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2008 CFN Sun Belt Preview

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 17, 2008


After a few big upsets last year, and improved talent all across the board, the Sun Belt is getting better and better. Check out the predictions, All-Sun Belt team, unit rankings and more in the 2008 CFN Sun Belt preview.

2008 CFN Sun Belt Preview

Team Previews & Predictions
Arkansas State | Florida Atlantic | FIU | Middle Tennessee
North Texas | Troy | Louisiana-Lafayette | UL Monroe

- CFN All-Sun Belt Team & Top 30 Players

- Sun Belt Team-by-Team Capsules

-
Sun Belt Unit Rankings

- Sun Belt Schedules & Predictions

By Pete Fiutak

One of the charming aspects of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament year after year is the possibility of the little guy upsetting the big, bad giant. Underdogs like George Mason and Davidson are what help make the event such great theater. College football might not have a tournament, but it has its Cinderella aspect with the emergence of the Sun Belt.

The league has pulled off a few big upsets over the years, but it was last season when the conference showed it really could hang with the big boys if given the shot. It was no longer a sure-thing, show-up-and-get-the-slaughter date when one of the BCS leagues scheduled someone from the Sun Belt.

Of course there were several ugly blowouts, but there was also the Troy blasting of Oklahoma State, the Florida Atlantic win over Minnesota, and the shocker of the year, UL Monroe’s win at Alabama. No, the Sun Belt will never be the SEC or the Big Ten, but on any given day there have been moments when the league has proven it can hang toe-to-toe, and it’s showing with each passing year that it’s getting better.

Because of the location, the Sun Belt, for the most part, gets the leftover talents not wanted by the SEC and ACC, and those players are still able to play. They might not be the perfect prospects due to size, speed, or a combination of the two, but just enough good players are slipping through the cracks to make the Sun Belt better and better. 

With the expected reemergence of North Texas as a power, UL Lafayette and UL Monroe likely to be much better than last season, Arkansas State always tough, and Troy, Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic all solid again, the conference will keep growing and will keep improving.

For good and bad, the Sun Belt is in a transition, but more than ever, college football fans are starting to pay attention. Those teams that aren’t tend to be in for a dogfight they weren’t expecting. The league can’t be taken lightly anymore.

Team That'll Surprise

North Texas - 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, led by Dodge’s star quarterback of a son, Riley, 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.

Team That'll Disappoint
Troy – The offensive line should be the best in the league by far, but the potential is there for a bit of a drop. 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 to face Ohio State. The showdown with Florida Atlantic is on the road.

Sun Belt Game of the Year
Troy at Florida Atlantic, Oct. 7 – Troy had a nice 7-5 season with an 18-point win over Oklahoma State and a good showing in a loss to Georgia, but all the positives were wiped away with a season-ending 38-32 loss to Florida Atlantic. There will be plenty of big Sun Belt games left to play, but this showdown will shape the conference season.

One Bold Prediction
There will be at least one really, really big upset … again. Last year it was UL Monroe’s shocker over Alabama that made national headlines, Troy and Florida Atlantic had big moments with some nice wins over BCS-league schools, and it’ll happen again. The best guesses? Arkansas State at Texas A&M on August 30th or Maryland at Middle Tennessee on September 6th.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...
1. LB Boris Lee, Jr. Troy
2. WR Cortez Gent, Jr. Florida Atlantic
3. LB Cardia Jackson, Jr. UL Monroe
4. OT Matt Mandich, Sr. Arkansas State
5. C Chris Fisher, Jr. UL Lafayette

Coach on the Hot Seat
Rickey Bustle, UL Lafayette – He’s had good enough teams to be in the hunt for the Sun Belt title, and he has a great team coming back, but he likely can’t survive another 3-9 season. This is year seven for Bustle going 25-44 so far. There probably won’t be a year eight unless the team at least goes 6-6.

5 Non-Conference Games Sun Belt opponents had better take very, very seriously
1. Troy at Ohio State, Sept. 20
2. Florida Atlantic at Texas, Aug. 30
3. Florida Atlantic at Michigan State, Sept. 13
4. Arkansas State at Texas A&M, Aug. 30
5. Arkansas State at Alabama, Nov. 1

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. LB Boris Lee, Jr. Troy (as a strong safety)
2. FS Sherrod Martin, Sr. Troy
3. QB Rusty Smith, Florida Atlantic
4. SS Greg James, Sr. UL Monroe
5.
CB Tavious Polo, Soph. Florida Atlantic

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. QB Jamie Hampton for Omar Haugabook, Troy
2. RB Frank Goodin for Calvin Dawson, ULM
3. CB
Chris Bowens for Leodis McKelvin
4. SS
M.D. Jennings for Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State
5. DE
Marquis Sykes for Jeremiah Chapman, North Texas

Team Previews & Predictions
Arkansas State | Florida Atlantic | FIU | Middle Tennessee
North Texas | Troy | Louisiana-Lafayette | UL Monroe

- CFN All-Sun Belt Team & Top 30 Players

- Sun Belt Team-by-Team Capsules

-
Sun Belt Unit Rankings

- Sun Belt Schedules & Predictions