Sun Belt Football Preview
Trojans look to defend conference title
Favored to win the Sun Belt in 2008, the Troy Trojans had
some recovering to do following back-to-back losses to
Brown (or the recovered Hampton) will have with him one of the best receivers in the Sun Belt in senior Jerrell Jernigan, who amassed 868 yards on seventy-seven receptions. Jernigan is versatile as well, finishing second on the team in rushing in 2008 as well. Running back DuJuan Harris returns as well, looking to post a second consecutive season of at least 1,000 yards rushing. Just like Jernigan, Harris is a versatile offensive threat, finishing third on the team in receptions in 2008.
Defensively the Trojans return just five starters, but this is a very talented unit that should give league foes fits. Senior defensive end Cameron Sheffield was a First Team All-Sun Belt selection last season, as was middle linebacker Boris Lee. Jorrick Calvin is the lone returning starter in the secondary, but plenty of the options at Coach Blakeney’s disposal have game experience. The conference slate also works in their favor, with each of the other predicted contenders having to visit Movie Gallery Veterans Stadium. Another trip to the New Orleans Bowl is within the Trojans’ grasp.
Florida Atlantic made even more of a comeback than the Trojans last season, bouncing back from a 1-5 start to eventually become the first school in conference history to win consecutive bowl games. QB Rusty Smith seems to have been at FAU for the better part of a decade, and his experience will enhance an offense that returns eight starters. Defensively head coach Howard Schnellenberger has to replace eight starters, including all three linebackers and their top six tacklers from 2008.
Frantz Joseph racked up an amazing 154 tackles at the middle linebacker spot, and he leaves a very large hole for someone to fill. The lack of starting experience on defense puts a little more pressure on the offense to score points, but outside of trips to Nebraska and South Carolina their schedule sets up for another run at a conference title.
Steve Roberts and company could be in position to make a run
at the Sun Belt title with fourteen starters back in
Rick Stockstill’s Middle Tennessee team could be on the
verge of a special season with seventeen starters back, including ten on
offense. They’ll have to make up for the production lost due to the graduation
of QB Joe Craddock. RB Phillip Tanner led the team in rushing and new
quarterback Dwight Dasher, has some game experience, will have at his
fingertips a very talented and experienced group of receivers. Defensively the
Blue Raiders return seven starters led by leading tackler MLB Danny Carmichael.
Louisiana-Lafayette has to replace some of the most prolific players in school history, most notably RB Tyrell Fenroy, the 2008 Sun Belt Player of the Year. Also gone is quarterback Michael Desormeaux, meaning that head coach Ricky Bustle will need to find suitable replacements to make up the 2,500-plus rushing yards those two combined for last season. All five starters on the offensive line return led by left guard Brad Bustle and center Chris Fisher.
Defensively the Ragin’ Cajuns welcome back nine starters. But when you ranked eighth in rush defense and seventh in pass efficiency defense cynics there is room for improvement. Defensive end Hall Davis and linebacker Daylon McCoy will lead the way for a unit that will have to pick up the slack for an offense that’s replacing its two best weapons.
The FIU Golden Panthers weren’t in the news much during the summer, due in large part to the hiring of Isiah Thomas as men’s basketball coach. But it wouldn’t be wise to sleep on Mario Cristobal’s team, which made significant strides in 2008 (improving their win total by four games from 2007). The next step is bowl eligibility, something that could have been achieved if not for close losses to Louisiana-Monroe and Florida Atlantic in November. The Golden Panthers return ten starters on offense, led by quarterback Pail McCall. However FIU will need to replace their top two rushers from 2008, but a running game that finished dead last in the Sun Belt would have needed revamping anyway.
Louisiana-Monroe returns sixteen starters, eight on each
side of the football. Head coach Charlie Weatherbie will likely look to junior
Trey Revell to start at quarterback. Kinsmon Lancaster was a capable
dual-threat quarterback in 2008, passing for just over 2,000 yards while rushing
for another 800 yards. Defensively the Warhawks have plenty of experience with
their top five tacklers from last season all back, led by middle linebacker
Cardia Jackson (127 tackles). Look for the
North Texas and
North Texas’ lone win came against WKU, and unfortunately
for head coach Todd Dodge the success he enjoyed at Southlake (
On defense the Mean Green welcomes back six starters to a
unit had a really hard time last season.
Players of the Year:
QB Rusty Smith (
How they’ll finish
Next: Sun Belt Ultimate Schedule