2009 CFN Sun Belt Preview

Posted Aug 15, 2009

The Sun Belt is slowly starting to get more and more national respect after playing so well (for the most part) in several high-profile non-conference games. Can the league keep it going? Can it build around stars like FAU's Jason Harmon, Troy's Brandon Lang, & ASU's Reggie Arnold? Check out the 2009 CFN Sun Belt Preview, All-Sun Belt team, and more.

2009 CFN Sun Belt Preview

Team Previews & Predictions
- Arkansas State | Florida Atlantic | FIU | Middle Tennessee
- North Texas | Troy | UL Lafayette | ULM | Western Kentucky

- 2009 CFN Sun Belt Preview
- 2009 CFN All-Sun Belt Team & Top 30 Players
- 2009 CFN Sun Belt Team Capsules
- 2009 Sun Belt Schedules & CFN Picks
- 2009 Sun Belt Unit Rankings
- 2008 CFN Sun Belt Preview 

By Pete Fiutak

Does the Sun Belt have staying power?

Of course, to have staying power, a conference has to be at a high level to begin with, and although the Sun Belt isn't going to be confused with the SEC or the Big 12 any time soon, it's coming off a nice season that brought a new measure of respect.

The Florida Atlantic win over Central Michigan, in Detroit, was a rock-solid post-season moment, while Arkansas State (beating Texas A&M 18-14 and losing to Southern Miss 27-24), Troy (who had Ohio State in trouble before losing late and had LSU in real trouble before collapsing in the fourth), and Middle Tennessee (who beat Maryland 24-14) showed that games against the Sun Belt aren't the layups the big boys are expecting.

Throw in the tremendous offensive seasons had by UL Lafayette and Arkansas State, and the progress made by the bottom feeders, FIU and North Texas, and the league continues to move forward. However, with major turnover at ULL and ULM, and with the addition of a Western Kentucky team that's coming off a brutal year, this should be an interesting season to see if the same relatively high level of play can continue.

The regular players in the conference title chase will once again be the stars, with Florida Atlantic and Troy likely to battle it out for the championship, but there are enough promising contenders, primarily Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee, to keep this from being a year of haves and have-nots. What has normally been among the nation's most unpredictable conferences could use a wrench thrown into the system, and with a good young talent base at FIU and with Todd Dodge having the pieces in place at North Texas (at least the program hopes he does), there should be more quirks and more upsets this season.

However, as good as the conference season might be, the Sun Belt craves and needs the notoriety that comes from beating the bigger boys. In the past, the Sun Belt could creep up on the top names who were looking ahead to bigger dates, but now the league might be good enough to really and truly be competitive on a consistent basis. Still improving, the Sun Belt should be in for another good year and should take another good step to respectability on a national scale,

Team That Will Surprise
Middle Tennessee. Lost in the shuffle with all the attention that'll be paid to Troy, Florida Atlantic, and Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee could end up flying under the radar even though the secondary could be the best in the league, the defensive front is solid, and there's enough speed and potential on offense to keep up in shootouts. Anything less than 6-6 will be a major disappointment.

Team That Will Disappoint
Arkansas State. The Red Wolves might be loaded led by QB Corey Leonard and RB Reggie Arnold and has  a killer defensive front helped by DE Alex Carrington, but it's all about schedule, schedule, and schedule. ASU has to face Iowa, Nebraska, and Louisville on the road and have back-to-back November away dates at Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee. The Troy game is at home in what might be a must win to have any prayer of winning the Sun Belt title.

Game of the Year
Florida Atlantic at Troy, Nov. 21. Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee will have their say in the matter, the Sun Belt title will be decided in one way or another by the showdown in Troy. No matter what happens, both teams will likely end up going bowling.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve A Bigger Spotlight
1. DE Alex Carrington, Sr. Arkansas State
2. QB Corey Leonard, Jr. Arkansas State
3. LB Cardia Jackson, Sr. ULM
4. WR T.Y. Hilton, Soph. FIU
5. WR Cortez Gent, Sr. Florida Atlantic

Coach On The Hot Seat
Todd Dodge, North Texas. ULM's Charlie Weatherbie is feeling a bit toasty and Rick Stockstill could use a big year at Middle Tennessee, but it's Dodge who has to prove that the system and coaching ability that made him a Texas high school legend can produce. It's one thing to be bad, but it's another issue to be bad and not put up consistent offensive numbers when the attack is supposed to be explosive.

5 Non-Conference Games Sun Belt Opponents Had Better Take Very, Very, Seriously
1. Florida Atlantic at Nebraska, Sept. 5
2. Troy at Arkansas, Nov. 14
3. Arkansas State at Louisville, Oct. 31
4. Middle Tennessee at Clemson, Sept. 5
5. ULM at Kentucky, Oct. 24

Bold Prediction
Florida Atlantic will win its bowl game. Actually, that's not that crazy a call considering head coach Howard Schnellenberger has never lost a bowl game, and that goes back to his days at Miami. The Owls might not win the Sun Belt title, Troy will probably take that honor and be off to the New Orleans Bowl, but that doesn't mean there won't be room for more conference teams to get another game. FAU will probably be the underdog, everyone will assume the Sun Belt will get tagged with a loss, and Schnellenberger will prove everyone wrong once again.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Brandon Lang, Sr. Troy
2. DE Alex Carrington, Sr. Arkansas State
3. QB Rusty Smith, Sr. Florida Atlantic
4. LB Cardia Jackson, Sr. ULM
5. LB/S Boris Lee, Sr. Troy

5 Biggest Shoes To Fill
1. RB Undrea Salis for Tyrell Fenroy, UL Lafayette
2. QB Brad McGuire or Chris Masson for Michael Desormeaux, UL Lafayette
3. LB Michael Lockley for Frantz Joseph, Florida Atlantic
4. S Chris Bowen for Sherrod Martin, Troyy
5. WR Sam Roberson for Casey Fitzgerald, North Texas

- 2009 CFN Sun Belt Preview
- 2009 CFN All-Sun Belt Team & Top 30 Players
- 2009 CFN Sun Belt Team Capsules
- 2009 Sun Belt Schedules & CFN Picks
- 2009 Sun Belt Unit Rankings