The Ultimate Schedule: Sun Belt

September 1st, 2009

Sun Belt Scheduling “Rules”:

-         Four non-conference games

-         Eight conference games


Week 1: Florida Atlantic @ Nebraska (September 5th)


This could be a dangerous game for the Cornhuskers despite the fact that they have one of the best defenses in the Big 12. Nebraska is breaking in a new quarterback in Zac Lee, and the Owls have one of the nation’s more underrated quarterbacks in Rusty Smith. FAU didn’t perform well in games against BCS conference opponents last season, scoring just thirteen points in losses to Texas, Michigan State and Minnesota. No one will expect the Owls to compete much less win in Lincoln, but a solid performance may be a harbinger of things to come for FAU.


Other Games Considered: Troy @ Bowling Green (9/3), Middle Tennessee @ Clemson (9/5)


Week 2: Troy @ Florida (September 12th)


The favorites to win the Sun Belt and SEC meet in Gainesville, and there will be a significant difference in talent level. For the Trojans this matchup is as much about simply competing with the Gators, if not more, than it is winning the game. No Sun Belt team has ever had a realistic shot at an at-large BCS bid because of the number of games played against SEC opponents, especially those of national championship pedigree. Just like FAU in Week 1, there are lessons to be learned that can be applied towards a run at the Sun Belt championship.


Other Games Considered: Kansas State @ Louisiana-Lafayette (9/12), Ohio @ North Texas (9/12), FIU @ Alabama (9/12)


Week 3: Middle Tennessee @ Maryland (September 19th)


This is a non-conference game in which the Sun Belt representative has a realistic shot at winning. In fact the Blue Raiders beat Maryland in Murfreesboro 24-14 last season, and the Terrapins aren’t thought to be world beaters this season either. Chris Turner threw three picks in the loss, negating a solid performance from RB Da’Rel Scott. The Blue Raiders will need to use the same formula if they want to beat the Terps again, and find a way to slow down Scott as well.


Other Games Considered: UAB @ Troy (9/19), Florida Atlantic @ South Carolina (9/19)


Week 4: Troy @ Arkansas State (September 26th)


Troy’s first game in defending their Sun Belt crown is on the road, and the Red Wolves are more than capable of knocking them off. The Trojans have won nine of their last ten conference road games and two straight over Arkansas State. But all-time they’re 3-6 against the Red Wolves, who would like to show better in Jonesboro than they did in the meeting two seasons ago (27-0 Troy). The Trojans were a +3 in turnover margin in last year’s game, blowing open a game despite the fact that the Red Wolves had the ball for twelve more minutes. Turnovers can either be the great equalizer, or they can blow a game wide-open. Arkansas State needs to at least break even in that department if they’re to knock off Troy.


Other Games Considered: ULM @ Florida Atlantic (9/26), Toledo @ FIU (9/26)


Week 5: FIU @ ULM (October 3rd)


Two teams expected by many to fight it out in the middle of the Sun Belt standings meet in Monroe with the Golden Panthers looking to avenge a loss that helped deny them bowl eligibility last season. The second quarter in last year’s 31-27 ULM victory made all the difference with the Warhawks outscoring FIU 21-0 in that stanza. Florida International won the yardage battle but lost time of possession and ultimately the game as a result. FIU should be an improved team this season, which should give them a shot at winning on the road.


Other Game Considered: Wyoming @ Florida Atlantic (10/3)


Week 6: Middle Tennessee @ Troy (October 6th)


If the Blue Raiders want to entertain any thought of winning the conference they need to get over the hump that is Troy. The Trojans have won the last three in the series, including a 31-17 win at Middle Tennessee in last year’s season opener. Troy won despite four turnovers thanks to a run defense that limited the Blue Raiders to just eighty-four yards on the ground, and Middle Tennessee also left point on the board in not taking advantage of those four turnovers. The “World’s Largest Toga Party” shouldn’t disappoint this year with both teams entertaining thoughts of a trip to the New Orleans Bowl.


Other Game Considered: North Texas @ Louisiana-Lafayette (10/10)


Week 7: Bye Week (October 17th)


Troy’s trip to FIU could be a tricky affair despite the fact that the Trojans have won all five of their all-time meetings. Arkansas State/ULM gets a national television audience for a game between two of the contenders for the Sun Belt title, but it’s also a good time to take a week off.


