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July 5, 2006

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Team-by-Team Previews


In a way, it was a changing of the guard in the Sun Belt last season. After several years of dominance, North Texas dropped to dead last in the league standings last fall, making way for a three-way tie for the 2005 conference title. Two members of that championship trio, LA-Lafayette and Arkansas State, appear ready to defend that crown in 2006 as both are projected at or near the top of this season's Sun Belt standings. While watching to see if the Mean Green can regain some of the respect they lost last fall, also keep an eye on LA-Monroe and MTSU throughout the 2006 campaign.


LA-Lafayette 6-1 8-4
Arkansas State 5-2 7-5
LA-Monroe 4-3 5-7
Middle Tennessee 4-3 5-7
North Texas 3-4 5-7
Florida International 2-5 3-9
Troy 2-5 3-9
Florida Atlantic 2-5 3-9

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LA-LAFAYETTE A tie for the league title last fall and thirteen returning starters leaves the Cajuns in prime position to make it two straight in 2006. RB Tyrell Fenroy, who went for more than 1000 yards and a dozen TDs last year, is one of the best in the conference. Both Jerry Babb and Michael Desormeaux return under center, as do WRs Corey Fredrick and Derrick Smith. A solid offensive line led by Brandon Cox and Jesse Newman should make this unit one of the best in the Sun Belt.

After an opening two-game stretch at LSU and Texas A&M, everything on the schedule is winnable. An early-October road trip to Houston will certainly be worth keeping an eye on. ULL gets Arkansas State at home late in the year, and that could be the deciding factor.

Projected Wins: McNeese, E.Mich, at FAU, MTSU, UNT, at FIU
Projected Losses: at LSU, at TAMU, at HOU
Toss-Ups: at Troy, ASU, ULM
Projected Record: 8-4 / 6-1

ARKANSAS STATE The Indians were among those with league-best 5-2 conference records last season. Though stud RB Antonio Warren and QB Nick Noce are gone, the Indians return a solid core of six offensive starters, not to mention eight on defense. The squad's top five WRs are all back for 2006. The defense should be very good this fall. DB Tyrell Johnson is one of the best in the league, as are DL Brian Flagg and LB Devrett Wade. That unit will have to carry the team, especially early in the season, if ASU is to repeat last fall's winning record.

Winnable road games at places like FIU, FAU, and Troy will likely decide how well this team does in 2006. If they can pull out victories in two of those three and fare well at home, a .500-plus mark once again is certainly within grasp.

Projected Wins: at FIU, at FAU, UNT, MTSU
Projected Losses: OSU, at MEM, at AUB
Toss-Ups: Army, at SMU, ULM, at Troy, at ULL
Projected Record: 7-5 / 5-2

LA-MONROE The Warhawks won five conference games last fall and return 13 starters in 2006. Though the QB position will be in new hands, RB Calvin Dawson is back to follow up on his 600-yard, 7-TD season a year ago. WR Drouzon Quillen is a huge loss as he was easily the conference's best wideout a year ago. DB Chad Williams will lead ULM's defensive unit; he racked up five interceptions last season. If they can find playmakers at the skill positions to go along with the solid core of other starters, a six-win season is attainable this fall.

Finding one road win in games at Kansas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Kentucky would be excellent, though that is unlikely to happen. ULM also has to trip to ULL and Arkansas State in the conference, so if they have plans to finish at or above the .500 mark, they'll have to do their dirty work at home.

Projected Wins: Alcorn, FAU, at FIU, UNT
Projected Losses: at KU, at ALA, at ARK, at KY
Toss-Ups: at ASU, at Troy, MTSU, at ULL
Projected Record: 5-7 / 4-3

MIDDLE TENNESSEE QB Clint Marks is back to lead a Blue Raider squad that won just four games last fall but returns nine offensive starters and brings in a new head coach in 2006. The senior completed 66% of his passes last season but must improve on his 8:7 TD to interception ratio. RB Eugene Gross, who went for nearly 800 yards and 13 TD last year, is also back. The biggest offensive loss looks to be WR Cleannord Saintill. LB J.K. Sabb and DB Bradley Robinson will lead a defensive unit that returns just four starters from a season ago.

MTSU has tough road games at Maryland, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, as well as a neutral site game with Louisville. A late-October road game at ULL will likely show whether this team is ready to step up and contend with the Cajuns for the 2006 SBC title.

