The Sun Belt is a Division I conference although like the WAC, CUSA, MWC and Mid Am is not in the BCS. Of course the BCS system is a scam without doubt, but we will save that perhaps for another time. This conference of mostly smaller regional schools has improved in recent years to the point that many teams here are on par with some of the lower level BCS schools. I place the top four teams on about the same level as Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Baylor, Texas A&M, Washington State - you get the point. It perhaps has more in common with a pretty good IAA conference than one that is in Division I probably, but the football is improving and every year it seems there are some pretty stunning upsets of schools in the BCS. Last years' Cajuns victory over Kansas State is a case in point - and who could possibly forget the ULM victory over BAMA a couple of years back? That victory probably was more stunning than the Appalachian State smoking of Michigan. That year Appalachian State would have easily been a top 25 D1 team. With that being said let us move on to my predictions for this years Sun Belt Conference race.
1. Troy Trojans: I pick this school to be the top dog in the Sun Belt, Some other publications predict MTSU, and probably for good reason, but I will go with Troy here. It is hard to argue with the success that coach Larry has been able to bring to the program. Their non conference schedule is manageable with none of the games being "sure" losses.
2. Middle Tennessee: This school may be ready for the top slot in conference. They had a very good team last year and all indications are that they will be just as good this. Most publications pick the Blue Raiders to be the class of the conference. They return most starters on offense and over half on D. The non conference schedule is not too tough with only Georgia Tech being a "sure" loss. Last year this team beat Maryland, but the Yellow Jackets are an entirely different cat.
3. Arkansas State: After the top two teams - the middle of the pack appears to be pretty much a toss up. Coach Roberts does a fine job in the state of Arkansas where as far as fans go, there is nothing but the Razorbacks. That makes it difficult to recruit "Blue Chip" players but Roberts usually puts a pretty good product on the field. The non conference slate is pretty tough and all games are likely losses but the Red Wolves should have enough in the tank to wind up taking the third slot in conference.
4. Florida Atlantic" The Owls are coached by the legendary Howard S and that is one reason that I have picked them to be number four. They lost the exceptional QB Rusty Smith and it will be interesting to see how they do without him. Their non conference slate is darn tough (they meet Texas) and they only play four home games. It might be a bit of a stretch to place them in the fourth spot but with Coach Howard in control; anything can happen.
5. University of Louisiana: The Cajuns are also led by a darn fine coach in Rickey Bustle. It is exceptionally hard to recruit in this state with LSU being an hour down the road, two other D1 teams in state and one very good IAA program. That being said Bustle has done a fine job but the Cajuns have lost too many starters to compete for the top spot. Their non conference schedule is by no means a cake walk either. They may end up being bowl eligible, but will probably not get an invite.
6. WKU: Most publications predict that the Hilltoppers will finish at the bottom of the heap, but I am going out on a limb and pick them a cut above that. Willie Taggert will prove to be a very good coach and when he was QB here the Hilltoppers were a IAA power. Look for a surprise win or two that will keep them out of the cellar.
7. FIU: Florida International may be ready this year to surprise a few folks also. Mario Cristobal will in time prove to be a very good HC but the non conference sked may wear these guys out when competing in conference. The Panthers may have a shot vs Maryland and perhaps Texas A&M but the chances are rather slim.
8. ULM: The race to the bottom will likely be between the Warhawks and North Texas. Somebody has to be at the bottom and I will predict that it will not be the boys from Monroe. New coach Todd Berry is a proven loser but there may be enough left over players from the last "administration" to keep them out of the cellar.
9. North Texas: This school was a Sun Belt power in the early years but dropped off drastically in the last few. Todd Dodge has proven to be a loser and that is the reason I have picked them for the cellar. This school should be able to more than hold its own in the Sun Belt even with a lot of recruiting competition in state. Texas along with Florida, California and the Pennsylvania/Ohio axis is prime football recruiting ground. This school also is quite large and very near a large city which should help matters. There is no reason why the Mean Green should not be in the top two or three in conference every year. The only explanation can be the coaching staff.
All in all look for this conference to take a few games from the big boys but there will be only two in post season. Looks like it will Troy and MTSU again.