No. 87 Middle Tennessee (8-4)
Coach Rick Stockstill (eighth season, 43-44 at MTSU, 43-44 overall)
Returning Starters: 18, 9 offense, 8 defense, 1 special teams
Recruiting Rank: 90
Strength of Schedule: 121
The Blue Raiders enter Conference USA after 13 seasons in the Sun Belt. Coach Rick Stockstill led MTSU to three bowl games in seven up-and-down seasons. Despite an 8-4 record in 2012 – with wins over ACC foe Georgia Tech and Sun Belt champion Western Kentucky, the Raiders were not invited to a bowl game. C-USA’s bowl tie-ins are a major reason why MTSU made the move.
Because of a solid defense, the Raiders could be a contender in the East. MTSU returns its top three leading tacklers in linebackers Craig Allen and Roderic Blunt and safety Kevin Byard. Linebacker Leighton Gasque and defensive end Shubert Bastien were also disruptive players and among the team leaders in sacks and tackles for loss. The Raiders were plus-10 in turnover ratio, another reason they won eight games despite allowing 28 points per game.
Redshirt senior quarterback Logan Kilgore takes care of the ball. He threw for over 2,500 yards last season with 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions. In 25 career starts, Kilgore has 5,342 passing yards with 35 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
The Raiders also return leading rusher Jordan Parker, who ran for 851 yards and three scores. But gone is running back Benny Cunningham, who led the team with 11 touchdowns. MTSU returns four starters on the offensive line including experienced junior OG Josh Walker.
Kilgore is also without his top receiver, Anthony Amos, who caught 72 passes for 992 yards and seven touchdowns a season ago. Kyle Griswould is the top returning receiver after posting 45 receptions for 531 yards and three scores. Griswould and Jared Singletary will likely again be the team’s top kick returners.
Stockstill’s 2013 recruiting class includes five receivers – including three JuCo transfers. Juniors Ed’Marques Batties, Devin Clarke and Chris Perkins could all help to improve an offense that average just better than 26 points per game.
PPG: 26.6 (77th)
YPG: 392.8 (67th)
RYPG: 176.7 (47th)
PYPG: 216.1 (78th)
Fum Lost: 10
Int Lost: 8
TOs Lost: 18
PAPG: 28.0 (62nd)
YAPG: 441.3 (95th)
RYAPG: 188.7 (86th)
PYAPG: 252.6 (92nd)
Fum Gained: 16
Int Gained: 12
TOs Gained: 28
TO Margin: +10 (19th)
2012 season stats listed unless otherwise noted.
OG Josh Walker
r-Jr. 6-5 323
21 career starts.
RB Jordan Parker
So 6-1 220
851 rush yds, 5.1 avg, & 3 rush TDs.
S Kevin Byard
r-So 5-11 216
74 tackles, 2 FFs, & 4 ints.
vs McNeese L 27-21
vs Florida Atl W 31-17
at Memphis W 48-30
at Ga Tech W 49-28
vs ULM L31-17
at FIU W 34-30
at Miss St L 45-3
vs N Texas W 38-21
at WKentucky W34-29
at S Alabama W 20-12
vs Troy W 24-21
at Arkansas St L 45-0
vs West Carolina
at North Carolina
at Florida Atlantic
vs East Carolina
at North Texas
at Southern Miss
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The 2012 season looks to be a competitive one for the Sun Belt conference. All teams except one bring back starting quarterbacks. The Sun Belt is mostly loaded with offense, but is sprinkled with some defense like that of FIU (14th nationally in points allowed per game). Expect highly talented quarterbacks, Ryan Aplin of Arkansas State and Blaine Gautier of Louisiana-Lafayette, to both light up the field again this season.
Of course, the Sun Belt is not near the power of a major BCS conference, but they may be able to inch their way up over the next couple years and be one of the better non-BCS conferences. It is realistic to think that they may have a team ranked in the top 25 either this season or next with up-coming teams like Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and the pre-mentioned FIU. Just last season, five non-BCS teams finished in a top 25 poll ending for 2011 (Boise State, TCU, Houston, Southern Mississippi, and BYU).
Here is a summary of each Sun Belt team including programs entering and leaving the conference in 2013. Team name, record, points per game, and points allowed per game are listed from 2011 above each team's notes. There are loads of information given along with the notes and more after the breakdowns of the teams.
