Friday, August 22, 2014

College Football Preview 2014: Sun Belt

The Sun Belt has been raided once more, and once again has been forced to find additions from wherever they could be found. In 2014, the Sun Belt adds former FCS member Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Idaho, and New Mexico State. At the end of the day, the Sun Belt has largely added some dead weight, especially at the bottom of the standings. The Sun Belt, overall, has become a dumping ground that collects garbage while losing their better pieces to ever expanding conferences higher up the food chain. UL-Lafayette makes a great target, but somehow still remains, and they will therefore dominate the league standings once more.

Projected Order of Finish
1. UL-Lafayette
2. Arkansas State
3. South Alabama
4. UL-Monroe
5. Troy
6. Texas State
7. Georgia Southern
8. Appalachian State
9. Idaho
10. Georgia State
11. New Mexico State

Most Overrated Team

Most Underrated Team
Texas State

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Trent Miles, Georgia State
Todd Berry, UL-Monroe
Larry Blakeney, Troy

UL-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth (27-12, 4th season)
Mark Hudspeth has ushered in a dominant era with the Cajuns, and this season should be no different, and I believe that this program will hit the 10 win mark this fall.
The Cajuns are all set at QB, with the return of all-conference Terrence Broadway. Broadway is an underrated QB nationally, and he could sting you when you let your guard down. He is relatively efficient, and his running ability makes it tough to force him down in the pocket. Alonzo Harris returns and is joined by Elijah McGuire, and they are a major two headed monster in the backfield. Broadway's favorite target is also back in Jamal Robinson, and James Butler is back at WR as well. Four starters are back on the line, with only the C position needing replacing. RG Daniel Quave was a second team all conference pick.
There may be some trouble up front on defense, as only one LB returns this fall in Dominique Tovell. Justin Hamilton is back at NT, while Christian Ringo returns at DE. With three LB spots open, the rush defense may take a step back. The secondary was the weak link last fall, but every member of it returns to start in CBs Trevence Patt and Corey Trim, and Safeties TJ Worthy and Sean Thomas.
Hunter Stover is favored to steal the PK job away from Stephen Brauchle, who largely struggled last season. Daniel Cadona returns as the Punter after averaging 41.7 yards per punt in 2013.
The conference schedule is largely workable, as Arkansas State comes to Lafayette this fall. They should be 2-0 heading into a tricky two week road trip to Boise State and Ole Miss, but the Cajuns could win both of those games.
Opening Game
8/30 Southern

Arkansas State Red Wolves
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Blake Anderson (1st season)
The Wolves are starting yet another season with yet another new coach in Blake Anderson after the departure of Bryan Harsin for Boise State. Blake Anderson signed a long term contract and has a healthy buyout should he leave, so he may just stick around a little while.
Fredi Knighten stepped in and helped ASU win their bowl game last season, and now steps into the starting role for the season. He may be ready for the job, but his running skills are more lauded than his passing game, and that may help, as only one starter returns at WR in JD McKissick. McKissick caught 82 passes last season, but most of those came on short routes, and it sure would be nice to set him loose more often in 2014. Michael Gordon is back at RB, and he really needs to pick up the production to help out Knighten this season. Darlon Griswold, an important piece at TE, is also returning. The line returns three starters, but the entire left side must be replaced.
The defensive line must be replaced in large part, but one starter does return in DE Chris Stone. Help is on the scene at LB, however, as both Qushaun Lee and Kyle Coleman both return. The secondary was a strength last fall, and returns intact, as all five starters return. Rocky Hayes and Artez Brown both return at CB, while Sterling Young, Chris Humes, and Frankie Jackson all return deep.
Luke Ferguson will add his cannon leg to PK duties as he also keeps his punting job, which is a great thing, as he averaged 43.8 yards per game last fall.
The Wolves are a strong football team, but don't have the quality that UL-Lafayette has. The schedule is also more brutal, especially early in the season with trips to Tennessee, Miami, and UL-Lafayette, and a visit from Utah State. That being said, the Wolves are by far the second best team in the league this season.
Opening Game
8/30 Montana State