Week 8: FIU @ Arkansas State (October 24th)


While both are expected to be around the middle of the conference standings at season’s end, a game like this can ultimately be the difference between going to a bowl game and staying home in a league like the Sun Belt. Three of the last four meetings have been decided by three points or less with the Golden Panthers winning last year’s meeting 22-21. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton threw one pass in that game, and it was the touchdown pass that won the game for FIU. The Red Wolves dominated time of possession and held FIU to forty-eight yards rushing but lost in a heartbreaker. Don’t expect happy faces when FIU arrives in Jonesboro as a result.


Other Games Considered: Florida Atlantic @ Louisiana-Lafayette (10/24), WKU @ Middle Tennessee (10/24)


Week 9: Arkansas State @ Louisville (October 31st)


The Red Wolves head to Louisville to take on a Louisville team they can be, provided they slow down Cardinals RB Victor Anderson. They’ve never met, and the Cards will have a new quarterback in Justin Burke. There’s been some heat applied to Steve Kragthorpe’s seat even though Louisville AD Tom Jurich hasn’t bitten the bait. A loss here, even with ASU beating Texas A&M last season, wouldn’t be the best thing for the head coach’s job security.


Other Games Considered: Middle Tennessee @ Florida Atlantic (10/31), ULM @ Troy (10/31), Louisiana-Lafayette @ FIU (10/31)


Week 10: FIU @ Middle Tennessee (November 7th)


FIU won last season’s meeting by ten, holding the Blue Raiders to seventy-two yards passing. Each team finished the game with three turnovers, but it was FIU who showed a little more offensive balance. They’ve only met four times and the home team has won all four, which could be a good sign for the Blue Raiders. The winner continues to entertain thoughts of winning the Sun Belt while the loser is dealt a near-fatal blow.


Other Games Considered: Florida Atlantic @ UAB (11/7), Louisiana-Lafayette @ Arkansas State (11/7)


Week 11: Arkansas State @ Florida Atlantic (November 14th)


Depending on what happens up to this point the Red Wolves and Owls could end up playing for second place, or possibly something bigger. Florida International ran for just sixty-three yards in the 28-14 loss, not a surprise since the Owls were winless when they failed to run for at least one hundred yards. Arkansas State put up just under five hundred yards of offense in the win, even converting more than half of their third downs and winning time of possession by thirteen minutes. The Owls also won’t be thrilled to see ASU RB Reggie Arnold, who ran for 150 yards in the win.


Other Games Considered: Troy @ Arkansas (11/14), Louisiana-Lafayette @ Middle Tennessee (11/14)


Week 12: Florida Atlantic @ Troy (November 21st)


The preseason “Game of the Year” in the Sun Belt matches the last two winners of the conference title. The Trojans win by thirteen in Boca Raton last season, forcing three turnovers and limiting the Owls to just seventy-five yards on the ground. Even in the era of spread offenses you need to be able to do something on the ground in order to win championships. It also doesn’t help when you’re just 3-of-13 on third downs. The last three meetings in the series have been won by the visiting team, so even with the Trojans holding a 5-1 advantage all-time the Owls definitely have a chance.


Other Games Considered: Arkansas State @ Middle Tennessee (11/21), ULM @ Louisiana-Lafayette (11/21)


Week 13: Bye Week (November 28th)


The best games on the penultimate Saturday of the season are Middle Tennessee visiting ULM and Troy making the trek to Louisiana-Lafayette. How much of an impact either (or both) game has on the Sun Belt title race remains to be seen, but those aren’t rivalry games. Sit this week out in order to watch an in-state rivalry game that featured a wild finish in 2008.


Week 14: Florida Atlantic @ FIU (December 5th)


The Golden Panthers needed one more win to break even on the season, and their close rivals made sure they fell short in a wild 57-50 Owls victory. The game featured fifty-three first downs, seventeen penalties and more than 1,000 yards of offense. How often do you see a fourth quarter in which each team scores twenty-eight points? Quarterbacks Paul McCall (FIU) and Rusty Smith (FAU) combined for nine touchdown passes and two interceptions in the thriller, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if 2009 meant more of the same. One of these teams could go into the season finale in need of a win to get bowl eligible; it’s especially sweet to deny your bitter rival a trip to a bowl game.


Other Game Considered: Arkansas State @ Western Kentucky (12/3)