Arkansas State Red Wolves, 10-3 PPG 32.5 PAPG 20.8
Arkansas State has high hopes for 2012 after a Sun Belt conference championship and bowl game appearance last season. Even though former head coach Hugh Freeze is now with Ole Miss, his replacement Arkansas native Gus Malzahn is more than capable after helping the Auburn Tigers win a national title in 2010 as an offensive coordinator.
Malzahn should not have many problems with the offensive weapons in place under his high powered fast-paced system, but there are some gaps that need filled on the offensive line and on the other side of the ball where the defense is depleted. Incoming recruits should help with both, but a learning curve can be expected especially with a tough early schedule (Oregon & Nebraska).
The Red Wolves have the preseason offensive player of the year as nominated by the coaches, quarterback Ryan Aplin (4,176 total yards & 29 TDs in 2011). He should fit in well under Malzahn's system, but it will still be a challenge to get to double digit wins. Also, tailback Michael Dyer will not be eligible to play until 2013. The running game and young defense will have to step up for them to repeat as conference champions.Returning Starters:
Specialists 0Impact Players:
QB Ryan Aplin 6'1 205 Sr-R
WR Josh Jarboe 6'3 215 Sr
WR Taylor Stockemer 6'4 210 Sr-R
OL Zack McKnight 6'4 300 Sr-R
LB Nathan Herrold 6'3 225 Sr-R
DB Don Jones 6'1 208 Sr Top Recruits:
LB Eddie Porter 6'3 230 Juco (4.6 sec 40-yard dash
OG Michael Flint 6'3 297
OT Jemar Clark 6'6 305
Head coach Gus Malzahn discusses recruiting in Arkansas.
Sept. 1 @ Oregon
Sept. 8 vs Memphis
Sept. 15 @ Nebraska
Sept. 22 vs Alcorn State
Sept. 29 vs Western Kentucky
Oct. 4 @ FIU
Oct. 13 vs South Alabama
Oct. 23 @ Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov. 3 @ North Texas
Nov. 8 vs Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 17 @ Troy
Dec. 1 vs Middle Tennessee
Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns, 9-4 PPG 32.3 PAPG 29.8
The Ragin' Cajuns rage into the 2012 season looking for more national respect and to continue the momentum that was built at the end of last season off the New Orleans Bowl victory.
After 9-4 in his first season at Louisiana-Lafayette, head coach Mark Hudspeth said, "We still aren’t getting near the respect that we want to get .... we are still picked in the 80s, 90s in one poll. ...We want to move way up in the rankings. Winning and winning consistently year in and year out, you can improve that national respect. As a program that is what you want.”
Quarterback Blaine Gautier put up big numbers in the New Orleans Bowl against San Diego State (492 total yards) and played well most of last season once taking the helm as starting QB (3,444 total yards in 2011). The defense will have to improve though as evident by the 400 yards and 29.8 points allowed per game in 2011.
The Ragin' Cajuns already have a strong fan base. They had the largest attendance increase in the NCAA last season and set a New Orleans Bowl game attendance record at 42,841. The home field advantage may help them win the conference championship with pivotal games against FIU and Arkansas State at home.Returning Starters:
Special Teams: 2Impact Players:
QB Blaine Gautier 6'0 212 Sr
RB Alonzo Harris 6'1 220 So
WR Javone Lawson 6'1 183 Sr
OL Leonardo Bates 6'5 296 Sr
CB Melvin White 6'3 191 Sr
K/P Brett Baer 5'11 182 SrTop Recruits:
QB Brooks Haack 6'1 190 (4.7 sec 40-yard dash
DE Jalen Fields 6'5 280
LB Tyren Alexander 6'1 200
Quarterback Blaine Gautier talks about improving during the offseason.
Sept. 1 vs Lamar
Sept. 8 @ Troy
Sept. 15 @ Oklahoma State
Sept. 29 vs FIU
Oct. 6 vs Tulane
Oct. 16 @ North Texas
Oct. 23 vs Arkansas State
Nov. 3 vs Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 10 @ Florida
Nov. 17 vs Western Kentucky
Nov. 24 vs South Alabama
Dec. 1 @ Florida Atlantic
FIU Panthers, 8-5 PPG 25.0 PAPG 19.5
FIU has by far the best defense in the Sun Belt. The question will be if their defense can maintain the onslaught by the high scoring offenses through conference play in order to win the Sun Belt championship in 2012.
