2008 Early Sun Belt Lookaheads
Troy LB Boris Lee
Troy LB Boris Lee
Posted Feb 18, 2008

Here's an early look-ahead at each Sun Belt team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.

2008 Sun Belt Early Lookaheads

Arkansas State | Florida Atlantic | Florida International | MTSU
North Texas | Troy | UL Lafayette | UL Monroe

2007 Pages
2007 Sun Belt Season | 2007 Sun Belt Lookbacks & Recaps
Arkansas State | Florida Atlantic | Florida International | Middle Tennessee
North Texas | Troy | UL Lafayette | UL Monroe

Arkansas State
Why to get excited: Five starters are returning to the defensive front seven that was second in the Sun Belt in run defense and led the way for the league's best overall D. The backfield gets its stars back with starting QB Corey Leonard and RB Reggie Arnold providing one of the most productive 1-2 punches the rest of the college football world hasn't heard of. Top punt returner Kevin Jones is also back.
Why to be grouchy: The secondary has to undergo wholesale changes losing all four starters, but the biggest issue is on the offensive line with four starters gone. ASU didn't have a light's out passing game to begin with, and now it has to replace top target Levi Dejohnette.
The number one thing to work on is: Generating more pressure into the backfield. The defense was just fine, for the most part, despite doing nothing to disrupt opposing offenses, but now with all the returning experience up front, the D has to be better at getting to the quarterback and dropping runners behind the line. The Indians were last in the Sun Belt in both sacks and tackles for loss.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Levi Dejohnette
Biggest defensive loss: SS Tyrell Johnson
Best returning offensive player: RB Reggie Arnold, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Alex Carrington, Jr.

Florida Atlantic
Why to get excited: Last year was good, really, really good, winning the Sun Belt title and soundly beating Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl. Last year was supposed to be a stepping stone to this season. Ten starters return to the league's second best offense, led by QB Rusty Smith, while eight players are back on defense. If this isn't the preseason Sun Belt favorite, it'll be a close No. 2.
Why to be grouchy: As always, the Owls have to survive a brutal early schedule going on the road for five of the first seven games. There are only four true home games with the season ender against FIU played on a neutral site in Miami. Making things tougher is the timing of the showdown against Troy as the first home game coming after three straight road trips. Defensively, the team should be loaded except in the secondary where safeties Taheem Acevedo and Kris Bartels have to be replaced.
The number one thing to work on is: Everything about the punting game. The Owls were terrific on kickoff returns but were among the worst in the nation on punt returns averaging a mere 4.12 yards per try. Considering most Sun Belt teams need good field position to do much of anything, the punting has to be better after finishing 112th in the nation, and last in the Sun Belt, averaging a mere 31.61 yards per kick.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Jarrid Smith
Biggest defensive loss: LB Cergile Sincere
Best returning offensive player: QB Rusty Smith, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Frantz Joseph, Sr.

Florida International
Why to get excited: Baby steps. It's going to take a while to build the program, but there were signs at the end of 2007 of things pointing in the right direction as the offense finally got on track over the final month. Ten starters are back on offense, eight are back on defense and both kickers return, so if nothing else, the team can continue to grow. Yes, there should be more of an improvement this year, but the players are there for 2009, too.
Why to be grouchy: There are miles to go before the team becomes a player in the Sun Belt race. The talent level is still suspect and the offense, while improved, has to do a ton just to be productive. This was the nation's worst attack by far, while the defense still has plenty of work to do. Playing at Kansas, at Iowa, South Florida and at Toledo in the first month isn't going to help the team jell.
The number one thing to work on is: Throwing the ball. Paul McCall came on late in the year and provided a bit of a spark to the attack, but the Golden Panthers still finished dead last in America in passing efficiency by a wide margin. Wayne Younger has skills, but he didn't get the offense moving when he got his was on the field. Along with the passing issues, the team has to be much stingier at holding on to the ball after giving it up 34 times with the defense only coming up with 19 takeaways.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Roland Clarke
Biggest defensive loss: CB Lionell Singleton
Best returning offensive player: QB Wayne Younger, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Scott Bryant, Jr.

UL Lafayette
Why to get excited: Most of the key cogs are back from a team that should've been much better than 3-9. QB Michael Desormeaux, RB Tyrell Fenroy and seven starters return to an offense that cranked out a solid 407 yards per game. The running attack, because of the backfield, should be among the Sun Belt's most deadly, while the run defense should be better with all three starters returning to the linebacking corps that had to throw a couple of true freshmen into the mix last year.
Why to be grouchy: The defense wasn't a prize, and now it's not going to have a ton of experience. The defensive front loses its best player, end Rodney Hardeway, while the secondary has to replace three of the four starting defensive backs. Starting off the year with road games against Kansas State and Illinois isn't going to help the D improve.
The number one thing to work on is: Stopping the run. You can't do much in the Sun Belt if you can't slow down the run, and the Ragin' Cajuns had a nasty time coming up with a big stop against the better ground games. That should change with the expected improvement in the linebacking corps, but the line has to do more to get into the backfield, and a few more hits on the quarterback would be a major plus.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Jesse Newman
Biggest defensive loss: DE Rodney Hardeway
Best returning offensive player: RB Tyrell Fenroy, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Anywyne Zanders, Sr.

