Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
Sun Belt Media Days invaded New Orleans, La. with coaches and a player representative giving interviews. Adding to the event were remarks from commissioner Karl Benson and future conference members Georgia State and Texas State. Below are capsules summing up each school.
Arkansas State(10-3, 8-0)
For the third time in the past three years, the Red Wolves will have a new leader of the pack. Legendary coach Gus Malzahn takes over the conference champion team from a year ago. Although play maker Dwayne Frampton is gone, 10 starters from the 10-3 team return.
"We are very fortunate to come into a program that has a quarterback like Ryan Aplin, he's a good fit for our system," Malzahn said. "We are going to be asking some of our guys to step up since we have a lot of holes on defense, but really it's an open game. We lost three starters on the offensive lines, so we will be mixing and matching in the fall camp."
Preseason player of the year, and reigning player of the year, quarterback Ryan Aplin, returns and sits currently fourth in the conference in all-time total offense.
"The guys have really wanted to go the extra mile this off-season," Aplin said. "They are working out harder and doing more and more 7-on-7 drills. It's hard to replace a player like Frampton, but we have some young players coming in that will be just as good, if not better. I think we have a bunch of guys that can step into our void at running back that will help us take some pressure off the passing game."
Florida Atlantic (1-11, 0-8)
The Owls will have a new face on the sidelines this season with Carl Pelini taking over for program founder Howard Schnellenberger. Pelini, while he still continues to acknowledge his predecessor's success and foundation, he knows that the FAU program has some work for it to return to the top of the Sun Belt Conference.
"We're very different philosophically, but he's been so supportive and has been hands off and is letting me run the program my way. We signed a lot of junior college players this year since we are changing schemes on both sides of the ball; it's not something that I plan on doing a lot of in the future. I think we have a team that wants to be good, but they don't know how. This spring I worked with them a lot on teaching them on how to play football."
FIU (8-5, 5-3)
All-American T.Y. Hilton has been the face and key player for the Panthers throughout his career. Now that he's moved on, the Panthers will be doing the same, departing for Conference USA following this season.
"You have to do it collectively," Head Coach Mario Cristobal said. "He came in at a time when he had to come in and be that go to guy, but what we have now are a bunch of guys that have been making plays in the shadows, but maybe didn't get fed the ball as much. We saw in the spring that we have a group of play makers that will allow us to have a much better offense this year."
While Cristobal is focused on building his Panther offense, the defense is in solid hands with senior Jonathan Cyprien headlining.
"Our expectations are nothing short of another Sun Belt title," he said. "We have a characteristic of being hungry, we feel that we are close to being there, but know that we have to keep working. We have a new strength coach and people are buying into his program."
Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4, 6-2)
"Our first year winning nine games and winning the New Orleans Bowl, I think put a big shot in the arm of our program and sling shotted us four of five years ahead of where I think we would be if we hadn't," Head Coach Mark Hudspeth said. "We've had a lot of success, positive affects, from that season. This season, like every year, is a different team. We are trying to continue building on this momentum and continue to build our national attention and respect."
Echoing his coach's feelings is quarterback Blaine Gautier.
"Last year was tremendous for us, it was a great season that ended with the New Orleans Bowl," he said. "It was a great feeling to get to that game, but it was even bigger to go in and win it."
The Cajuns return 15 starters from their 2011 season. Among the key returners is quarterback Gautier, but he is quick to point out more names to keep an eye out for.
"Javon Lawson, he went over 1,000 yards receiving, Daryl Surgent, a tremendous receiver and return guy, and a great offensive line coming back, so we are really excited about this year and just want to go out and win games."
ULM Warhawks (4-8, 3-5)
Expectations are high in Monroe as they look to rebound from 2011's disappointing 4-8 record. One key player that is sure to be a work horse for the Warhawk offense is senior receiver Brent Leonard.
"It's been a long journey, but it's been fun," he said. "Coming in as a walk-on, and then slowly working my way up, everyone is looking forward to this season being our best yet though. We have goals set this year to win all of our home games, win a championship, and go to a bowl game."
Middle Tennessee (2-10, 1-7)
2011 was a season that the Blue Raiders are more than glad is over. Middle Tennessee limped to a 2-10 record and were unable to capitalize on opportunities and missing out on big plays.
"There's a lot of excuses why we wound up like we did, but anytime that you get your nose bloodied, and have a losing season, it sends shockwaves through your program. That is what serves as a wakeup call for our program. We were a young team and we played hard, but we just didn't play always at our best."