The Panthers did gain their first win against a BCS school in a 24-17 victory over Louisville last September. This year's schedule could set them up for a top 25 ranking by season's end since they have winnable games against good out of conference opponents.
Head coach Mario Cristobal became a hot commodity in coaching once he took the Panthers to consecutive bowl appearances, but he did recently receive a five year contract extension from the school
The Panthers have loads of experience returning, but they lost two year starting quarterback Wesley Carroll. They do have an offensive threat in running back Kedrick Rhodes which rushed for 1,121 yards last season. Defensive end Tourek Williams and safety Jonathan Cyprien lead an aggressive defense into 2012 that tallied 35 sacks in 2011.
FIU is the favorite by many experts to win the conference championship. This is their last season in the Sun Belt and they should go out strong.Returning Starters:
Specialists: 2Impact Players:
S Jonathan Cyprien 6'0 210 Sr
OT Caylin Hauptmann 6'4 312 Sr
RB Kedrick Rhodes 5'11 190 Jr
WR Wayne Times 5'11 188 Sr
DE Tourek Williams 6'4 255 Sr
DT Isame Faciane 6'3 295 Jr
LB Winston Fraser 6'1 232 SrTop Recruits:
DT Darrian Dyson 6'3 300
WR DeAndre Jasper 5'11 180 (4.39 sec 40-yard dash
Head coach Mario Cristobal talks offense and defense.
Sept. 1 @ Duke
Sept. 8 vs Akron
Sept. 15 @ UCF
Sept. 22 vs Louisville
Sept. 29 @ Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 4 vs Arkansas State
Oct. 13 vs Middle Tennessee
Oct. 20 @ Troy
Oct. 27 vs Western Kentucky
Nov. 3 @ South Alabama
Nov. 16 @ Florida Atlantic
Nov. 24 vs Lousiana-Monroe
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, 7-5 PPG 22.9 PAPG 24.8
The Hilltoppers were bowl eligible in 2011, but were still not selected for post season play. They hope to bridge that small gap from bowl eligible to bowl invitee this season.
When head coach Willie Taggart (former Stanford running backs coach) was asked if he had found his Andrew Luck, he jokingly replied, "I'll let you know when I do. I don't need Andrew Luck just a little luck."
However, Taggart did lose his Bobby Rainey which rushed for 4,542 career yards and 1,695 yards with 13 rushing touchdowns just last season. Right guard Adam Smith does return and he recorded an awesome 112 pancake blocks in 12 games.
Taggart does have an offensive weapon and solid player in tight end Jack Doyle. The tall 6'6 tight end had 614 receiving yards in 2011 and is on the John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List.
Linebacker Andrew Jackson was a standout on defense in 2011 by leading the team with 109 total tackles and 17 tackles for loss. Jackson is on multiple preseason watch lists: Rotary Lombardi Award, Butkus Award, and Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
The Hilltoppers are a good team, but they have a lot of tough road games that could leave them out of the bowl hunt or hovering somewhere around contention. Returning Starters:
Specialists: 1Impact Players:
TE Jack Doyle 6'6 251 Sr
OG Adam Smith 6'5 322 Sr
LB Andrew Jackson 6'1 262 Jr
DL Quanterus Smith 6'5 251 SrTop Recruits:
DT Tyrone Pearson 6'3 275 (4.8 sec 40-yard dash
Tight end Jack Doyle speaks on playing football and about his quarterback Kawaun Jakes.
Sept. 1 vs Austin Peay
Sept. 8 @ Alabama
Sept. 15 @ Kentucky
Sept. 22 vs Southern Mississippi
Sept. 29 @ Arkansas State
Oct. 11 @ Troy
Oct. 20 vs Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 27 @ FIU
Nov. 1 vs Middle Tennessee
Nov. 10 vs Florida Atlantic
Nov. 17 @ Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov. 24 vs North Texas
Troy Trojans, 3-9 PPG 22.4 PAPG 33.7
After a disappointing season, the Troy Trojans should rebound well in 2012 under long tenured head coach Larry Blakeney. The Trojans have a very solid quarterback in Corey Robinson and if the defense can improve, they should be able to win some more games.
In 2011, Robinson had 3,411 passing yards with 21 touchdowns, but also threw 15 interceptions. Blakeney acknowledged the rough season for his quarterback, "We had some bad times and he had some tough moments."
