Keeping Tab on the SBC Opponents
Keeping Tab on the SBC Opponents
Stockstill ignoring Sun Belt race
By ADAM SPARKS
Is it ever too early to talk about a conference race?
Sometimes the teams in danger of falling out of contention mention it first, and so perhaps it's a favorable sign for the Blue Raiders that MTSU coach Rick Stockstill doesn't address Sun Belt Conference scenarios.
After all, the Blue Raiders are in first place at 2-0 in league play finishing a midseason bye week.
"I don't do that. I don't talk about it," Stockstill said. "It's way too early to talk about the conference (race). We've still got five games to go, and nobody knows where this is going right now.
"Even if I was still at South Carolina and we knew all the teams in the (Southeastern) Conference, maybe you'd get down to the last two games or so, and then you'd look around a little bit."
The Blue Raiders will return to conference play next Saturday at Louisiana-Monroe, followed by another road trip to league favorite Louisiana-Lafayette.
That two-week stretch could at least give MTSU a sense of its place in the Sun Belt hunt, but most of the conference teams are far from realizing their fate.
"We all talk about the same thing in this league every year, and that's parity," Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts said. "Every coach recognizes the growth of this league and that anybody can beat anybody else on any given day.
"That's why there's such good competition in our league, and you figure things will come down to the end."
ASU won the New Orleans Bowl bid by tiebreaker last season after splitting a three-way championship with UL-Monroe and UL-Lafayette.
This season could yield a similarly tight race, but most details won't materialize for a couple of weeks.
UL-Monroe and Troy face off today in the only Sun Belt game this week, and UL-Lafayette won't play its first league contest until Wednesday at Florida Atlantic.
At 0-3, Florida International is likely the only team already out of the race. UL-Monroe probably needs to win out to stay in contention.
Aside from that, the field is open. After all, the three 2005 Sun Belt champions each had two league losses, so perfection is not a requirement to win the conference crown.
For now, three teams are unbeaten in conference play with UL-Lafayette and Troy still to open their conference slate.
MTSU and Arkansas State sit atop the standings at 2-0, and that gives the Blue Raiders a collective smile even aside from Sun Belt talk.
"Just from the past history, I know last year (MTSU) lost to North Texas in the first game in the conference," Stockstill said. "I'm sure they put a lot into it, and they lost it.
"But if anything, winning those first two (this season) gives you hope. It's very early, but we are in first place and none of these guys have ever been in first place before.
"So that keeps the energy and confidence up. There's a lot of positive things in how we've started the season, but it's not even close to time to start talking about the conference race."
? Adam Sparks
Statistically, ASU's defense may be the best in the league right now. Freshman tailback Reggie Arnold is running away with the league rushing title so far.
ASU doesn't have a quarterback yet. Its two signal callers have thrown six interceptions and only one touchdown this season.
Although many thought ASU had little chance to repeat as Sun Belt champions and New Orleans Bowl representatives, the combination of stingy defense and productive running game often spells out a title run.
Bludgeoned in non-conference play like no other team in the country, FAU has gained confidence through baby steps. The Owls won their league opener, 21-19 over Louisiana-Monroe, and a non-conference game against Southern Utah for a two-game winning streak.
The Owls lost their first four games by a combined score of 192-20. Their talent level is climbing, but youth makes the team a target for a sporadic collapse. Statistically, FAU may have the worst offense and defense in the conference.
The toughest part of FAU's league schedule will come fast and furiously. Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and MTSU face the Owls in their next three games. If they survive that stretch unscathed, the New Orleans Bowl should be moved permanently to Boca Raton.
FIU may have the league's best linebacker (Keyonvis Bouie), defensive end (Antwan Barnes), receiver (Chandler Williams), tight end (Samuel Smith) and pure passer (Josh Padrick), but that star power hasn't earned a single win yet.
Five of FIU's six losses have come by a combined 14 points, including a 25-22 loss to North Texas in seven overtimes. The Golden Panthers seem to be a match for everyone, but a conqueror of no one. FIU has also missed four critical extra-point kicks and six more field goals.
Already with three league losses, FIU appears to be out of the conference race despite some undeniable individual talent. From here on out, put FIU in the category of spoiler. After all, what contending Sun Belt team wants to play a nothing-to-lose FIU squad that was one play away from beating Maryland.
Senior quarterback Jerry Babb has won a record three straight Sun Belt Player of the Week awards. True to its 2005 form, the ULL offense touts the top scoring and rushing attack in the league.
ULL's pass defense has been awful. The worst in the Sun Belt and ranked 107th nationally, the Ragin' Cajuns are allowing 252.4 passing yards per game.
