Warhawk Nation's Pre Season Sun Belt Poll
1. Troy Trojans
There is no reason not to pick Troy until they prove us otherwise. Larry Blakney has the no huddle pass happy offense down pat. Troy has winable games at Bowling Green and a home contest against UAB early on. A trip to the Swamp to take on the Florida Gators awaits in week 2. Don't be surprised if the Trojans don't give the Gators fits early. Remember Florida State and LSU last year, both near upsets.
The Trojans get a true test in week 4 when they travel to Arkansas State for their first SBC matchup. A loss won't put them out of the race but it would definitly set the tone for another team to take the conference title.
November 7th at Western Kentucky. The Hilltopers are the newest member of the SBC and will be looking to prove themselves against the leagues best. The Trojans have a date with the Arkansas Razorbacks the following week and might be looking ahead.
2. ULM Warhawks
This is the sleeper no one is talking about and Coach Weatherbie and his new coaching staff would have it no other way. The time to win is now in Monroe and the Warhawks return a slew of talent in 2009. Feeling the hot seat, Weatherbie and company will pull out all the stops this season. Look for ULM to throw a wrinkle or 2 into the offense this season.
It's a tough way to start the season with trips to Texas and Arizona State but ULM has a pick me up in week 2 against Texas Southern they can build confidence with. With a new 3-3-5 defense installed and 9 starters back, they will cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses. Also returning are a dozen experienced offensive lineman and junior RB Frank Goodin. Look for ULM to rely on the run in 2009 and the strong arm of 6'5 junior quarterback Trey Revell.
October 3rd at home against FIU. With a nationally telivised game on October 13th against Arkansas State looming, the Warhawks better not look past FIU. Watch the October 24th matchup against Kentucky as well. The Warhawks have a history of playing well against SEC teams. ULM missed a near upset of Kentucky in 2007 when they lost 42-40 on a failed 2 point conversion late in the game.
3. Arkansas State Red Wolves
The Wolves return two of the better offensive weapons in the SBC in Corey Leonard and Reggie Arnold. Steve Roberts knows how to win early but struggles to close the deal in the second half of the season. ASU will start the season in a rout of Mississippi Valley but find things a bit tougher in week 2 with a trip to Nebraska. The Red Wolves also have trips to Iowa and Louisville on the schedule, both winable games.
ASU will probably jump out and take the conference lead once again but until they figure out how to win in the second half the Red Wolves will finish in the middle of the pack once again.
Red Wolve fans won't like to hear this but they will be ripe for a defeat at the hands of Middle Tennesse on November 21st. A long road trip to Florida Atlantic the week before, coupled with MT playing it's 3rd straight conference home game doesn't look promising for Arkansas State. ASU has also pulled it's share of upsets. Louisville will get all they want and then some with the Red Wolves show up.
4. Florida Atlantic Owls
Will the real Rusty Smith please stand up. In 2008 Smith struggled early on and it cost the Owls some games. He was able to rally the troops and win 5 of the final 7 games and earn a trip to the Motor City Bowl.
The Owls have a fantastic coach in Howard Schnellenberger who has won at ever level but can he keep up this pace at age 75? I guess if Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden can so can he, time will tell. FAU finished 3rd in the SBC last year but could have easily won the title. Again, how Smith plays will determine their finish.
Road games against Nebraska and South Carolina won't be fun before returning home for an early SBC matchup against ULM. The last time the Warhawks were in town they pulled the triple overtime upset over the Owls.
If the Owls are going to shock someone they might as well pick week 2 to do it in Columbus, SC. FAU will have 14 days to prepare for the Gamecocks. If the Owls play like they did in the Motor City Bowl it could steal one from the SEC.
5. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
The Blue Raiders could have been rated a bit higher to start the season the schedule is brutal. Trips to Clemson, Maryland, Troy, North Texas, and home games against Memphis and Mississippi State is no picnic to start the season. The Blue Raiders finish the season with three straight home games with a visit to ULM in the finale but by then they will be physically worn out.
Dwight Dasher is the man for MT and as he goes the Blue Raiders will go. He's quick on his feet with great speed and can create problems with his scrambling ability. If he plays above his potential, the Blue Raiders can make a run at the title.
October 17th in a home contest against Mississippi State. With 11 days to prepare for the Bulldogs, MT can pull the upset here. The Blue Raiders are no strangers to knocking off SEC teams either besting Vanderbilt on the road 2 years ago.
6. Florida International Panthers
FIU fans should be excited about their program and this season their football team could be the cinderella of the SBC. The Panthers are not short on talent as they pull from a rich pool of Miami athletes. The question will be can they put it all together where it counts the most.
The schedule is rough and that could be the deciding factor for FIU. Starting the season at Alabama and then Rutgers will be a huge challenge. Four of their first conference games are on the road and if that isn't bad enough, they travel to Florida to take on the Gators before finishing the season against FAU.
October 17th at home against Troy. If the Trojans walk in taking the Panthers lightly it could cost them a loss and the SBC title. FIU won't lay down for Troy and if they can win the turnover battle, they can pull the upset.
7. Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns.
I got three names for you. Tyrell Fenroy, Mike Desormeaux, and Jason Cherry. All three have graduated and all three accounted for 85% of the Cajun offense in 2008. That's tough to overcome for any program and it will take time to replace them.
The Cajuns have recruited well and taken players that fit their system but again it will take time to develop that talent and unfortunatly for Coach Bustle, he doesn't have much of that left on his watch.
The good news is the schedule is not that bad. The Cajuns get Southern and Kansas State at home before hitting the road at LSU and Nebraska. ULL has three straight conference road games at FIU, Arkansas State, and Middle Tennesse. In order to stay in the hunt for the SBC title they will need to win at least one of those games.
Watch out Cornhuskers! If the offense can put it together quickly they can be tough to stop. Kansas State barely escaped back in 2007 giving up over 500 yards of offense to the Cajuns in a narrow victory.
8. North Texas Eagles.
The word coming out of Denton is it's almost time to play kick ball with Dodge ball. Eagle fans want to return to the glory days when they were the team to beat in the SBC winning three straight conference titles.
North Texas went to a pass happy offense in 2008 and put up gobs of yardage but they couldn't stop anyone on defense. After going 1-11 last season the only way you can go is up.
Of all the SBC teams, UNT has the easiest schedule and should be able string together more wins in 2009. Ball State, Ohio, Alabama, and Army highlight the OOC schedule. If they play their cards right the Mean Green can win 3 of those contest. UNT gets MT, ULM, FAU, and WKU at home.
November 21st at home against Army. It's not a big upset but it would be a nice win for the program and could be a swing game for a winning or losing season.
9. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Here come the newcomers, the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky. They won't get a warm welcome from their blue fans from Murfreesboro but should be a fine addition to the SBC. Last season is one to forget as the Toppers finished 2-10 and lost their last 8 games.
Things won't be easy to start 2009 either. A trip to Knoxville to take on Tennessee in week 1 and a week 4 raod trip to Navy will be tough. The home openor will be a challenge as well as South Florida comes to Bowling Green for a showdown.
If they can survive the first 4 weeks the schedule ends with 8 straight SBC opponents. Home opponnets include Central Arkansas, USF, FIU, ULL, Troy, and Arkansas State.
September 26th at Navy. The midshipmen will be sharp and there is no secret what they are going to do. If WKU can jump on them early and get some turnovers they can force Navy into throwing the football.