Troy had their worst season last year since joining the Sun Belt and the defense was terrible. They allowed an atrocious 465 yards and 33.7 points per game in 2011. Relying on running back Shawn Southward may help take the pressure off of Robinson and the defense. Southward had 805 total yards in 2011 and is on the Doak Walker Award Watch List.
The Trojans should win a couple more games than last season, but they may not be back to post season play in 2012. It will be a close call and interesting to watch, but having Louisiana-Lafayette, FIU, and Arkansas State all at home may also give them the opportunity to have a complete turnaround. Returning Starters:
Specialists: 0Impact Players:
QB Corey Robinson 6'2 209 Jr
DB Brynden Trawick 6'2 221 Sr
DE Tony Davis 6'0 249 Sr
WR Eric Thomas 6'1 209 Jr
RB Shawn Southward 5'9 192 SrTop Recruits:
WR Brandon Brooks 6'0 185 (4.5 sec 40-yard dash
RB Andre Allen 5'9 180
Head coach Larry Blakeney discusses the play of quarterback Corey Robinson.
Sept. 1 @UAB
Sept. 8 vs Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 15 vs Mississippi State
Sept. 22 @ North Texas
Sept. 29 @ South Alabama
Oct. 11 vs Western Kentucky
Oct. 20 vs FIU
Oct. 27 @ Florida Atlantic
Nov. 3 @ Tennessee
Nov. 10 vs Navy
Nov. 17 vs Arkansas State
Nov. 24 @ Middle Tennessee
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, 4-8 PPG 24.6 PAPG 25.4
After a bad stint at Army, head coach Todd Berry is 9-15 so far with Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks are led by dual threat quarterback Kolton Browning (2,926 total yards) and he hopes to continue to improve under coach Berry's offensive system.
According to coach Berry, this is his "most athletic" defense at ULM and his quarterback Browning suffered a broken sternum last year in which he played through.
As the same for many other Sun Belt teams, the season does not open well with tough out of conference games at Arkansas and Auburn followed by a game against Baylor at home. The Warhawks have the toughest overall schedule for a Sun Belt team with ranked 76 on the CFU strength of schedule
ULM will improve, but by enough to go to a bowl game is questionable. They will likely fall a win shy of a bowl appearance. Returning Starters: 15
Specialists: 2Impact Players:
QB Kolton Browning 6'1 198 Jr
WR Brent Leonard 6'2 185 Sr
LB Cameron Blakes 6'1 230 Sr
S Isaiah Newsome 5'11 198 JrTop Recruits:LB Austin Moss 6'2 224 Juco (4.61 sec 40-yard dash)DB Lenzy Pipkins 6'1 180 (4.45 sec 40-yard dash)
Head coach Todd Berry talks about skill players on offense and some about the defense.
Sept. 8 @ Arkansas
Sept. 15 @ Auburn
Sept. 21 vs Baylor
Sept. 29 @ Tulane
Oct. 6 @ Middle Tennessee
Oct. 13 vs Florida Atlantic
Oct. 20 @ Western Kentucky
Oct. 27 vs South Alabama
Nov. 3 vs Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov. 8 @ Arkansas State
Nov. 17 vs North Texas
Nov. 24 @ FIU
North Texas Mean Green, 5-7 PPG 24.8 PAPG 30.7
North Texas is another team along with FIU that will be departing the Sun Belt for Conference USA after the 2012 season. The Mean Green will want to go out strong after a mediocre 5-7 last year.
In February, head coach Dan McCarney suffered a mild stroke, but has since recovered. The win total last season was the best for the Mean Green since 2004 and they won three of their final five games.
The out of conference schedule for North Texas is brutal. Their season starts at Death Valley versus the CFU number one team, LSU
. They also have to play at Kansas State and Houston. However, they do not have to play FIU in conference this season.
North Texas has a somewhat inconsistent quarterback in Derek Thompson, but they do have a consistently good offensive line led by Cyril Lemon. On defense, the Mean Green bring back a strong linebacker core led by Zach Orr (74 tackles & 7 tackles for loss). Punter Will Atterberry has also been named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List for 2012.
It will be difficult for North Texas to improve on their 5-7 record from a year ago. They may come close to bowl eligibility, but will most likely come up short once again.Returning Starters:
Specialists: 2Impact Players:
QB Derek Thompson 6'4 220 Jr
P Will Atterberry 5'11 199 Sr
WR Brelan Chancellor 5'9 177 Jr
LB Zach Orr 6'0 231 Jr
OL Cyril Lemon 6'3 313 SoTop Recruits:
OL Boone Feldt 6'3 276 (5 sec 40-yard dash & 315 bench
Despite missing the final three games due to injury, linebacker Zach Orr led the team in tackles with 74.
