1) The five
games that will shape the Sun Belt race (in order)
Sept. 30, Middle Tennessee at North Texas
A few years ago these were the two Sun Belt powerhouses. Under new
head coach Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee is hoping for a big win
early in the conference race to get in the hunt.
Oct. 7, FIU at North Texas
With the way the conference schedule shapes up, a win over the Mean
Green might mean all FIU has to do is hold serve at home to win the Sun
Nov. 11, North Texas at UL Lafayette
If the Mean Green plans on reestablishing its dominance in the Sun
Belt, this is the game it has to win.
Nov. 18, UL Lafayette at FIU
Florida Atlantic has a ridiculously favorable schedule to end the
year with four straight home games. This one against the Ragin' Cajuns
will be the toughest of the bunch.
Nov. 25, Arkansas State at UL Lafayette
The Indians won a 39-36 battle last year that turned out to be the
difference in the race to get to the New Orleans Bowl. If things go
according to plan, it'll be the league's best offense (ULL) vs. the
league's best defense (ASU).
Five non-conference games that Sun Belt opponents had better take very, very
Oklahoma State at Arkansas State, Sept. 9
Oklahoma State didn't exactly have its way with the Indians last
year in a 20-10 win. Now Mike Gundy's group has to go do Jonesboro.
2. UL Lafayette at Houston, Oct. 7
Sandwich game. The Cougars face Miami the week before dealing with
ULL's tough running attack and Southern Miss the week after.
3. SMU at North Texas, Sept. 9
If things go right for both teams, this might be a preview of the
New Orleans Bowl. The Mustang run defense will have to prove it can
handle Jamario Thomas.
4. MTSU at South Carolina, Nov. 18
The last time the Blue Raiders played an SEC team, they beat
Vanderbilt 17-15. South Carolina has to go to Florida the game before
and to Clemson the game after.
5. Troy at UAB, Sept. 30
The showdown of lesser-known Alabama programs went to UAB last year
27-7. Troy will need this win coming off road games at Florida State,
Georgia Tech and Nebraska.
best Sun Belt pro prospects
Arkansas State LB Josh Williams, Jr.
Williams had a fantastic first season leading the team in tackles and
was the nation's best freshman tackler with 110 stops, but he was kicked
off the team last season for "conduct detrimental to the team." He was
allowed back on the team as a walk-on this year, and he has been a
terror in the weight room looking to get hi NFL caliber career back on
track. He's up to 255 pounds and if all goes as planned should be the
Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. He'll add a nasty element to the
run defense that was missing last year.
2. UL Monroe FS Kevin Payne, Sr. - 87 tackles, 4 TFL, 2
interceptions, 1 broken up pass
The former running back has grown into a whale of a defensive back. He
got over a broken arm to use his speed and 6-1, 212-pound size to become
the team's leading tackler. Now that he knows what he's doing, he should
take the next step up and become a more dangerous all-around playmaker.
3. UL Monroe CB Chaz Williams, Jr. - 46 tackles, 5 interceptions,
5 broken up passes
Williams is a next-level corner prospect, and he plays like it. There's
not a better tackling corner in the conference, and few more physical
when going after the ball. He's a playmaker when the ball is in his
hands returning his five picks for 138 yards, but he likely won't see
the ball come his way too often with teams sure to stay away from him.
4. North Texas OG Dylan Lineberry, Sr.
Easily the team's best offensive lineman and one of the best in the
conference, the 310-pound senior is a crushing run blocker with way too
much strength for most of the smaller Sun Belt linemen to handle. He'll
be the one the team runs behind.
5. FIU TE Samuel Smith, Sr. - 35 catches, 3.2 yds, 8.6 ypc, 1 TD
Smith earned second-team All-Sun Belt honors as one of the league's best
blocking tight ends with great hands. He finished third on the team in
receiving despite missing the final three games with a knee injury. He
had an eight-catch, 98-yard day against North Texas and should be an
even better go-to target as one of the key veterans in the attack.
Five biggest Sun Belt shoes to fill
State RB Reggie Arnold for Antonio Warren
Arnold has way too much potential to keep off the field. He's the
biggest back in the mix at 217 pounds, and he's also the fastest with
warp sub 4.4 speed. He was named the starter coming out of spring ball,
but he'll have to battle to keep the spot this summer.
2. UL Monroe QB Kinsmon Lancaster for Steven Jyles
The former high school receiver saw a little bit of time last year as a
backup, and now he has to show he can be an all-around playmaker like
Steven Jyles was. Lancaster isn't all that big, but he's a terrific
runner with a bigger arm than Jyles. With great potential, he's a good
player to build around for the future, but the offense will have to live
through his mistakes.
3. UL Monroe DE Travis Eickman for Brandon Guillory
While only 6-3 and 205 pounds, he's a speed rusher who needs to grow
into a solid run stopper. He's a strong competitor who has to quickly
become a difference maker to help out the Warhawk front line.
4. Troy LB Josh Maxwell for Bernard Davis
A part-time starter in the middle, it'll be up to the 204-pound
junior to take over for heart-and-soul defender Davis on the weakside.
He has cornerback athleticism and should be one of the team's leading
5. Middle Tennessee DT Jonathan Presley for Jeff Littlejohn
Presley saw a little bit of time as a true freshman and now needs to
handle the job on the inside. He's only 240 pounds, but he should be far
quicker than most linemen he'll go up against. At his size, he'll have
to rotate with the bigger Brandon Perry.
Five Sun Belt breakout players
Middle Tennessee WR Bobby Williams, Soph. - 22 catches,
303 yds, 13.8 ypc, 1 TD
Is he the team's new receiving star? Does he have what it takes
to be the number one target and be reliable enough to handle the
workload after being suspended from spring ball? He finished
fourth on the team in receiving as a true freshman turning into
a surprisingly steady target from the start. He's 6-3 with the
athleticism to be a big-play star.
2. Troy DE Chris Bradwell, Jr.
Is he the team's new defensive star? The former starter at
Florida State is 6-5 and 280 pounds with tremendous pass rushing
skills. He spent last year at NE Mississippi CC where he made 70
tackles and 10 TFL.
3. Arkansas State RB Reggie Arnold
4. FIU RB Julian Reams, Soph. - 87 carries, 322 yds,
3.7 ypc, 1 catch, 2 yds
The high school track star has the speed to become a top star in
a 208-pound frame. He has as much talent as anyone on the roster
and showed good potential as the featured back over the first
three games. He got dinged up and wasn't quite right the rest of
5. Troy QB Omar Haugabook, Jr.
The JUCO transfer got the job almost by default. He threw for
over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns last year for Dodge City
Community College and should be an immediate upgrade for the
passing attack. While not all that big at 6-1 and 200 pounds, he
has a live arm.