North Texas(5-7, 4-4)
The Mean Green are another of the teams bolting from the conference at the conclusion of the 2012 season. In 2011 they opened the brand new Apogee Stadium with a 5-7 record, however linebacker Zach Orr feels that their last season could be the year to return North Texas to the top of the conference.
"Last year we experienced some success that we haven't experienced in a while," he said. "We were a hungry bunch and wanted to do well then, and this year we want to continue doing well and win another Sun Belt Championship. We all remember when we were younger when North texas was dominating and winning four championships in a row, so we want to go out on top with another."
South Alabama (6-4)
The newest football member of the conference is actually the oldest serving member in the league. The Jaguars join the Sun Belt, but will be ineligible for post season play or the conference title. None of this though is acting as a deterrent to Head Coach Joey Jones.
"I think the biggest challenge will be depth this year," Jones said. "We have division one players, but do we have the depth. Our biggest strength this season will be our linebackers. Jake Johnson, a Virginia Tech transfer, will be one that will be playing in the NFL one day. Enrique Williams is a really good football player, and we have outside linebacker Cliffton Crews. They are all the core of our defense and give our offense time to get going."
Another tough detail for South Alabama is that they will play a 13 game schedule, the most in the program's brief history, and will have to do so on a normal schedule.
"In the past we played seven, ten, and ten (games) and that gives you more time to prepare for games," Jones. said. "Now you just have a few days of preparation and then play."
Johnson believes that the Jaguars are ready for the transition.
"It's been a long journey, playing three years of FCS level talent, but stepping on the field for the first game against NC State all the way through the season ending game at Hawaii, we are ready to go out and start earning the respect of teams in this conference," he said. "We can't win it (the title), but it doesn't matter to us that if we win win it and don't get the recognition for it, everyone will know that we beat them and are the next up and coming program."
Troy (3-9, 2-6)
For a five time Sun Belt Conference champion, the Trojans fell from the top of the conference standings and suffered through a 3-9 season in 2011. Head Coach Larry Blakeney thinks that 2012 could be the year to get them back in line with expectations.
"We've had good signs," he said. "We've had a good off season of workouts, and we've had more community service hours this past year than ever before. It shows that they care and that they want to improve and continue to improve. We just need to find out chemistry early and keep at it from there."
Western Kentucky (7-5, 7-1)
One of the biggest mover and shaker in 2011 were the Hilltoppers. After a slow start, WKU rolled to a 7-5 record. While running back Bobby Rainey was credited with a lot of their success, Head Coach Willie Taggart believes he was just a part of their success.
"We are just trying to get better in every aspect, but I'm excited where we are right now," Taggart said. "We did a good job at recruiting, I'm really excited about all our running backs, and that's the first time I can say that in a while. People ask me why Bobby got to run so much, and I tell them that he was one of the few backs that I was excited about."
One offensive player that returns and will attempt to elevate his play to fill the shoes of Rainey is tight end Jack Doyle.
"The season didn't start off the way we wanted it to, but then we finally got it rolling," he said. "This year we need to get off to a better start, and that should make our season be a better one. We just need to make sure that we stay focused on one game at a time."
Georgia State (3-8)
"We are just thrilled to just get into this conference, but know that we have our work cut out for us," Head Coach Bill Curry said. "We were, and still are, on the verge of our first season in the CAA and that's a tough FCS conference, so I know there's a lot of work to go. We are going to have to play a whole lot better football than we have played anytime that we've played here. I wanted to take our team over to Alabama so our team could see what it looks like there, what's like to line up against a real football team; to give them an idea of what we are aiming for and how far we have to go to get there."
So what drew the former SEC and ACC coach of the year out of retirement to start the Panther's program?
"Georgia State," he said. "Both my wife and myself are from Atlanta and she has a masters and PhD from the school, so she has great loyalty to the university, and I have great respect and affection for it. Even though we were in our mid-60's when the opportunity popped up, it just made all the sense in the world to do it."
Texas State (6-6)
"It's a process, no doubt about that," Bobcat Head Coach Dennis Franchione said of his team's shift. Not only will Texas State be moving from FCS to FBS, they will play the 2012 season in the WAC before landing in the Sun Belt Conference.
"Two years ago we had 60 scholarships, 70 last year, and finally to 85 this year, it's just one of the many changes we have. I'm excited to be coming in the Sun Belt, it's got some great coaches, some great football, and it's on the rise. We'll probably track some of the Sun Belt teams this year, but mostly will just focus on the WAC and this season."
Arkansas St. NEWS