger gig – helloooo, Illinois – it should be a good year with 16 starters returning and the pieces in place to come up with a more potent offense. Antonio Andrews is one of the nation's best all-around backs, and Willie McNeal is a strong inside receiver who should thrive under the new coaching staff. The secondary that was among the best the Sun Belt returns intact, and Andrew Jackson is one of the nation's best linebackers. However …

Why To Be Grouchy The defensive line needs retooling. The Hilltoppers led the Sun Belt in sacks, tackles for loss and run defense, but tackles Jamarcus Allen and Rammell Lewis are gone along with end Cole Tischer and superstar pass rusher Quanterus Smith. The offensive line that was such a key part of Taggart's success loses the right side with guard Adam Smith and tackle Seth White gone, and starting quarterback Kawaun Jakes has to be replaced.

What Needs Working On The passing game has to be better. It was efficient last season with the offense revolving around Andrews and the running game, but the passing attack came up with the fewest yards in the Sun Belt and failed to hit the 200-yard mark over the final four games. On the other side, the pass rush has to get back on board after fizzling late in the season. After dominating early on, and with nine sacks against FIU, WKU came up with just three sacks over the final five games with Quanterus Smith neutralized before missing the last two games.
2013 Sun Belt Spring Preview  
- 2013 CFN Sun Belt Schedule Breakdown
- 2013 CFN Sun Belt Composite Rankings
- 2013 CFN Pre-Preseason Sun Belt Rankings