2006 Sun Belt Spring Analysis
2007 Preseason Lookaheads -
The early spring buzz ... After following up a Sun Belt title
season with a decent 6-6 campaign, ASU is poised to be one of the
favorites for the title once again thanks to a recruiting class with
three JUCO transfers and, arguably, the best high school haul yet under
head coach Steve Roberts. The team had a shot to go to a bowl before
losing the season finale against UL Lafayette, and with the new
improvements, should be one game better.
The big spring question is ... Can the offense score? The attack was
rarely consistent and had way too many problems scoring with six games
with ten points or fewer. Chalk it up to young offense that couldn't
throw the ball worth a lick. If Corey Leonard and Travis Hewitt have to
be better under center, while RB Reggie Arnold has to build on his
excellent freshman year and be an even bigger part of the attack.
The most important position to watch is ... Center. Tanner
Jenkins was a special lineman who was the epitome of a quarterback up
front and the main man to lead the way for the running game. The All-Sun
Belt star will be sorely missed unless Heath Lockley, before the new
recruits hit town, shows he can be close to as productive.
Spring attitude... Get back to New Orleans. The defensive
line needs a lot of patching and the quarterbacks have to be better, but
the running game should be one of the best in the Sun Belt and the young
overall team of last year should be more consistent. There's no reason
to shoot for anything lower than a Sun Belt title.
The early spring buzz ... This is the year things should start to
come together for Howard Schnellenberger and the Owls in Sun Belt play.
With just about everyone back on both sides of the ball, and a decent
end to the year pushing eventual champion Troy in a 24-17 loss before
beating North Texas and FIU, there's hope to improve by two games, get
to 7-5, and play in the school's first bowl game.
The big spring question is ... Will all the experience turn
into more production? The offense averaged just 15 points per game while
the defense got run over by everyone with a pulse. In a league that
should be dead even this year, a little bit of improvement will go a
long way. If the O can up the production to around 350 yards a game, and
the run defense can hold teams to around 125 yards an outing, the close
Sun Belt wins will come.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Is
Rusty Smith ready to be the leader of the attack for the next three
years? Is Sean Clayton going to be in the hunt for his old starting job?
Smith stepped in over the final four games and put up some decent
numbers highlighted by a 312-yard day in the loss to Troy, but Clayton
has more experience and is the better runner.
Spring attitude... Get more physical. The formula to win in
the Sun Belt isn't tough. Run well, throw effectively when you have to,
and stop the run. FAU did none of those three last year and was still a
player in the league race. A more physical team on both lines should be
enough to push for a bowl season.
The early spring buzz ... It's all about Mario Cristobal and the
new regime. It wasn't that Don Strock was a bad head coach, but after a
season with absolutely no luck, an ugly brawl, and no wins, a change had
to be made. Cristobal is a talented recruiter who brings plenty of
energy to the program. Can he coach? He's going to make a ton of
mistakes early on, but he's a high-riser who should be a great fit for
The big spring question is ... Was FIU just really bad or was
it all bad luck? The defense was the best in the Sun Belt, but the fight
with Miami killed the depth and ended all offensive production. The team
finished dead last in America in scoring and had eight games with ten
points or fewer. Job one will be to figure out how to get more points on
the board, and then hope everything falls into place from there.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Is
Paul McCall the answer to replace Josh Padrick? Padrick might have been
the Sun Belt's best quarterback, but he didn't have anything to work
with. McCall saw a little work late in the year, and will be the starter
this spring by default, but with three key recruits hitting campus this
summer, led by Bryan Mann, the job is still open.
Spring attitude... Worst to first. Things didn't completely
fall apart until after the suspensions kicked in, so with a full team of
players back, and Cristobal instilling some serious discipline from the
start, this should be a tighter team that's better in the close games.
It's not hard to make a quick jump up in Sun Belt play.
Spring Practice Begins: March 19 Game: April 14
The early spring buzz ... The recruiting season should make one
of the Sun Belt's best teams even better. Middle Tennessee came this
close to winning the Sun Belt title outright, and now it should be
even stronger even with the losses of QB Clint Marks and RB Eugene Gross
thanks to a defense that should dominate the league. The holes were
patched up, and then some, with the recruiting class helped by a few
JUCO transfers, so there's reason to be excited.
The big spring question is ... Can Joe Craddock replace
Marks? It's not like the Blue Raider passing game lit anyone up under
Marks, but he was a longtime starter who knew how to run the offense.
Craddock might not be as big as Marks, but he has good passing skills
and great mobility. He might be an instant upgrade to the attack if he
shows this spring that he can be consistently effective.
The most important position to watch is ... Linebacker. J.K.
Sabb might have been phased out by the end of the year, but he still
tied for the team lead in tackles from the weakside. The other leader,
Justin Rainey, is also gone as is starting strongside man Marcus
Brandon. JUCO transfer Andrew Harrington has to play a big role early on
this year, while Lonnie Clemons and Danny Carmichael have to show they
can be top tacklers. If they come through, the defense will be the best
in the Sun Belt.
Spring attitude... Dominate the Sun Belt. The Blue Raiders
appeared to be the best team in the league by far last year until the
stunning late collapse to Troy. There's no reason whatsoever the team
can't be even better, and anything less than a winning season and a bowl
game would be a tremendous disappointment. All the team needs is a bit
more offensive pop.
