Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 7:00 AM
The Sun Belt Conference has a chance to be very interesting this year. A few teams are positioned to play well based on returning talent. New head coaches Bobby Petrino (Western Kentucky) and Bryan Harsin (Arkansas State) have a chance to make immediate impacts. And some darkhorses in the lower division are led by veteran head coaches who aren’t very patient when things aren’t going well.
We’ll run all eight teams for you in the order they’ve been projected to finish by the respected Athlon preseason publication. That’s where the returning starter data comes from Be sure to check out JIM HURLEY’S big display ad on page 173 across from Notre Dame! (Note, we’ll be previewing Notre Dame and the rest of the Independents in our Sunday report here in the NOTEBOOK.)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 3 on defense
Quarterback: Terrance Broadway
Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth
The strengths of Lafayette are clearly on offense, which returns quality and experience from a unit that ranked in the top 30 nationally in yards-per-game. You may have watched their 43-34 bowl win over East Carolina. Yes…we’re talking mid-majors here…but it’s a nice win for the Sun Belt when they beat somebody from CUSA. And, let’s not forget that this team scared the heck out of Florida last November in a near-miss shocker. The problems will be on defense, where experience is scant from a team that was often overmatched last year when they had some experience. We may think about the Overs in early non-conference matchups with Arkansas and Kansas State. In the league race, Athlon’s projected #2 and #3 teams must come to Lafayette to play their conference games.
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 9 on defense
Quarterback: Kolton Browning
Head Coach: Todd Berry
There’s a lot to like here because Browning is elite by conference standards (he won Conference POY despite missing a couple of games) and because nobody in the league returns more defensive starters. Just remember that Monroe looked awful last year in their bowl vs. Ohio (a 45-14 loss). There’s definitely a chance to make a splash this year in the season opener at Oklahoma, when the Sooners will be breaking in a new quarterback. The Warhawks also visit Wake Forest and Baylor. JIM HURLEY has his eyes on both Louisiana entries in this conference for early season and conference value.
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
Quarterback: Brandon Doughty
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (new)
Yes, Bobby Petrino! Desperate to salvage his reputation and rebuild his career, Petrino is making what will probably be a temporary stop with the Hilltoppers. Quality coaches often have immediate impacts when they have to step down in class like this. And, that’s even if there isn’t much experience returning. Western brings back start runner Antonio Andrews, which gives Petrino something special to work with. We’ll be watching season openers vs. Kentucky and Tennessee very closely. This is a team that could become a pointspread force if Petrino is in his usual form.
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Bryan Harsin (new)
Harsin was the offensive coordinator at Texas after making a name for himself as a hot young coaching prospect as an assistant at Boise State. You’ll note that Texas didn’t exactly set the world on fire offensively while he was there. He’s hoping the chance to run his own show completely will get his career back on track. He’ll have to do that with an inexperienced quarterback. Things could fly off in either direction given the volatility in play. September’s run of Auburn, Troy, Memphis, and Missouri will tell us a lot of what we need to know.
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 2 on defense
Quarterback: Corey Robinson
Head Coach: Larry Blakeney
Blakeney used to lead the Trojans into annual contention. But, the program has been flat-footed the past two seasons while many other Sun Belt schools made important upgrades. That’s led to two straight losing seasons…and what now may be a third given the utter lack of experience on both sides of the ball. This is not a team we’re looking to back unless they give us an early reason to out of the gate. Time may have caught up with Blakeney’s approach…which means the best days are in the rearview mirror.
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Tyler Arndt
Head Coach: Dennis Franchione
The quarterback is a senior taking over for a superior player who graduated. That’s often a bad sign for a program. Maybe Arndt will be a great game manager. We “arndt” counting on it! Last year’s upset of Houston created some illusions about the direction of the program. They weren’t as good through the year as that upset had hinted at (and Houston turned out to be much worse than expected). We expect Franchione to continue moving things in the right direction. You have to pick your spots with a team like this, generally hoping to exploit flat opponents.
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Ross Metheny
Head Coach: Joey Jones
It’s tough to step up in class in this sport, particularly when you’re starting near the bottom. South Alabama joined the big time last year in the Sun Belt, and only went 1-7 in league play (having to go overtime for their only win. Pencil in improvement…and move them out of the cellar because a newcomer from Georgia State is following their same pathway on a one-year delay. We’ll monitor early action to see if their defense will give them a chance to hang within tall numbers.
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 5 on defense
Quarterback: Ben McLane
Head Coach: Trent Miles
Goodness, Georgia State went 1-10 last year while playing what was mostly a small college schedule. They suffered double digit losses to the likes of Maine, Old Dominion, Villanova, and New Hampshire (among others). You have to assume a disaster unless they get some early results (which isn’t likely to happen at West Virginia or at Alabama!).
A place where you can COUNT on getting early results is JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK! You can sign up now for early-bird packages at great prices. Take care of business online, or by calling the office during regular business hours at 1-800-323-4453.
Our upcoming college preview schedule here in the NOTEBOOK:
Sunday: Independents (including Notre Dame)
Monday: SEC West (featuring two-time defending National Champion Alabama)
Tuesday: SEC East
Wednesday: Big 10 Leaders (featuring national contender Ohio State)
Thursday: Big 10 Legends
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