Projected Wins: FIU, TNTECH, at ULM, FAU
Projected Losses: at MD, at OU, LOU, at ULL, at SC
Toss-Ups: at UNT, at ULM, at ASU, Troy
Projected Record: 5-7 / 4-3

NORTH TEXAS The Mean Green was once the Sun Belt's dominant power, but that came to a screeching halt last season. Though sixteen starters return, they come from a team that won just twice in all of 2005. RB Jamario Thomas is one of those returning, though, and he is looking to live up to the hype built up around him and former UNT teammate Patrick Cobbs. The squad's top two signal callers both return, as does their favorite target, WR Johnny Quinn, one of the best in the conference.

A solid defensive unit will help try to lead North Texas back to SBC prosperity. Though a road trip to Texas to open the season might not be pretty, September trips to Tulsa and Akron will be a great barometer for where this program stands. A good start is crucial as the Mean Green finishes with four of their last six away from home.

Projected Wins: FIU, FAU
Projected Losses: at TX, at Tulsa, at ASU, at ULL
Toss-Ups: SMU, at Akron, MTSU, at Troy, LT, at ULM
Projected Record: 5-7 / 3-4

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL Just ten starters are back from a team that won five games last season; that's the bad news. The good news is that the Golden Panthers have arguably the best QB in the conference leading their offense. Josh Padrick threw for nearly 2500 yards and 13 TDs last fall, not to mention his 4 rushing scores in 2005. Two of the squad's top three RBs return, as does WR Chandler Williams, one of the SBC's best. LB Keyonvis Bouie had 118 tackles last season and may be the best defensive player in the conference.

Every game on the Panthers' schedule is a D-I matchup this fall, which won't make things any easier. A three-game start at MTSU, at USF, and vs Bowling Green will be interesting to watch and set the tone for the season. Winning five games again this fall would be a huge accomplishment.

Projected Wins: (none)
Projected Losses: at USF, at MD, ASU, at Miami, at ALA, ULM, ULL
Toss-Ups: at MTSU, BGSU, at UNT, FAU, Troy
Projected Record: 3-9 / 2-5

TROY Much like North Texas, the Trojans were once among the elite squads in the Sun Belt, but that trend seems to have disappeared after last season. Eight offensive starters are back, though, including both QBs and three of the team's top four rushers from 2005. WR Smokey Hampton also returns after leading the squad with almost 600 receiving yards last season.

If they can keep the game close, kicker Greg Whibbs is very reliable and is arguably the best in the Sun Belt. Leodis McKelvin is also a difference-maker on special teams after scoring a pair of touchdowns a season ago. A 1-4 start is very likely, but if they can keep a cool head through that, the team plays just three games away from home after September 30.

Projected Wins: ALAST
Projected Losses: at FSU, at GT, at NEB, at UAB, ULL, at MTSU
Toss-Ups: ULM, UNT, at FAU, ASU, at FIU
Projected Record: 3-9 / 2-5

FLORIDA ATLANTIC The Owls have won just five times against SBC competition over the past two seasons, but the good news is that fifteen starters return this fall in hopes of moving FAU up in the Sun Belt standings this season. RB Charles Pierre is one of the best in the conference, and he will likely be touching the ball often with the loss of QB Danny Embick and top WR Thomas Parker. DL Jervonte Jackson will lead the defensive unit up front this fall.

A murderous start to the season ends any shot the Owls have of taking home a winning season, but even picking up as many as three conference victories would be a huge step in the right direction.

Projected Wins: S.Utah
Projected Losses: at Clem, at KSt, at OSU, at SC, at ULM, ULL, ASU
Toss-Ups: at MTSU, Troy, at UNT, FIU
Projected Record: 3-9 / 2-5


QB Josh Padrick Florida International
RB Jamario Thomas North Texas
RB Tyrell Fenroy LA-Lafayette
WR Chandler Williams Florida International
WR Johnny Quinn North Texas
TE Samuel Smith Florida International
OL Tanner Jenkins Arkansas State
OL Brandon Cox LA-Lafayette
OL Dylan Lineberry North Texas
OL Kyle Cunningham LA-Monroe
OL Jesse Newman LA-Lafayette
DL Jeremiah Chapman North Texas
DL Brian Flagg Arkansas State
DL Jervonte Jackson Florida Atlantic
DL Antwan Barnes Florida International
LB Philip Graves North Texas
LB Keyonvis Bouie Florida International
LB Devrett Wade Arkansas State
DB Chaz Williams LA-Monroe
DB Bradley Robinson Middle Tennessee
DB Aaron Weathers North Texas
DB Tyrell Johnson Arkansas State
K Greg Whibbs Troy
P Colby Smith Middle Tennessee
AP Leodis McKelvin Troy

Individual team previews by editor Jonathan.

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