Preseason Lookaheads - Sun Belt
Posted Jan 22, 2007

Why each team should be excited, grouchy, and what each team needs to work on.

The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings.
105. Troy   2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: Omar Haugabook. The JUCO transfer turned into the league's best quarterback and showed what kind of a difference maker he could be in the New Orleans Bowl win over Rice. He's an experienced playmaker who makes everyone around him better, while the defense welcomes back eight starters. The defending Sun Belt champions will be the odds-on favorites from the start.
Why to be grouchy: Haugabook will have to be decisive and mobile early on with four starters gone off the offensive line.
While the offense should be among the best in the Sun Belt, it's not going to be a juggernaut and could use all the positive field position it can get. Losing punter Jason Wright, who helped the Trojans average 36.49 yards per boot, will hurt.
The number one thing to work on is: Turnovers. What can unravel a decent team in a hurry? Giving the ball away, and Troy did that in bunches last year giving it up 31 times. Better ball security, and winning the turnover margin, could be the difference between a second straight trip to New Orleans and also-ran status.
Biggest offensive loss: C Zach Yenser
Biggest defensive loss: LB Ryan Babb 

106. Arkansas State   2006 Record: 6-6
Why to get excited: 2006 was supposed to be a rebuilding year and ASU still went a respectable 6-6 with a chance to go to a bowl game in the final week of the year after beating eventual Sun Belt champion Troy. The quarterbacking tandem of Corey Leonard and Travis Hewitt are experienced, while the rushing attack should be fantastic thanks to sophomore-to-be Reggie Arnold. The defense gets enough talent back to be among the best in the league.
Why to be grouchy: Three key members of the offensive line are gone. The defense didn't generate much in the way of pressure last year, and now it has to replace both starting ends. Just because Leonard and Hewitt are back, it doesn't mean the woeful passing game will be much better.
The number one thing to work on is: Along with passing efficiency, returning punts. The running game will always be the bread-and-butter, but the passing attack has to be far more effective after finishing 117th in the nation in efficiency. The Indians were also 117th in punt returns averaging just 3.78 yards per try.
Biggest offensive loss: C Tanner Jenkins
Biggest defensive loss: DT Jamarrow James 

107. UL Lafayette   2006 Record: 6-6
Why to get excited: The Ragin' Cajuns have been flirting with big things over the last few seasons, and now it should finally be ready to break through and get to a bowl game and/or win the Sun Belt. The league's best running game should be even better with most of the offensive line returning to pave the way for Tyrell Fenroy and QB Michael Desormeaux. The solid defense of last year gets many of the key parts back.
Why to be grouchy:
Jerry Babb, the calm, cool leader of the attack for so long, is gone meaning Desormeaux has to be carry the passing load. That's a problem. Desormeaux is a fantastic runner, but he's only completed 51% of his passes with five interceptions and no touchdown passes.  
The number one thing to work on is: Punting. If you're going to be a one-dimensional running team, you need field position. ULL was horrible in the kick return game, and was worse punting the ball averaging a mere 32.38 yards per boot.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Brandon Cox
Biggest defensive loss: LB Wes Simon 

109. Florida Atlantic   2006 Record: 5-7
Why to get excited: The offense started to pick things up a bit at the end of last year, and now it appears ready to shine with Rusty Smith a quarterback to build around. Nine starters return on the offense while ten come back from a solid D. This should be a sleeper team in the Sun Belt race from the start.
Why to be grouchy: Like always, FAU has to go on the road to make some money as the sacrificial lamb for some of the big boys. Kentucky and Oklahoma State are tough tests, and at the end of the year when the team is in a likely fight for the Sun Belt title, it has to make a trip up the road to Gainesville to play the defending national champions.
The number one thing to work on is: Being stronger against the run. No one in the Sun Belt can throw, so if you can stop the run, you can be effective. FAU was last in the league in run defense and has to be far better with all the experience and size coming back.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Antes Perkins
Biggest defensive loss: CB Ricky Bethel 

