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Sun Belt sees fewer money games

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 PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2008 12:39 pm   
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Dothan Eagle
By Drew Champlin

Published: July 26, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — The term “body bag games” is being heard less and less among Sun Belt conference teams.

It’s not only because Sun Belt teams are scheduling less games against high-powered teams that give them several hundred thousand dollars for their budget and a beating on the field, but because the SBC teams are starting to find success.

Last year, SBC teams won three games against BCS schools, as Florida Atlantic knocked off Minnesota at home, Troy beat Oklahoma State at home and UL-Monroe won at Alabama.

FAU, which won the conference title and the New Orleans Bowl, would refer to those pre-conference games as “advanced training” games.

Not anymore, said head coach Howard Schnellenberger at Sun Belt Media Days earlier this week. The Owls are overwhelming favorites to win the league this year, as several key players return.

“We have now retired the term ‘advanced training,’ ” Schnellenberger said. “With Texas, obviously we’ll be a heavy underdog, but we think we’ve got the firepower to where if we go out and play error-free ball and they make a couple of errors, we can come out with a win.”

Though Alabama went 7-6 last year, it was a big-time win in name recognition for the Warhawks.

But ULM can’t hang its hat on that win forever.

“It was a great win for us and a great win for our alums,” ULM head coach Charlie Weatherbie said. “We take great pride in it, but it’s in the past. A man who lives in the past lives in defeat. The good Lord gave you two eyes to look ahead and not look behind.”

Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters said the non-BCS conferences use a power rating on a 120-point scale. Last year, the Sun Belt finished ahead of the Mid-American Conference and was 2.4 points behind Conference USA, the equivalent of one or two wins.

“It demonstrates that our league is getting better and better,” Waters said.

Non-conference games are listed below, except for games against Western Kentucky or Football Championship Series teams.

ARKANSAS STATE

@Texas A&M, Southern Miss, @Memphis, @Alabama

Good chances to win: As the Sun Belt edges closer to Conference USA, it could pass them in power rankings if the Red Wolves beat USM and Memphis.

Watch out for: Alabama. If ULM can win there, ASU could too, though it will be much more difficult to win there in Nick Saban’s second year. Texas A&M might be a better bet.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC

@Texas, UAB, @Michigan State, @Minnesota

Should win: UAB isn’t very good and Owls have them at home.

Watch out for: The other three. A win at Texas would be the biggest in conference history. FAU beat Minnesota last year at home and Michigan State isn’t anything special.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL

@Kansas, @Iowa, South Florida, @Toledo

Watch out for: FIU’s only chance comes at Toledo, but it’s hard to picture a team that’s 1-23 in the last two years even winning that.

UL-LAFAYETTE
@Southern Miss, @Illinois, Kent State, @Kansas State, UTEP

Should win: For head coach Rickey Bustle to feel more secure after a 3-9 season, winning against Kent State at home is a must.

Watch out for: He’ll feel even more secure if the Cajuns can win at Southern Miss and against UTEP, two very winnable games. Kansas State is a lower-tier Big 12 school and a possibility, but Illinois is probably out of the question.

UL-MONROE

@Auburn, Arkansas, @Tulane, @Ole Miss

Should win: There’s another Conference USA opponent that a good Sun Belt school should beat in Tulane.

Watch out for: Ole Miss, but ex-coach Ed Orgeron left Houston Nutt a lot of talent.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE

Maryland, @Kentucky, @Louisville, @Mississippi State

Should win: No gimmes

Watch out for: Maryland. Kudos to A.D. Chris Massaro for getting the Terps in town. It’s a game MTSU has a great chance of winning. The next best chance is at Kentucky. None of those are world-beaters, but Mississippi State could wear the Blue Raiders out and Louisville might have too much firepower.

NORTH TEXAS

@Kansas State, Tulsa, @LSU, @Rice

Watch out for: UNT’s best chance comes at Rice, which is now back to being a CUSA bottom-feeder. Unfortunately, that’s where UNT is, so at least the matchup is fair. CUSA’s Tulsa should win that league and UNT isn’t good enough to compete with LSU or Kansas State on the road.

TROY

@LSU, @Ohio State, @Oklahoma State

Watch out for: Oklahoma State on the road, since Troy beat them badly in Troy last year. Why couldn’t they do it again? Troy could slow LSU’s offense down, but could also have a tough time scoring against LSU’s NFL-ready defense.

WESTERN KENTUCKY

@Indiana, @Kentucky, @Virginia Tech, Ball State

The Hilltoppers are in the Sun Belt Conference, but their games don’t count in the standings and they aren’t eligible for a title or bowl game until 2009.

Best chances to win: Ball State is a good MAC team with a high-powered offense, but WKU’s got some weapons back too and they get BSU at home. Indiana’s tough on the road for WKU, but several Big 10 teams are better.


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