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Sun Belt Football Spring Preview

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Sun Belt Football Spring Preview


Sun Belt needs defense to catch up with offense
February 20, 2009 11:00 AM
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Arkansas State Red Wolves

Spring practice starts: March 9
Spring game: April 18

What to watch

-Although the Red Wolves showed they had the ability to secure a close win early in the season against Texas A&M, that magic was lost as the season progressed and the Red Wolves lost three games by five points or less. Pulling those games out will be focus this spring since it kept ASU out of a bowl and from sharing the conference title.

-ASU struggled to keep quarterback Corey Leonard upright last season. The offensive line allowed 2.42 sacks per game, which ranked seventh in the conference. Both tackles are lost to graduation, which means an even greater emphasis this spring on protecting Leonard's backside.
Defensive end Alex Carrington returns along with seven other members of a defense that was one of the best in the conference. The Red Wolves ranked first in the SBC against the run allowing just 125.17 yards per game. And Carrington led the team – and ranked in the top 15 in the country – in both sacks (.88 per game) and tackles for loss (1.58 per game).

Florida Atlantic Owls

Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 18

What to watch

-If there's one team that could take the Sun Belt title back from Troy it's FAU, which ended the season winning six of its last seven, including a Motor City Bowl win over Central Michigan. The Owls return nine players on offense, including quarterback Rusty Smith and top receivers Cortez Gent and Jamari Grant.

-The spring will be spent retooling a defense that was in the middle of the pack in the Sun Belt, but one of the worst in the country. The Owls lose eight players off the defense, including Frantz Joseph, who was one of the team's stars.

-Jeff Brohm joins the staff after spending the past five seasons working with quarterbacks and calling the offense at Louisville. Brohm knows coach Howard Schnellenberger's offense and is the perfect person to bring Smith and the rest of the FAU offense to its full potential.

Florida International Golden Panthers

Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: April 10

What to watch

-FIU has a lot to build on after last season's 5-7 finish. The Golden Panthers were in the hunt for a bowl berth and a piece of the Sun Belt title up until the final month, which is the first time they can claim that since joining the conference.

-The Golden Panthers return nine starters on offense, including quarterback Paul McCall, receiver T.Y. Hilton and the entire offensive line. While the passing offense wasn't bad, the rushing offense was the worst in the conference at just 98.67 yards per game. Starter Julian Reams is gone and there wasn't much behind him. Freshman Darriet Perry returns as the Golden Panthers' best option.

-FIU loses eight players on a defense that ranked fourth in the conference. The Golden Panthers do have some potential coming from the recruiting class in the fall, but they'll need to find some young players this spring to fill key roles, especially in the front seven, which loses five players.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

Spring practice starts: March 11
Spring game: April 4

What to watch

-The Ragin' Cajuns notched their second six-win season since 1995, but several of the star players that helped achieve that feat are gone. Perhaps the most important are the trio of running back Tyrell Fenroy, receiver Jason Chery and quarterback Michael Desormeaux.

-Fenroy, Chery and Desormeaux were the team's top three rushers and were the three best players in terms of all-purpose yardage. Fenroy was the first running back in school history to have a 1,000-yard season and just the seventh in the NCAA to do it four consecutive seasons. Julian Shankle, who played spot time last season, will be the starter heading into the spring. Desormeaux spent some of the season injured, so projected starter Brad McGuire did get some good experience and finished the year completing 20-of-30 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ranked fourth on the team with 143 rushing yards.

-Despite the key losses, Louisiana-Lafayette does return 15 starters from last year's team. Most are young players, but after learning their roles this spring, could fill the key spots left by the veterans.

Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks

Spring practice starts: March 10
Spring game: March 21

What to watch

-The focus of this spring will be to replace starting quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster, who led the team in total offense with 221.17 yards per game. He was the team's leading signal caller and the second leading rusher. Trey Revell, who played quarterback in nine games last season, will be the favorite heading into spring. He had one start last season and showed the ability, like Lancaster, to make plays with his feet.

-With Lancaster gone, running back Frank Goodin will assume an even bigger role in the offense. Goodin led the team in rushing with 783 yards and five touchdowns. This year, he'll be the premier back, but also yield some carries to Revell and fellow running back Rodney Lovett.