UL Monroe
Why to get excited: After starting off 1-5, this turned into the Sun Belt's hottest team winning five of the final six games including a stunner at Alabama, and now seven starters return on offense and seven star back on one of the league's best defense. No, the Warhawks aren't going to start bombing away, but the passing game has the potential to be efficient with QB Kinsmon Lancaster returning along with all-star TE Zeek Zacharie and top receivers LaGregory Sapp, Darrell McNeal and Aaron Stringfellow.
Why to be grouchy: There aren't many losses, but they're big ones. Calvin Dawson was a special running back who carried the offense on his back at times, and three starters are gone off the offensive line, including all-star OT Kyle Cunningham. Defensive tackles David Cooper, Kendall Mouton and Ricky Williams were all key rocks against the run, and now they're gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Pass defense. There aren't enough good Sun Belt passing games to be as bad overall as the Warhawks were against the pass. They weren't bad against the short to midrange passing games, but they allowed way too many yards. Getting into the backfield on a more regular basis would be a plus, but considering the success the team had against the run, the team can get by without the line making too many big plays.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Calvin Dawson
Biggest defensive loss: NT David Cooper
Best returning offensive player: QB Kinsmon Lancaster, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB S Greg James, Jr.

Middle Tennessee
Why to get excited: (Warning, you've heard this before), THIS should be the year the Blue Raiders go from a bride's maid to a bride. There are two exciting quarterbacks in place with Dwight Dasher the starter and Joe Craddock an excellent No. 2, seven starters in all return to the offense, six starters are back on defense, and the defensive tackles are back to potentially do more against the run. Now if the team can beat Troy.
Why to be grouchy: The team's strength last year was its pass rush, and now top ends Tavares Jones and Erik Walden have to be replaced. Two of the team's best defensive backs, corner Bradley Robinson and FS Damon Nickson, also have to be replaced, while the offense has to replace top RB DeMarco McNair along with top tackle Franklin Dunbar, who took off early for the NFL.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting more consistency out of the offense, especially on third downs. To be fair, Dasher was a freshman who needed time to get used to what he was doing, but he didn't do enough to keep the offense moving after converting just 33.7% of the time on third downs. The defense should be fine in time, and the offense will be efficient, for the most part; now the drives have to be longer.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Franklin Dunbar
Biggest defensive loss: DE Tavares Jones
Best returning offensive player: QB Dwight Dasher, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: CB Alex Suber, Sr.

North Texas
Why to get excited: Last year was about getting the pieces in place for this year, and now the Todd Dodge offense shouldn't just be about putting up the occasional big numbers, it should actually lead the way to wins. While other good options were brought in with the recruiting class, but Giovanni Vizza showed last year that he can be the bomber who can get the offense moving. The defense can't be any worse after finishing last in America in points allowed.
Why to be grouchy: The defense was 113th in the nation in yards allowed, last in scoring D, 115th in run D, and 95th in pass D, and that was a veteran group that was supposed to not be all that bad. Yeah, if things were that bad with a slew of seniors, starting from scratch in certain places might not be that big a deal, it's still not necessarily a plus to lose so many veterans. The underutilized RB Jamario Thomas has finally used up his eligibility after what seemed like 14 years with the Mean Green.
The number one thing to work on is: Better line play. The offensive front line is loaded with returning starters, and now it has to do a better job in pass protection after getting the quarterbacks killed throughout 2007. The defensive line didn't get in the backfield and didn't do anything against the run. If the lines can improve in a hurry, UNT could make a night-and-day jump in production.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Jamario Thomas
Biggest defensive loss: DE Jeremiah Chapman
Best returning offensive player: WR Casey Fitzgerald, Sr.
Best returning defensive player:
LB Craig Robertson, Soph.

Why to get excited: There might be a slew of big losses from the offensive backfield, and top receiver Gary Banks is also gone, but the rest of the receiving corps is back and the offensive line should be the best in the Sun Belt by far. By far. All five starters return to a group that was terrific in pass protection and paved the way for 183 rushing yards per game.
Why to be grouchy: The Trojans lose their best player on offense, QB Omar Haugabook, and top NFL corner prospect Leodis McKelvin off the defense. The defensive front four loses three starters, the two starting outside linebackers are gone, and First Team All-Sun Belt corner Elbert Mack also has to be replaced. Schedule-wise, Troy has to not only go on the road to face LSU, but it has to travel to Columbus. The showdown with Florida Atlantic is on the road.
The number one thing to work on is: Punting. Oh sure, getting Tanner Jones or Jamie Hampton in place to replace Haugabook under center is step one, and the defense will likely be able to fill in the gaps right away, it always does around Troy, so the biggest issue to make life better is in the punting game. Greg Whibbs wasn't bad throughout his career, but the Trojans only averaged 32.78 yards per boot. True sophomore Will Goggans might get the first shot at the job.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Omar Haugabook
Biggest defensive loss: CBs Leodis McKelvin & Elbert Mack
Best returning offensive player: OT Dion Small, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Boris Lee, Jr.