Sept. 1 @ LSU
Sept. 8 vs Texas Southern
Sept. 15 @ Kansas State
Sept. 22 vs Troy
Sept. 29 @ Florida Atlantic
Oct. 6 @ Houston
Oct. 16 vs Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 27 @ Middle Tennessee
Nov. 3 vs Arkansas State
Nov. 10 vs South Alabama
Nov. 17 @ Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 24 @ Western Kentucky
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, 2-10 PPG 22.3 PAPG 36.8
The Blue Raiders should be better after a dismal season in 2011 that finished with only two wins. Their solid running game should help them garner more victories this year.
Defensive end Omar McLendon said, "This year is a clean slate and we just have a lot to prove." They have to after finishing 110th in points allowed per game. The defense at least has to be respectable in 2012 after allowing 30 points or more in nine games and 40 points or more in five games for the 2011 season.
Logan Kilgore can be a suitable quarterback, but still needs to get better. The rushing attack should continue to improve with bringing back their top two rushers in William Pratcher and Benjamin Cunningham as well as LSU transfer Drayton Calhoun will be eligible to play. However, the offensive line has limited experience other than Alex Stuart and Josh Walker.
Head coach Rick Stockstill was 16-10 in two seasons (2009 & 2010) before going 2-10 last year. The Blue Raiders should easily improve by a couple wins, but going to a bowl game will be more challenging. Returning Starters:
Specialists: 1Impact Players:
RB Benny Cunningham 5'10 205 Sr
QB Logan Kilgore 6'3 199 Jr
DE Omar McLendon 6'3 242 Sr
DT Jimmy Staten 6'4 300 Jr
OL Alex Stuart 6'2 303 Sr-RTop Recruits:
CB Demetrius Frazier 5'10 180 (4.5 sec 40-yard dash 345 squat
Defensive end Omar McLendon talks about the Blue Raiders coming back after a disappointing season.
Aug. 30 vs McNeese State
Sept. 8 vs Florida Atlantic
Sept. 15 @ Memphis
Sept. 29 @ Georgia Tech
Oct. 6 vs Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 13 @ FIU
Oct. 20 @ Mississippi State
Oct. 27 vs North Texas
Nov. 1 @ Western Kentucky
Nov. 17 @ South Alabama
Nov. 24 vs Troy
Dec. 1 @ Arkansas State
Florida Atlantic Owls 1-11 PPG 12.9 PAPG 34.7
The Owls were one of the worst teams in college football in 2011 and it will take time for them to improve. The team was annihilated while going 1-11 with almost no close games.
New head coach Carl Pelini will need to instill some of the "blackshirt" mentality from Nebraska to help Florida Atlantic climb out of the enormous hole they are in.
FAU had their worst record ever last season and just about anything would be an improvement. They do have one of the top linebackers and tacklers in the conference with David Hinds which should help give them a decent base on defense.Returning Starters:
Special Teams: 2Impact Players:
LB David Hinds 6'2 234 Sr
OL Joe Bailey 6'5 290 Sr-R
WR DeAndre Richardson 6'2 180 Jr-R
DB Keith Reaser 6'0 175 Jr-RTop Recruits:
CB Tony Grimes 6'0 175 Juco (4.5 sec 40-yard dash
New head coach Carl Pelini was the defensive coordinator at Nebraska for four seasons. He was also a nominee for the Frank Broyles Assistant Coach Award in 2009 and 2010.
Aug. 31 vs Wagner
Sept. 8 @ Middle Tennessee
Sept. 15 @ Georgia
Sept. 22 @ Alabama
Sept. 29 vs North Texas
Oct. 13 @ Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 20 @ South Alabama
Oct. 27 vs Troy
Nov. 3 @ Navy
Nov. 10 @ Western Kentucky
Nov. 16 vs FIU
Dec. 1 vs Louisiana-Lafayette
South Alabama Jaguars, 6-4 PPG 24.4 PAPG 21.7
The Jaguars have won a lot of games early on in the program's existence, but despite going 6-4 last season, USA did lose to a 3-8 Georgia State in overtime 27 to 20 so their record may be a little deceiving.
Running and defense will need to be the game plan for the Jaguars since they appear to be limited in the passing game. Quarterback CJ Bennett had a horrible touchdown to intereception ratio at 7-17.