-The Warhawks return nine players from a defense that struggled against the run and getting pressure in the backfield. ULM managed just over a sack a game and teams were able to gather 212.67 yards per game on the ground. Troy Reffett is expected to be the new defensive coordinator. He was previously at New Mexico, which means the Warhawks could be installing an attacking defensive scheme.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 18

What to watch

-The Blue Raiders might have made the hire of the offseason with the addition of Tony Franklin as the offensive coordinator. Franklin struggled at Auburn, but he made his name in the Sun Belt, and he quickly gives MTSU a leg up in the offensive department. He'll be breaking in a new starting quarterback in Dwight Dasher, but star receiver Malcolm Beyah returns as one of the conference's best offensive threats.

-One of Franklin's main tasks this season will be getting the MTSU running game on track. The Blue Raiders managed just 106.92 yards on the ground. The entire offensive line returns, as do running backs Phillip Tanner and Desmond Gee, and Dasher might turn into a nice rushing weapon as well.

-Steve Ellis joins the staff as the special teams coordinator in hopes of reviving one of the worst special teams in the country. The Blue Raiders ranked second-to-last in punt returns and kickoff returns and sixth in the conference in punting. All three players at those positions return for their senior seasons.

North Texas Mean Green

Spring practice starts: March 2
Spring game: April 4

What to watch

-Riley Dodge is the projected starting quarterback heading into the spring after starter Giovanni Vizza decided to transfer after two full seasons as the team's signal caller. The transition shouldn't be that difficult considering Dodge, son of head coach Todd Dodge, has been running the Mean Green offense for most of his football life. However, two of the team's top three receivers in terms of receptions are gone.

-The problem has never been the Mean Green offense, it's the defense that has held it back during Todd Dodge's first two seasons. North Texas is the worst total defense and scoring defense in the country. It allows an astounding 482.58 yards per game and 47.58 points per game. Only three teams in the country allowed 40 or more points per game (Idaho and Washington State). Not surprisingly, the Mean Green rank last in nearly every defensive category. Nine players return from the 2008 defense, and unfortunately so does defensive coordinator Gary DeLoach, who hasn't been able to rekindle the defensive magic of the Mean Green teams that were winning Sun Belt championships.

-Special teams are also something that needs to be addressed this spring. The Mean Green managed just 4.60 per punt return and just 31 yards per punt. If both improve, they could greatly help the defense turn its game around.

Troy Trojans

Spring practice starts: March 18
Spring game: April 28

What to watch

The Trojans head into spring with a quarterback controversy of sorts. Levi Brown led the Trojans to their first outright conference championship, but was filling in for injured started Jamie Hampton, who beat Brown out during fall camp. Hampton will participate sparingly this spring while he continues to heal from a torn ACL, so it continues to be Brown's position to lose.

-The spring will mark the official debut of wide receiver Josh Jarboe. Jarboe lost his scholarship to Oklahoma last fall after a rap video he starred in made its way to YouTube. The Trojans picked him up with hopes of him playing last fall, but OU stonewalled that effort and this will be the first opportunity Jarboe has to work himself into the starting lineup.

-The Trojans return 15 starters, but will have some big holes to fill on defense. The Trojans lose three members from a secondary that ranked 29th nationally against the pass, and three members of a front seven that ranked third in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA

What to watch

-After serving two seasons as a provisional member of the FBS, the Hilltoppers are slated to join the Sun Belt Conference for the 2009-10 season. During the past two seasons, WKU is 9-15, but only one of those wins has come against an FBS school (Middle Tennessee in 2007).

-The Hilltoppers return 15 players from last season and most were freshmen or sophomores in 2008. They'll need to get better on offense if they want to compete in the Sun Belt, which has a few teams that like to put points on the board. WKU managed just over 18 points per game.

-Mike Dietzel will serve as the defensive coordinator after head coach David Elson had held the position since 2005. The Hilltoppers would have ranked fifth in the Sun Belt in total defense had the stats counted.

My two favorite teams are FAU, and who ever is beating FIU!
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Re: Sun Belt Football Spring Preview

Jab979 said

If there's one team that could take the Sun Belt title back from Troy it's FAU

That's what I like to hear.

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