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Excerpts from the SunBelt Coaches confrence call...


Excerpts from the SunBelt Coaches confrence call...

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Football: Experienced QBs have yielded Sun Belt success

08:41 AM CDT on Friday, May 2, 2008
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

Perhaps the biggest difference from a year ago for North Texas coming out of spring practice is the comfort level the Mean Green has found in its quarterback situation. Giovanni Vizza Sophomore Giovanni Vizza has solidified his position as the Mean Green’s starter after excelling in eight starts as a freshman, and continued to show signs of improvement in spring drills. The situation is common around the Sun Belt Conference. Of the eight teams in the league, only Troy lost its starter in Omar Haugabook, the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

The Sun Belt’s coaches said that could be a sign of a good season to come for the league during its post-spring conference call Thursday morning.

“There is no doubt a returning quarterback makes a difference,” Louisiana-Monroe head coach Charlie Weatherbie said. “He’s your point guard, so to speak, and makes the decisions on where the ball goes. It’s key to have someone who has been in the fire.” The Sun Belt not only has quarterbacks who have been through those fires, it has players who have succeeded with varying styles and levels of experience.

Florida Atlantic’s Rusty Smith threw for 3,688 yards and 32 touchdowns, while Louisiana-Lafayette’s Michael Desormeaux threw for 1,405 yards and rushed for another 1,141. Desormeaux saw time at quarterback for the third straight season in 2007, while Vizza, Florida International’s Wayne Younger and Middle Tennessee’s Dwight Dasher all started as freshmen.

“We are a lot more comfortable with our quarterback situation,” UNT head coach Todd Dodge said. “Giovanni, Daniel Meager, Nathan Tune and Matt Phillips have all been in our system now. Riley [Dodge] is also coming in and has played in our system.” The experience Vizza gained in the system could bode well for UNT’s chances to improve on a 2-10 season a year ago. In 2007, the best teams in the Sun Belt also had the best quarterbacks.

FAU and Troy tied for the league title. The Owls won the tiebreaker to earn a berth in the New Orleans Bowl and beat Memphis largely because of the play of Smith, the Sun Belt Player of the Year. Omar Haugabook, the only senior quarterback in the Sun Belt a year ago, led the league in total offense with an average of 300.5 yards a game.

“The teams that have a good player at quarterback are your better teams,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. “It’s no coincidence that the best teams in the league last year had the best quarterbacks. Having a quarterback going into his second or third year gives the team confidence and gives coaches a chance to build around him because you know what he can and can’t do.”

A veteran quarterback can also help establish the personality of a team. ULL coach Ricky Bustle credited Desormeaux, who has played defensive back and wide receiver, with helping to give his team a tough persona. UNT’s players responded to the enthusiasm of Vizza and won its only two games of the season with the freshman running the Mean Green’s offense.

FAU associate head coach Kurt Van Valkenburgh credited the Owls’ success last season in large part to Smith, who was the top player in what has developed into a quarterback-driven league.  The Sun Belt had four 2,000-yard passers last season, while Desormeaux and ULM’s Kinsmon Lancaster both had more than 2,000 yards of total offense.

“This is a passing conference,” Van Valkenburgh said. “To be successful, you have to have someone who can throw the ball.”

Big win paying off for FAU

FAU is enjoying the payoff for a breakout season that saw the Owls tie for the Sun Belt Conference title and beat Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl. FAU also beat Minnesota during the regular season. “The impact was enormous,” Van Valkenburgh said. “We said when we started the program where we thought we could be in six years. To get there was huge for us. It’s proof that we can do what we have talked about.”

SBC teams jumping into early recruiting fray

FIU and Troy are jumping into the fray early in the recruiting season, a year after UNT established a new trend in the Sun Belt by offering scholarships to prospects before their senior seasons. FIU has offered 27 prospects scholarships according to Rivals.com, while Troy has offered 12. No Sun Belt school has received a commitment as of Thursday. “It’s the same process that we had at Rutgers,” FIU head coach Mario Cristobal said. “If we believe in them, we attack them, and that includes offering them early. We do a thorough background check and believe in being proactive.”

Stockstill: SBC needs home nonconference games

MTSU will host a major conference team for a second consecutive season when Maryland plays at Floyd Stadium on Sept. 6. The Blue Raiders lost to Virginia 23-21 at home last season. “It’s critical for our conference to get some of the BCS teams to come to our place,” Stockstill said. “We have sold ourselves out a little too much, although I understand why we do that. We earned the right to have teams come to us. We have beaten teams from the Big 12 and SEC. It’s time for them to come to our place.”

Hampton posed to start at QB for Troy

Jamie Hampton appears as if he will have the opportunity to try to fill the large void in Troy’s offense left by the graduation of Haugabook. The sophomore came into spring practice battling for the starting job with three other players. The field was cut to three by the end of spring practice. “We lost a great one we will never forget here,” Troy coach Larry Blakeney said of Haugabook. “Jamie Hampton is a sophomore who played some last year. Levi Brown and Tanner Jones are in the mix. We have them ranked in that order.” Hampton rushed for 161 yards and passed for 45 last season while backing up Haugabook.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940566-6870. His e-mail address is [email protected] .

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