110. Middle Tennessee   2006 Record: 7-6
Why to get excited: Rick Stockstill proved to be a strong head coach in his first season and there's just enough talent coming back to make a run for the Sun Belt title. The defense was unbelievable at getting into the backfield and gets the entire two-deep from the front four back. FS Damon Nickson is one of the league's best players.
Why to be grouchy: The offense was great at scoring in Sun Belt play, but now it has to replace three starters off the line along with QB Clint Marks and top back Eugene Gross. This wasn't an attack that was going to put up 400 yards a game, and it probably isn't going to be consistent throughout the year unless QB Joe Craddock can come up with a big season. Craddock goes hand in hand with ...
The number one thing to work on is: Balancing the offense. The Blue Raiders were able to run relatively well, but did nothing when it came to throwing it effectively averaging just 154 yards per game. No one in the Sun Belt will be able to throw, so if Middle Tennessee can just be adequate, it'll have a huge leg up. 
Biggest offensive loss: QB Clint Marks
Biggest defensive loss: LB J.K. Sabb

112. UL Monroe   2006 Record: 4-8
Why to get excited: Ten starters return on the league's number one offense. Calvin Dawson was the Sun Belt's best running back last season, and Kinsmon Lancaster grew into a decent passer and leader as the team won three of its last four and almost pulled off a shocking upset at Kentucky.
Why to be grouchy: The defense was the Sun Belt's worst last year and now loses top players Kevin Payne, Chaz Williams and Christiaan Cambridge, who was the team's pass rusher. The team had a nightmare of a time getting into the backfield, and likely won't be significantly better.
The number one thing to work on is: The entire punting game. Kevin Payne was a heck of a defensive back and had a nice leg, but the punt coverage unit was awful. ULM finished the year averaging just 32.42 yards per punt and was 115th in the nation in punt returns averaging 4.56 yards per return.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Nicholas Silva
Biggest defensive loss: FS Kevin Payne

114. North Texas   2006 Record: 3-9
Why to get excited: Darrell Dickey might have brought the program plenty of notoriety and might have made the Mean Green a Sun Belt power, but the team went stale over the last few seasons. Todd Dodge was a superstar high school coach and should do wonders with recruiting in the area. The 1-2 rushing punch of Jamario Thomas and Evan Robertson should be fantastic. Ten starters return on defense.
Why to be grouchy: The passing game was awful all last year, and now it loses its only target of note. Johnny Quinn caught 57 passes for 633 yards and four touchdowns. The rest of the team caught just 79 passes for 749 yards and five scores as part of the nation's third worst passing game. Air Force and Navy were the only teams lower on the passing charts, and they're pure running teams. North Texas didn't have an excuse.
The number one thing to work on is: Turnover margin. If the team is going to struggle so much on both sides of the ball, it has to get every break. The Mean Green was second-to-last in America in turnover margin (only Army was worse) with 29 giveaways and just 14 takeaways.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Johnny Quinn
Biggest defensive loss: NT Sky Pruitt

119. FIU   2006 Record: 0-12
Why to get excited: FIU might have gone 0-12, but it was a not-that-miserable 0-12 leading the Sun Belt in total defense. New head coach Mario Cristobal is a hot young prospect because of his recruiting ability. After the disaster of last year, with the issues after the fight with Miami and the subsequent suspensions, this year will seem like a breeze. However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... QB Josh Padrick, the team's top offensive player, is gone along with most of the top starters from last year's defense. Talk about starting from scratch, the offense has light years to go to be merely adequate and won't have the defense to keep the team in the game.
The number one thing to work on is: Scoring. The suspensions after the Miami game certainly hurt the attack that scored just 23 points over the final six games of the year. It wasn't like the offense was exploding before the Hurricane fiasco and finished up with eight games with ten points or fewer. FIU finished dead last in America in scoring averaging 9.58 points per game, and it also finished last in net punting averaging a woeful 27.18 yards per kick.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Josh Padrick
Biggest defensive loss: LB Keyonvis Bouie