Spring Storylines … Sun Belt
By Pete Fiutak
ERROR: A link was posted here (url) but it appears to be a broken link.http://www.collegefootballnews.com/2006/Spring_Preview/Springlooks_SunBelt_Storylines.htm
1. No one's watching, but …
If you're reading this, you're either one of the few die-hard Sun Belt fans or you're an obsessed college football junkie who has to know everything about every team. It's O.K. to admit it; you like the Sun Belt. And why not? The league had the most intriguing conference race in the game last year and there's no other conference where a team can go from zero to champion, and vice versa, in one season. Can you imagine USC finishing at the bottom of the Pac 10 this year? That's what happened to North Texas after dominating the league since it got an automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl. Once again the league should be wide open. UL Lafayette should be the preseason favorite, but any or the eight teams could rise up and beat anyone else. Last year proved that. It's not the SEC or Big Ten and you'll get more people at a Texas A&M pep really than you will at most games, but the Sun Belt is still a league worth paying attention to.
2. Can anyone in the league throw?
The Sun Belt isn't going to get a who's who of future Pro Bowlers when it comes to quarterback, but how hard is it to get one sharp passer? More often than not, the league gets quarterbacks that other schools wanted for other positions. There are several great athletes and a few tremendous playmakers, but there isn't a mad bomber who can put up big yards and stats. At least not lately. Considering the league's secondaries aren't all that great, there should be more passing yards, but only four quarterbacks hit the 2,000-yard mark and only one other quarterback, FAU's Danny Embick, who threw for more than 1,000 yards. Three of the four 2,000-yard passers are gone leaving a huge void for someone in the conference to fill. Outside of the UL Lafayette quarterbacks who'll run for a ton of yards, someone has to come through and start chucking it with consistency.
3. Road trips are a way of life in the Sun Belt, but one team gets a big break
Ah, life in the Sun Belt. Programs need all the money they can get, so they're always willing to travel to take the big pay day. While that's fine, there are some brutal, brutal road stretches made even worse by the 12-game schedule. Arkansas State plays seven road games including a stretch of six road trips in seven weeks. Florida Atlantic starts the year with five road games. FIU starts with six road games in the first eight weeks. UL Monroe closes out the year with six road games in the final seven. MTSU has a six road game in eight week stretch, North Texas starts with four road games in the first six, and Troy has an early four game road stretch and closes away from home in three of the final four games. So what does all this mean? UL Lafayette, the league's top team, gets a huge break as the one team that doesn't have a rough time. Oh sure, playing four road games in the first six is tough, but the last of that group is at Florida Atlantic in a winnable conference opener. There are only two more road games after that making the Ragin' Cajuns even more of a favorite.
4. Could the nation's two best linebackers be in the Sun Belt?
There are plenty of other talented linebackers across the country that might have something to say about it, but the Sun Belt has two very active, very productive ones to promote on a national scale. At least it should have two. Arkansas State's Josh Williams was a freshman sensation tackling everything in sights with 110 stops and ten tackles for loss, but he was kicked off the team last year for "conduct detrimental to the team." He's being allowed a chance to walk-on this year, and word is he's working like a madman in the weightroom to come back better than before. If he's back, he's likely the preseason defensive player of the year unless FIU's Keynovis Bouie gets the honor. Bouie was suspended from the team for two games but still led the league with 118 tackles to go win nine tackles for loss. He's not all that big at barely six feet tall and under 220 pounds, but he flies to the ball and hits like a ton of bricks. It might not be easy to find Arkansas State and Florida Atlantic games this year, but their two stars are worth watching.
5. The return of Jamario Thomas
Has one player ever gone from being one of the nation's best one year and then couldn't get off the bench the next? North Texas RB Jamario Thomas led the nation in rushing in 2004, and was hailed by some as a worthy Heisman contender after rushing for 1,801 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was able to see the field thanks to a knee injury to Patrick Cobbs, but when Cobbs returned last year, Thomas barely saw the light of day getting a mere 89 carries, with 26 of them coming in a blowout loss to LSU, with only 361 yards and no touchdowns. Now Cobbs has graduated as the greatest running back in school history and the offense will be turned back over to Thomas. After waiting his turn, the lightning quick junior should once again put up huge numbers. At least that's what North Texas is desperately
FIU's LB is a pretty good player but does Pete actually know which school he's playing for?
Notice the last sentence in question #4….. :-[