Begins: March 13 Game: April 22
The early spring buzz ... All eyes are on Todd Dodge and if he
can get the job done. A star from the Texas high school ranks, Dodge and
his spread offense will try to kick-start one of the nation's worst
attacks. His old job at Southlake Carroll High had better facilities and
was bigger in-state than UNT, but the athletic department is making a
bigger commitment to football. Wins right off the bat would help.
The big spring question is ... Can either of the main quarterback
options actually run the spread? Daniel Meager and Woody Wilson
struggled mightily with the old offense, and there aren't many wide
receiver options for the spread, so it might take a while for all the
pieces to fit into place. Both quarterbacks can run, so look for more
responsibility heaped on these two right off the bat.
The most important position to watch is ... Besides
quarterback, running back. Jamario Thomas is back for another year after
leading the nation in rushing a few seasons ago. He was phased out over
last year in favor of Evan Roberston, but Robertson has to get
academically eligible first. He's at North Central Texas College and
will miss spring ball, but he should be back by the fall. That means
Thomas should have the upper hand early on with all the spring practice
reps unless JUCO transfer Cameron Montgomery turns into a star right
Spring attitude... It wasn't all that long ago that North
Texas was the powerhouse of the Sun Belt. Two lousy seasons have forced
a regime change, and Dodge should be just the coach to get the program
back on track. It'll take a little bit of patience early on, but it's
not like the offense can be any worse. At least there'll be some
semblance of a passing game.
The early spring buzz ... Troy closed out last year winning seven
of its final eight games, and with almost everyone back on defense, and
QB Omar Haugabook back on offense, this will be one of the favorites to
win the Sun Belt. The recruiting class was arguably the best in the
league and should make the champion even stronger. In other words, it's
Sun Belt title or bust.
The big spring question is ... Will the defense be back up to
Troy snuff? What's most amazing about last year's run was how it was
mostly done with timely offense and not defense, normally the program's
forte. Eight starters return to a D that finished second-to-last in the
Sun Belt and dead last in pass defense. With 290-pound tackle Dion Gales
David McDowell from
the JUCO ranks, the defense should be even better.
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive tackle.
The line got better and better as last year went on, and now it has to
replace four starters including Kirbie Bodiford and Rob Austin on the
outside. The mobility of Haugabook should make up for the shortcomings
early on, but the faster the line comes together this spring, the better
the chance Troy will be more than a speed bump for Arkansas, Florida and
Oklahoma State over the first three weeks.
Spring attitude... Build on the momentum. With Haugabook, the
team should be the preseason Sun Belt favorite. Middle Tennessee,
Arkansas State and UL Lafayette will all be worthy challengers, but Troy
should be the class of the conference early on. The defense will be
better, most of the top offensive skill players are back, and the
coaching staff is in place. It's all there.
The early spring buzz ... Is the program in trouble? According to
the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, the football and basketball programs are
dealing with the NCAA for possible infractions. While it might not
matter too much right off the bat, it might cause a bit of a distraction
this off-season for a team good enough to win the title and go bowling
for the first time in school history.
The big spring question is ... Can Michael Desormeaux throw?
The running game will be dominant with Tyrell Fenroy and Desormeaux, but
the passing game has to at least be efficient. Jerry Babb, who
graduated, and Desormeaux combined to finish 113th in the nation in
passing efficiency. If there's get a little bit of a passing game to
rely on, things will open up that much more for Fenroy.
The most important position to watch is ... Punter.
Considering the team's reliance on the running game, field position is
at a premium. There has to be far more production than last year out of
the punting game when Brit Framel averaged 39.07 yards per kick and the
team netted 32.38 yards per try. Pinning teams deep is a must for ULL to
win against the better teams.
Spring attitude... This is the year the team must finally
break through. Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State and Troy will be the
favorites, and ULL has to be included in the mix with a veteran offense
that returns just about everyone, and just enough on defense to be
decent. With an average non-conference schedule, there's no excuse to
not finish with a bowl game.
The early spring buzz ... Besides the excitement over schedule
Grambling for a regional bragging rights game, the Warhawks are mostly
excited about the possibilities with last year's young team matured
enough to be a major player in the race. By winning three of the final
four games, and coming close to knocking off Kentucky, this is an
exciting team with just about everyone back on offense.
The big spring question is ... Who'll replace the stars in
the secondary? Kevin Payne and Chaz Williams were two of the Sun Belt's
best defensive backs, while Austin Willis was a strong combination
linebacker/safety. The secondary was fantastic in conference play and
could be the difference between a title and a lower-tier finish.
However, if you're going to be weak in one area in the Sun Belt, it
might as well be defensive back since few teams can throw.
The most important position to watch is ... Wide receiver. QB
Kinsmon Lancaster started to come on over the second half of last year,
and now he needs receivers to become more dangerous. The running game is
more than fine with Calvin Dawson one of the best backs in the league,
so if LaGregory Sapp and Darrell McNeal can be better, the offense will
Spring attitude... Don't worry about the start of the season,
worry about the Sun Belt. ULM will be lambs for the slaughter against
Clemson and Texas A&M, and later against Alabama, but the team is good
enough to win the title and go bowling. It was this close two
years ago, and now it has to close the deal by shining in Sun Belt play
from the start.