South Alabama Jaguars
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Joey Jones (31-21, 6th season)
Joey Jones has slowly and steadily built the Jaguars into a contender in the Sun Belt, but they still have the underdog flag flying heading into 2014.
Brandon Bridge is finally the starting QB as a senior, and he has shown some decent development leading up to opening day. The receiving corps is fairly loaded for him, as Shavarez Smith and Jereme Jones return at WR, and Wes Saxton, the best TE in the league, returns as well. There is serious depth behind Saxton as well, so there should be many options in the passing game, and in the blocking game in short yardage and red zone plays. Three starters return on the line, and they should be able to open some holes for a RB group that goes five deep, starting at Jay Jones.
On defense, there are major holes up front, as only DT Jesse Kelley and LB Maleki Harris return. Look for some impact from JC transfer Jimmie Gipson III at DE, as he led the JC ranks with 17 sacks in 2013. The secondary is fully loaded, as four of five starters return. Qudarius Ford and Montell Garner are back at CB, while Terrell Brigham and Antonio Carter come back at Safety, leaving only one spot open at Safety in the 4-2-5 set.
Aleem Sunanon is back at PK this fall, after finishing strong. There is a battle for the Punter job between Brandon McKee and Corliss Waitman.
USA is a rising program, and Joey Jones has the dial turned in the right direction. The Jaguars could ruin some seasons this fall, but the back end of the schedule is completely loaded. If the Jags can sneak a game or two, who knows what could happen?
Opening Game
9/6 at Kent State

Troy Trojans
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Larry Blakeney (175-104-1, 24th season)
The Trojans used to run this show, and now they are merely a middle of the pack team, struggling to reach .500 football season after season. In my opinion, this is the season where Larry Blakeney should be coaching for his very life here, as he has obviously gotten stale after 23 seasons. If Troy can't get back to the top in short order, new blood will be needed to guide this program to a new era.
Brandon Silvers is likely the new starting QB, and everything falls on his head. That's going to be a tall order, as half of the WR corps needs to be replaced as well, leaving only KD Edenfield and Bryan Holmes as returning starters there. Brandon Burks will try to have the season of his life at RB, but the league as a whole was rather weak when it came to running the football. Jordan Chunn also returns at RB, and gives the Trojans a power option. Three starters return on the line, led by RT Terrence Jones.
Holes on the line seems to be a recurring theme this fall in the conference, and Troy is no exception. DE Tyler Roberts is the lone returning starter here. Both LBs do return in Wayland Coleman-Dancer, and Mark Wilson. Chris Davis and Ethan Davis are back at CB, while NB Jeremy Spikner is back as well. That being said, both Safeties will be new.
Both kicking spots need to be filled as well, and it could all come down to one guy in sophomore Ryan Kay.
This program has hit the wall in a large way, and Larry Blakeney probably should have left a couple of seasons ago to make this thing turn a corner again. I know that he's been at Troy forever, and I know that he is much loved there, but all good things must end, and it has ended by virtue of at least three programs passing the Trojans by, and more doing so all the time.
Opening Game
8/30 at UAB

Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Todd Berry (23-26, 5th season)
ULM was left out of the postseason in 2013, and getting back there again may be a huge issue in 2014, as the schedule is loaded, and the offense is fairly new.
Brayle Brown will likely take over at QB for the departed Kolten Browning, and he is largely inexperienced with the exception of mop up duty. He has very little experience to go to, as only WR Rashon Ceasar and TE Harley Scioneaux return at the skill positions. Three starters do return on the line, but they are blocking for an unknown set of players.
Defensively, the Warhawks could be much improved in 2014, with most of the front returning. Darius Lively and Joey Gautney are both back at DE, as is Gerrand Johnson returns at NT. Ray Stovall and Hunter Kissinger add to the solid experience up front, but this unit ranked just 87th in the nation against the run. The secondary is strong as well, as CB Trey Caldwell returns as does S Confero Smith and H-Back Mitch Lane.
Justin Manton is back to handle both PK and P, but he was largely better at punting (45.8 yard average) then he was at kicking FGs (5 of 9).
There just isn't enough on the talent coming back to get over the top for the Warhawks in 2014. THe offense is being rebuilt, and it's just to loaded with unknowns. The schedule is also at issue, as the Hawks play three SEC opponents in non conference play. It may not be a very good year in Monroe.
Opening Game
8/28 Wake Forest