After overcoming a tough early schedule, ULL is gaining the same late poise that reeled off five straight wins to cap 2005. The Cajuns' 31-28 comeback win over previously 4-1 Houston confirms that ULL is in fact the team to beat in the Sun Belt. Its league play begins Wednesday versus at Florida Atlantic.
ULM has only allowed three sacks all season, the third fewest in college football. The Warhawks lead the conference in nine statistical categories, including scoring defense, total offense and turnover margin.
Dual-threat quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster has been injured in back-to-back games, and ULM's two league losses have come by a combined six points.
If ULM can knock off Troy today, it is suddenly back in the conference contention conversation, especially with a home date against MTSU looming next week. Otherwise, the Warhawks will still be searching for a win over a Division I-A foe.
MTSU ranks among the conference leaders in every defensive category, and its aggressive style has yielded the fourth most tackles for loss in the nation. It has only allowed six points in two Sun Belt games. The Blue Raiders are also the league's least penalized team.
The conservative offense has consumed clock but not yards. The Blue Raiders rank seventh in the conference in total offense.
Sharing the top mark in the league, MTSU is the surprise squad of the Sun Belt thus far. However, back-to-back road trips to Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette loom large for any title hopes. The Blue Raiders must win at least one of the two to keep pace with the league race.
UNT's scattered talent worked well together in its two wins. But that offensive balance has seemed like the exception rather than the rule. Running back Jamario Thomas is still among the league's best, with or without help.
One of the top rushing attacks in the country over the last few years, the UNT ground game is ranked 101st in the league. But the larger problem may be the quarterback shuffle, which has hampered Thomas in gaining any yards. Turnovers have also been a problem.
Despite losing 35-0 to MTSU, the Mean Green are somewhere in the realm of sleeper or spoiler. Judgment on UNT should be held until after its next two games against Arkansas State and Troy, which will place the Mean Green as either a late bloomer or a team still in rebuilding mode.
The offense has struggled, but junior college transfer quarterback Omar Haugabook is still the best option to lead the team in the league race. He can put up big passing numbers, but consistency is an equally big question mark.
Despite an offseason change to a high-powered spread offense, the yards and points have not come. Troy ranks 107th nationally in total offense and 101st in scoring.
Since nearly upsetting Florida State and Georgia Tech in back-to-back weeks, the Trojans have not scored a touchdown. Today's conference opener versus Louisiana-Monroe should be telling.
So far, Troy's inconsistent play looks more like a middle of the pack Sun Belt team than a contender.
Keeping Tab on the SBC Opponents
Good, Bad, In-Between for Week 7:
The Bluff City Miracle. Corey Leonard becomes the first Arkansas State QB to go the distance this season and goes the distance with a 53 yard TD pass to Patrick Higgins to defeat CUSA member Memphis. Reggie Arnold left the game with an injury and was replaced by Cedric Wilkerson who ran for 116 yards on 23 carries and had a catch for 18 yards. Higgins only had two catches on the day, both TD?s. The Indian offense after sputtering much of the season had 435 yards on the day. Turnovers remain an issue with three against the Tigers.
Troy finally joins the conference race and Omar Haugabook completed 27 of 40 for 246 yards, one TD and threw 3 picks. J.J. McCoy had 123 receiving yards on 7 catches. The Troy rushing game got out of its slump with 161 yards on 37 attempts. The only downside for the Trojans was the five turnovers.
Florida Atlantic stepped out of league play against I-AA Southern Utah. The Owls dominated every state except turnovers losing the ball three times. Clayton and Smith combined for a 21 of 35 passing night for 295 yards. Each threw an interception. Charles Pierre had 103 yards on 20 carries.
Florida International wide receiver Chandler Williams, defensive backs Lionell Singleton, Chris Smith and Marshall McDuffie Jr., fullback John Ellis, linebacker Mannie Wellington, tight end Samuel Smith and defensive end Jarvis Penerton were all ejected in a brawl against cross-city rival Miami and should miss the Panthers game against Alabama. The Panthers only had 86 yards offense and the Padrick turnover machine continued to roll with two picks and a fumble. Those stats alone make it amazing that the game was 0-0 after the first quarter and 7-0 Miami at the half. It went downhill from there.
For the second week in a row Louisiana Monroe was on the receiving end of 5 turnovers and lost. Calvin Dawson had 118 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. Kinsmon Lancaster completed 15 of 31 for 147 yards but was intercepted twice. The Warhawks have now dropped five games in a row.
No real in-between this week so a couple video links.