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Sun Belt Conference Preview
by Ben Burns - 08/28/2009
Finding solid, updated information on Sun Belt football is not easy, for bettors or oddsmakers.
So spending time to dig deeper on these lesser-known squads can pay dividends.
"The way to win early in the year is to get a better handle on a team than the average guy on the street," Francis Doyle, betting analyst for Sportsinteraction.com said.
Below are some basic, fundamental information about the Sun Belt. If you can, try to catch an early game on TV, involving the Sun Belt. The more you can find out early on these teams the better you'll be later in the season.
ATS: 22-13 (Home: 7-6. Away: 14-6)
Thing to remember: The Trojans are almost always the most-talented team in the Sun Belt. Osi Umenyora, DeMarcus Ware, Leodis McKelvin are some of the recent high NFL draft picks to come out of Troy.
That's not the case at any other team in the Sun Belt, where first-round draft picks are wishful thinking.
If Troy plays its "A" game, conference competition generally can't keep up. The Trojans are 14-7 ATS in conference play the last three seasons. Remember this is a team that had LSU down 31-3 in the third quarter last year. It's also the team that blew the lead and ended up losing 40-31. You decide which one is more impressive.
Coach Larry Blakeney's team returns only 12 starters this season, but Troy is still the favorite in the Sun Belt.
Bonus note: Remember the name Sidell Corley. He's a big-time defensive line prospect that transferred in from LSU after a pair of family tragedies. His mother was shot and killed in her home in May. A week later, his uncle drowned.
Troy is hoping the NCAA will grant him instant eligibility. Under the circumstances, here's hoping he's allowed to play.
Florida Atlantic Owls
ATS: 20-16-1 (Home: 7-4. Away: 6-7-1)
Thing to remember: The Owls possess the best quarterback in the league in NFL prospect Rusty Smith. But the also have a suspect defense that returns just three starters.
The Owls are 21 1/2-point underdogs in the season opener at Nebraska. They failed to cover big numbers 6 of their last seven games against BCS competition.
Arkansas State Wolves
ATS: 19-27 (Home: 6-9. Away: 8-12)
Thing to remember: If FAU's Smith is the best Sun Belt QB, ASU's senior Corey Leonard is a close second.
All-Conference running back Reggie Arnold and the top two receivers from last year return with Leonard on what should be a pretty explosive offense.
The Wolves follow FAU up to Nebraska to take on the Huskers in weak two.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
ATS: 16-17 (Home: 6-6. Away: 11-10:
Thing to remember: The Blue Raiders return 10 offensive starters, including their entire offensive line. That will help when the travel to Clemson as 19-point underdogs to open the season.
MSTU has stood up nicely to BCS competition the last two seasons. They've covered their last five games against the big boys and upset Maryland last year.
ATS: 21-12 (Home: 6-6. Away: 15-6)
Thing to remember: The Warhawks have new offensive and defensive coordinators. Both have brought in new schemes. ULM is also breaking in a new quarterback in junior Trey Revell.
But, with 17 returning starters, head coach Charlie Weatherbie seems confident.
"I believe this football team has as good of an opportunity as we've had to compete for a Sun Belt Conference championship," Weatherbie told the Monroe News Star.
ULM has a chance to be a very good defensive team, with all-conference players at defensive line, linebacker and at both safety positions.
"This team has 18 seniors on it -- 10 returning starters on defense, eight on offense and our kicker and punter are both back."
ULM is a 40 1/2-point favorite at Texas to start the season. Yikes.
Florida International Panthers
ATS: 17-19 (Home: 7-7. Away: 9-10)
FIU could be the surprise of the conference. Senior quarterback Paul McCall is back for his second season as starter. He's got electric wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and a senior-laden offensive line that returns completely intact.
Take a look at the Golden Panthers in Week 2 at Rutgers, especially if they get clobbered pretty bad at Alabama to open the year.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
ATS: 17-17 (Home: 7-8. Away: 10-9)
Thing to remember: The Ragin' Cajuns lost both superstars off of last year's explosive offense, but do return an offensive line with three all-conference candidates.
Head coach Rickey Bustle's scheme has averaged more than 250 yards rushing the past two seasons.
North Texas Mean Green
ATS: 12-23 (Home: 5-9. Away: 7-14)
Thing to remember: Head coach Todd Dodge had a prolific high school coaching career, but it has not translated over to success at North Texas.
Sixteen starters return to help Dodge try to get things turned around, but there are still major questions marks about this program's overall talent.
The coach's son, redshirt freshman Riley Dodge takes over at quarterback and will have leading rusher Cam Montgomery and an experienced offensive line to assist.
UNT has the potential for its best season under Dodge, but tread carefully.
The Mean Green is getting 17.5 points at Ball State to open the season.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
ATS: 3-7 (Home 0-4. Away: 3-3)
Thing to remember: Entering their second season in D-I (FBS), the Hilltoppers are still a work in progress. Here are a couple ATS numbers for other young programs entering their second year in an FBS conference:
Florida Atlantic: 3-8 in 2005
Florida International: 4-8 in 2006
South Florida: 7-2 in 2002.