Texas State Bobcats
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Dennis Franchione (16-20, 4th season)
The Dennis Franchione era hasn't exactly taken off like a rocket, but they are hanging in there year after year. This should be another season where the Bobcats send most of their time just hanging in.
Tyler Jones is back at QB after missing some time to injury last fall. He won't have many returning options to get the football to, as only WR Ben Ijah and RB Robert Lowe return at the skill positions. The other major problem is that the strong side of the line is back, but the weak side is all in flux. The offense only ranked 111th in the nation in total yards last fall. It'll be a tall order to improve on that number.
The defense wasn't too bad last fall, considering how much time they spent on the field. The entire front line must be replaced, and that's not a good thing. Michael Orakpo and David Mayo do return at LB, but they could be largely exposed by the new line. The secondary is loaded with holes as well, as only CB Craig Mager and S Colby Targun return.
Jason Dunn is back at PK after hitting 9 of 10 FGs, while Will Johnson averaged a solid 44 yards per punt last fall.
There just isn't enough talent to post a winning record, but the schedule will allow for six wins once again, if the new starters don't completely fall apart. Anything more than that is just out of the question.
Opening Game
8/30 Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Georgia Southern Eagles
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Willie Fritz (1st season)
This will be a team in transition in every way this season, as the Eagles move up to FBS football, break in a new coach in Willie Fritz, formerly of Sam Houston State, and ditch their long time triple option offense.
Fritz moves from the full house backfield to a three receiver spread offense. That's going to be a huge problem, as he does not have a proper QB to run this offense here. Kevin Ellison has the edge at QB, but there are as many as three other QBs pushing him in camp right now, and none of them can throw worth a thing. The good news is that all three WRs have started in BJ Johnson, Tray Butler, and Kentrellis Showers. The bad news is that the Eagles will be breaking in a new RB, and Ken Thomas has the edge there. Three starters return on the line in LT Garrett Frye and RG Trevor McBurnett, and C Manrey Saint-Amour.
The Eagles were very good defensively, especially during the final four games of last season, where they never gave up more than 20 points, which is all Florida could total in the Eagles' upset win over the Gators at the Swamp. There ill likely be growing pains in 2014, however, but there are some nice pieces to build upon. Only two of four starters return on the line in DT Jonathon Battie and DE Raphael Hardee, but there isn't much depth behind them. LB is a bit deeper with Edwin Jackson returning from 13 starts last fall, and Antoine Williams who missed last season due to injury. Three starters return in the five man secondary in CB Valdon Cooper, SS Deion Stanley, and FS Matt Dobson.
Alex Hanks will likely share PK duties with Younghoe Koo, but neither provides consistency. Ryan Nowicki returns at Punter as well, and averaged 43.1 yards per punt last fall. He should be one of the better Punters in the south this fall.
GSU has long been one of the great programs in FCS football, and if I had my druthers, they's still be there. Instead, they are chasing the big lie of a dream that is membership in the FBS, but if they think that the big boys will ever let them have a piece of the big pie, they are mistaken. sometimes, as Montana has learned and thrived, it's better to be the big fish in the small pond. With the departure of Jeff Monken, GSU made a very nice splash by hiring Willie Fritz. Fritz did an amazing job at Sam Houston State, and it won't take him long to win here as well, but first comes the adjustment, and it may get bumpy.
Opening Game
8/30 at NC State

Appalachian State Mountaineers
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Scott Satterfield (4-8, 2nd season)
The Mountaineers didn't exactly leave the FCS ranks on a high note last fall, and it is likely to be a rough go in their first season of FBS membership.
What ASU does have out of the gate is a solid QB option in the highly accurate Kameron Bryant. Bryant completed over 72% of his passes in 2013, and should be a solid block to build on during his junior season. He will have two WRs returning as starters this fall in Simms Mcelfish and Malachi Jones. Tacoi Sumter is in line to be the third starter there, but has largely never been able to stay healthy. Bobo Beathard is likely to be the fourth WR. The line largely needs rebuilding with just two starters back from last season in LT Kendall Lamm and C Graham Fisher. Marcus Cox returns to start at RB, but will share carried with RS freshman Terrence Upshaw.
ASu couldn't rush the passer very well last fall, and that will need to be a priority coming into 2014. Deuce Robinson is the lone returnee on the line at DE, and he will have to lead the charge. Only two starters return at LB in a four man unit, and so that may be another issue. Rashaad Townes and John Law are the returning LBs. The secondary is only half settled as well, with only CB Joel Ross and SS Kevin Walton return.
Zach Matics should slide over from kickoff duty to handling all PK duties this fall as a junior. Bentley Critcher returns at Punter, and is one of the best in the nation after averaging 45.9 yards per game.
ASU begins this season at Michigan. Being that I called the Mountaineer upset before, I will call this game now. There absolutely no way that ASU repeats the feat this time. Behind Bryant on offense, however, should be enough to get the Mountaineers about five wins in 2014.
Opening Game
8/30 at Michigan

Georgia State Panthers
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Trent Miles (0-12, 2nd season)

