Written by BB Documented Plays
The Sun Belt Conference made great strides in 2012, and has a new look this year, welcoming in Georgia State and Texas State and seeing the departure of North Texas, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Florida International. It goes from a 10-team conference to an eight team conference, with all but two conference games landing in the tail end of the year, October and November (two in December). Four teams will likely to go bowling in December, believe it or not.
The class of this league resides in Louisiana. UL-Monroe and UL-Lafayette appear to have the upper hand to take the crown. They meet on November 30 in Lafayette and I’d be surprised if the winner of that game doesn’t finish at the top. Most of the conference have two very tough non-conference opponents early in the season and should be a good gauge in determining if the conference as a whole continues the momentum of 2012 or if they are still a ways away from the big boys. My guess is we will see a bit of both.
Louisiana-Monroe welcomes back 16 starters, including senior QB Kolton Browning. In 2012, Browning missed key games against Arkansas State and UL-Layayette and lost they by a combined 38 points in those contests. If the Warhawks stay healthy in 2013, they will be poised to capture their first crown in the key pivotal showdown against conference favorites and interstate rival as before mentioned. This could be an 8-4 team. They play at Oklahoma, at Wake Forest and at Baylor in three of the first four weeks of the season. Yikes.
Louisiana-Lafayette looks to build on a great 2012 campaign of 9-4, including a victory against East Carolina in the R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL. The Ragin’ Cajuns have great team speed and will likely light up the scoreboard again this year as they have in the past two. They return seven offensive starters. Their defense may actually be better this year even with the loss off eight starters. They are pretty young on that side of the ball and should improve week to week and gain experience as they face key conference games come mid-October. Terrance Broadway came in for injured starter Blaine Gautier in 2012 and was spectacular. He enters 2013 as a junior and full reigns at the helm with a true freshman slated as backup.
Bobby Petrino enters his first year with the Hilltoppers and has 11 returning starters. This team will be pretty solid and likely to mirror last year’s campaign, if not surpass it. They return senior RB Antonio Andrews, who joined Barry Sanders as the only players in FBS history to amass over 3,000 all-purpose yards in a season. They welcome Lafayette on October 15th, after a 12-day rest. That will be a pivotal game for them and the Sun Belt as a whole.
Arkansas State won 10 games in 2012 and returns 12 starters and looks to be very solid at the quarterback position, despite losing conference player of the year Ryan Aplin. First-year coach Bryan Harsin has a decision to make for starter, but right now it looks to be transfer Adam Kennedy, who led Utah State to a 4-1 record as starter in 2011. Like Western Kentucky, they welcome Lafayette off ten days rest on October 22nd.
Troy is coming off rare back to back losing seasons. They lost 17 starters from the 2012 campaign, that’s the bad news. The very good news is that they welcome back senior QB Corey Robinson. He is the Sun Belt’s all-time leader in completions and yardage. Their real challenge will be on defense, their games last year resembled Arena football and expect much of the same in 2013.
Texas State and South Alabama will do well to go 3-4 in the conference. Georgia State takes the leap into the FBS, departing the Colonial Athletic Conference. The good news for them is that they are a better football team this year but are a few years away from being competitive.