Sun Belt Preseason Coaches Poll
All-Sun Belt Preseason Team
The Sun Belt enters a second straight season without any coaching changes. For a league that has garnered little respect or prestige, it boasts a strong slate of stable leadership. Troy's Larry Blakeney is in his 19th season, and Howard Schnellenberger is entering his 9th year at FAU.
Additionally, Arkansas State's Steve Roberts and Louisiana-Lafayette's Rickey Bustle are in year 8; Louisiana-Monroe's Charlie Weatherbie and Western Kentucky's David Elson are beginning their 7th season; MTSU's Rick Stockstill is embarking on his 4th campaign; FIU's Mario Cristobal and North Texas' Todd Dodge are entering year number 3.
Troy and FAU, in particular, have gained national attention for the quality of their non-conference slates. The Trojans have become known as a giant-slayer with wins over Oklahoma State in 2007 and Missouri in 2004. Last year, they battled Ohio State tough in Columbus before falling 28-10 on two 4th quarter touchdowns by the Buckeyes. The Sun Belt added more feathers to their cap when FAU toppled Minnesota and Louisiana-Monroe stung Alabama two years ago.
Troy and FAU each received bowl bids last year - the Trojans fell 30-27 in overtime to Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl, and the Owls upset Central Michigan 24-21 in the Motor City Bowl.
As a whole, however, the conference still has a long way to go before the major powers don't look at Sun Belt schools as a scheduled win. Nebraska's 2009 schedule features Arkansas State, FIU and Louisiana-Lafayette to account for three of its' four non-league games.
Last year, five teams finished the season ranked 84th or worse in the final CCR Top 120. Troy was the highest-ranked team at number 40, and was the only team in the Sun Belt to finish the regular season with a record above the .500 mark. In fact, dating back to 2006, a total of three teams have topped the .500 barrier - Troy (three times), FAU (twice), and MTSU (once).
Unfortunately, this year's computer forecast (about the computer) doesn't call for any significant breakthroughs as only Troy and MTSU are expected to win more games than they lose.
Troy, which has captured at least a share of the last three Sun Belt titles, is the overwhelming favorite to do so again. The Trojans enter the season with a power rating nearly 6 points higher than its closest competitor, Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders lead a pack of five teams that are within four points of each other to battle for second.
MTSU visits Troy on October 6 in the game the computer says will ultimately determine the league champion, and the Trojans are solid favorites (-8.88) in that matchup.
Western Kentucky enters its' first year of full-fledged Sun Belt membership and is anticipated to bring up the rear with a 1-11 season. Since leaving the FCS two years ago, the Hilltoppers are 1-7 versus Sun Belt schools and 1-15 against FBS schools.
Only one solid bowl bid, the New Orleans Bowl, awaits the conference this year. Sun Belt teams with records of 7-5 or better, are next in line to fill slots in the St. Petersburg, PapaJohns.com and Independence Bowls if primary conferences do not have an eligible team.
NOTE: The computer's preseason projections have nailed the exact won-loss record for North Texas 8 times in its' 14 seasons as a FBS program.