There was nary a team worse than the Panthers in FBS football in 2013, as Georgia State finished a perfectly awful 0-12 in the first season under Trent Miles, who may be completely over matched as an FBS head coach. There are more questions than answers as we head into 2014 as well.
Ronnie Bell returns as the starting QB, but is facing a major challenge by JC transfer Nick Arbuckle as the season prepares to open. Albert Wilson is gone at WR, and was one of the better pass catchers in the nation last fall. Robert Davis is now the lone returning starter there, so the passing game could stumble after averaging 253 yards passing per game. Keith Rucker is back at TE, and may be a key. The run game was largely a mess, and are looking for a new starter in Jonathon Jean-Bart. The line returns only two starters in LG AJ Kaplan and C Tim Wynn.
The strongest unit on defense in 2014 should be at LB, where three starters return. Mackendy Cheridor, Joseph Petersen, and Jarrell Robinson all return in the middle of the field. There is a lack of depth and experience on the line, as only DE Shawayne Lawrence returns. The secondary is in rebuild mode as well, with only S Tarris Batiste returning.
Will Lutz returns as the PK, but only hit 8 of 12 FGs last fall. Matt Hubbard returns at Punter, and was solid last fall, averaging 42 yards per punt.
With so many holes, and a less than great talent base, the Panthers will find it difficult to improve much this fall. Miles has relented to going JC heavy in recruiting, and that is the trap where many fall into and never climb out of. Huge winners are never built on heavy JC recruiting.
Opening Game
8/27 Abilene Christian

Idaho Vandals
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Paul Petrino (1-11, 2nd season)
Idaho is welcomed back to the Sun Belt, one of three conferences that they have called home since joining the FBS ranks. Unfortunately, the homecoming could be a rough gig.
Chad Chalich is back at QB after missing significant time due to injury. He is being pushed by Matt Lidstrom, and that battle is carrying into the opener. Dezmon Epps and Deon Watson both return at WR, but Epps had a DUI issue in the spring, and faces a possible suspension early. Both tackles and (Nick Von Rotz, Mason Woods) and C (Mike Marboe) return. The run game is up in the air.
There is some experience up front on defense for the Vandals, as DE Maxx Forde and Quinton Bradley and DT Quayshawne all return. There isn't very much depth at LB, as only Marc Millan returns from a defense that ranked 104th against the run, and 123rd in scoring defense. The secondary is up and down as well, with only CB Jayshawn Jordan and SS Bradley Njoku return from a unit that ranked just 122nd against the pass.
Austin Rehkow returns as both PK and P, but he was much better at one spot than another. He hit only 10 of 17 FGs, but averaged a booming 47.8 yards per punt.
Idaho has been a mess for years now, and their best bet once the WAC collapsed was to revert back to the FCS ranks and the Big Sky conference, but they are being stubborn and insisting on staying in a division where they truly don't belong. Two wins in 2014 would be a miracle.
Opening Game
8/30 at Florida

New Mexico State Aggies
Projected 2014 Record: 1-11
Head Coach: Doug Martin (2-10, 2nd season)
God bless Aggie fan, as they fight hard for the credibility of this football team, and they certainly disagree with me about head coach Doug Martin's status. NMSU hasn't been to a bowl game during their stay in FBS football, and they certainly are nowhere closer to getting there than they were 25 years ago.
NMSU, dating back to DeWayne Walker's reign, has largely depended on the JC ranks to staff their ranks, and that rarely works. They are doing it again to find a new QB in Tyler Rogers, who was one of a whopping six QBs that competed throughout spring and fall camps. Jerrel Brown and Joshua Bowen return at WR, but neither are special by any means. Xavier Hall and Marquette Washington are both expected to be the two RBs that they are going with, but again, there's little buzz about either. There is good news as four starters return on the line.
Without wasting too much time here, there is only one starter returning on the entire defense in 2014 to a unit that ranked a miserable 123rd in total defense last fall. Will it get better by subtraction? Maybe, but doubtful. DE Clint Barnard is that lone returning starter. Three sophomores and a freshman are likely starters, and depth is just non-existent.
Maxwell Johnson is back after hitting 10 of 12 FGs last fall, and could be a bright spot. Junior Brack Baca is likely the new Punter.
Where do you start with so many questions? Nobody has that answer right now in Las Crucas, but something has to eventually give. Right now, the Aggies are likely to be one of the two worst teams in the nation in 2014.
Opening Game
8/28 Cal Poly

1 comment:

  1. GSU has long been one of the great programs in FCS football, and if I had my druthers, they's still be there. Instead, they are chasing the big lie of a dream that is membership in the FBS, but if they think that the big boys will ever let them have a piece of the big pie, they are mistaken. sometimes, as Montana has learned and thrived, it's better to be the big fish in the small pond.

    Georgia Southern will take its lumps the first few years, but no mistake GaSo deserves to be in the SBC and is willing to prove it.