SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Conference Previews

  Sun Belt

Projected Standings
(Projected overall record in parentheses)
1
  North Texas
   6-1  
(8-4)
2
  Arkansas State
   5-2  
(6-6)
2
  New Mexico State
   5-2  
(6-6)
3
  Middle Tennessee
   5-2  
(5-7)
5
  Louisiana-Monroe
   2-5  
(4-8)
6
  Idaho
   2-5  
(3-9)
6
  Louisiana-Lafayette
   2-5  
(3-9)
8
  Utah State
   1-6  
(2-10)
 

SI.com's Stewart Mandel breaks down the 2003 conference race and predicts the final standings.

North Texas has represented the Sun Belt in the New Orleans Bowl in each of the league's first two years of existence, and the Mean Green are the popular favorites to make it three. Defensive tackle Brandon Kennedy, reigning Sun Belt player of the year, headlines eight returning starters on defense, and quarterback Scott Hall is back after missing most of last season to injury.

A budding rivalry has ensued between North Texas and New Mexico State, which is trying to end the nation's longest bowl drought (43 years). The Aggies, 5-1 in the league a year ago, return quarterback Paul Dombrowski, conference freshman of the year when he ran for 868 yards last season, as well as their top three running backs and entire defensive front.

A surprise team this fall could be Arkansas State, which improved from 2-9 to 6-7 last season and returns nine starters from the nation's 39th-ranked defense.

After going 8-3 and grabbing a share of the conference title in 2001, Middle Tennessee regressed last fall, finishing 4-8. Andrico Hines is a decent dual-threat quarterback, and the Blue Raiders could get back in the mix if the defense improves.

Louisiana-Monroe welcomes ex-Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie, its third head man in 12 months. Former coach Bobby Keasler resigned after three games last season, and replacement Bobby Collins stepped down following an April DWI arrest (he was later acquitted).

Idaho quarterback Brian Lindgren needs a better supporting cast to improve on last year's 2-10 mark. Louisiana-Lafayette returns just five starters from one of the nation's worst offenses a year ago. And Sun Belt newcomer Utah State has almost no experience at quarterback or running back.

 
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