Arkansas St surprised everyone in the conference with a perfect 8-0 record and won the conference title while Troy was a disappointment with a 2-6 conference record. Can ASU repeat this year? Here is a look at our Sun Belt Conference Predictions.
1 – Florida International – This is a team that is on the rise in the conference and last year they were 8-5 overall and 4-2 in conference play. They have 17 starters back including 10 on the defensive side of the ball. They have the best defense in the conference after last year allowing only 19.5-ppg and 4.9-yards per play (ypp). The offense needs to improve and it will after last year averaging 25.0-ppg and 5.4-ypp. FIU has a tough non-conference schedule this year but has a ton of talent that will get them the title this year. FIU went to a bowl game last year but did lose to Marshall in the Beef O Brady’s Bowl 20-10. This is the team to beat in the Sun Belt this year.
2 – Troy – What a disappointment the Trojans were last year as they were 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the conference. Larry Blakeney has been with Troy for 22 years and may be under the hot seat this year. They will bounce back as they have 15 returning starters back including 9 on offense. Junior QB Corey Robinson will lead a very potent offensive attack this year. The Trojans will improve on their 22.4-ppg and 5.3-ypp on the offensive side of the ball. They do get FIU at home this year and could be favored in that game. If they win that, then there is a good chance this team could win the title but we will call for a 2nd place finish.
3 – Western Kentucky – It is amazing where this team has come in a few short years. In 2008 they were 2-10, 2009 0-12, and in 2010 2-10. Last year they surprised everyone with a 7-5 record and were bowl eligible but did not get invited. This year the Hilltoppers have 16 returning starters including nine on offense. In 2011 the offense avg 22.9-ppg last year and 5.0-ypp while the defense allowed 5.9-ypp and 24.8-ppg. TE Jack Doyle needs to have another big season as he was 2nd Team SBC last year. WKU also returns 1st Team SBC RG Adam Smith. This is a team that will continue to surprise.
4 – Louisiana Lafayette – It was a magical year for the Ragin Cajuns as they went from 3-9 in 2010 to 9-4 in 2011 and that included a bowl win over San Diego St 32-20. Lousiana has a solid young coach in Mark Hudspeth and won’t be there too much longer as he will crawl up the coaching ranks. Lousiana returns 13 starters including nine on offense. The offense is explosive led by Soph RB Alonzo Harris, who was Freshman of the Year in the conference. The defense is shaky as they allowed 29.8-ppg and only return four starters. This is a talented team but the defense needs to improve in order to be a top team.
5 – Arkansas St – The Gus Malzahn era begins this year. ASU had a magical run last year going 10-3 and 8-0 in conference. The Red Wolves return 10 starters this year including Senior QB Ryan Aplin. Aplin had a huge year last year and was 1st team SBC. They have tough conference games this year at Troy, FIU and Louisiana. This looks like a team that won’t have back-to-back successful year as it will take at least a year for them to learn Gus Malahn’s offensive schemes.
6 – Middle Tennessee St – This will be an improved team this year after going 2-10 in 2011 overall and 1-7 in conference. They return 13 starters including QB Logan Kilgore. Kilgore needs to have a better year in 2012 for this team to improve and we think he will. The offense will improve from avg 22.3-ppg and 5.1-ypp. The key will be if the defense can improve from allowing 36.8-ppg and 5.8-ypp and they will with 7 returning defensive starters. HC Rick Stocsktill is on the hot-seat this year and we expect an improved team but it may not be enough to keep his job.
7 – Louisiana Monroe – HC Todd Berry is doing a nice job at ULM after his first two seasons considering they are not getting the better high school talent. Last year the team improved its stats as it went from avg 20.8-ppg in 2010 to 24.6-ppg in 2011 and on defensive allowing 32.4-ppg in 2010 to 25.4-ppg in 2011. They return 13 starters including 8 on the offensive side of the ball. The offense is lead by 2nd team SBC WR Brent Leonard. This is a team that will continue to improve but just don’t have enough talent to compete for a title.
8- North Texas – HC Dan McCarney had a respectable first year with the Mean Green going 5-7. This year they have 14 returning starters including nine on offense. The offense will be better and more explosive after avg 24.8-ppg and 5.0-ypp. The defense needs to improve after allowing 30.7-ppg and 6.1-ypp. Their non-conference schedule is brutal and will hopefully get them mentally prepared for conference play. UNT hasn’t been to a bowl since 2004 and that streak will continue this year as the defense is just not that good and the depth is limited.
9 – Florida Atlantic – It was sad to see legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger retire the way he did with a 1-11 record. FAU was awful on both sides of the ball. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better this year as they havea new coach with new schemes. HC Carl Pelini is the brother of Neberaska HC Bo Pelini and will instill some fire. There just isn’t any talent here and it will take a few years for Pelini to get his players in that he wants for his schemes. FAU will compete better this year but are a couple of years away still from really making their move up the standings.
10 – South Alabama – The SBC welcomes South Alabama to the league and their first year in FBS. This team was 6-4 playing a FCS schedule last year. This is a team that will be competitive but with the jump in strength of schedule it won’t be enough. They return 15 starters including six on offense and Soph QB CJ Bennett.