In the running game, the stats are almost evenly distributed among tailbacks Kendall Houston (558 rush yards 8 TDs) and Demetre Baker (491 rush yards 9 TDs). They also have a disciplined offensive lineman in Trey Clark that graded out at 90 percent versus Tennessee Martin last season.
This will be the toughest year as of yet for the Jaguars and most likely, their first losing season in the program's young history.
Returning Starters: 15
C Trey Clark 6'1 270 Sr
S Charles Harris 6'1 200 Sr
LB Jake Johnson 6'1 230 Sr
LB Enrique Williams 6'0 235 Jr
DL/TE Paul Kyles 6'3 255
South Alabama is 23-4 in three seasons of competition and was 17-0 in the first two seasons.
Aug. 30 vs Texas-San Antonio
Sept. 8 vs Nicholls State
Sept. 15 @ NC State
Sept. 22 @ Mississippi State
Sept. 29 vs Troy
Oct. 13 @ Arkansas State
Oct. 20 vs Florida Atlantic
Oct. 27 @ Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 3 vs FIU
Nov. 10 @ North Texas
Nov. 17 vs Middle Tennessee
Nov. 24 @ Louisiana-Lafayette
Dec. 1 @ Hawaii
Texas State Bobcats, 6-6 PPG 25.5 PAPG 28.5
Dennis Franchione has a record of 193-107-2 as a head coach in 26 years and the Bobcats were 6-6 last season, but they were not competitive against the two FBS teams they faced (Texas Tech & Wyoming).
Big tight end Chase Harper did make it on the John Mackey Award Watch List, but running back Marcus Curry should be the primary option on offense (756 total yards & four touchdowns in 2011).
The Bobcats now have 11 FBS teams on schedule and the transition will be tough. They will be playing in the WAC this season before moving to the Sun Belt in 2013.Returning Starters:
Specialists: 1Impact Players:
LB Joplo Bartu 6'2 230 Sr
RB Marcus Curry 5'11 210 Sr
TE Chase Harper 6'5 260 Sr
DB Darryl Morris 5'10 185 SrTop Recruits:
CB Justin Albritton 5'11 185 (4.4 sec 40-yard dash
OL Adrian Bellard 6'5 310
Head coach Dennis Franchione has a 19-15 record in his three years at Texas State.
Sept. 1 @ Houston
Sept. 8 vs Texas Tech
Sept. 22 vs Stephen F. Austin State
Sept. 29 vs Nevada
Oct. 6 @ New Mexico
Oct. 13 vs Idaho
Oct. 27 @ San Jose State
Nov. 3 @ Utah State
Nov. 10 vs Louisiana Tech
Nov. 17 @ Navy
Nov. 24 @ UTSA
Dec. vs New Mexico State
Georgia State Panthers, 3-8 PPG 22.6 PAPG 31.2
Georgia State is a young program which just began in 2010 led by experienced head coach Bill Curry. There have been growing pains thus far.
The Panthers had a difficult time being competitive in 2011 and only won three games in a schedule against mostly non-FBS opponents. They do not play in the Sun Belt until 2013, but it will be a jump in competition when they do.
The offensive line lost four starters, but most of the talent on the team is in the skill positions. Running back Donald Russell and wide receiver Albert Wilson highlight the offense. In 2011, Russell rushed for 665 yards with nine touchdowns while Wilson had 772 receiving yards with six touchdowns.
With the support behind the program and the location of playing in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome, the team should eventually stabilize into playing competitive football on the FBS level.
Returning Starters: 12
LB Mark Hogan 5'11 220 Jr
RB Donald Russell 5'11 212 Sr
WR Danny Williams 6'4 200 Sr
WR Albert Wilson 5'9 195 Jr
OL Garrett Gorringe 6'4 280
Head Coach Bill Curry, "It is tough to compete and win in today's world of football... Our guys have to work out year round now. I was not aware that it was this demanding on this generation, but it is so we are demanding more and more to show and have a quantum improvement."
Aug. 30 vs South Carolina State
Sept. 8 @ Tennessee
Sept. 15 vs Texas San-Antonio
Sept. 22 vs Richmond
Sept. 29 @ William & Mary
Oct. 6 vs New Hampshire
Oct. 13 @ Rhode Island
Oct. 20 vs Villanova
Oct. 27 @ James Madison
Nov. 3 vs Old Dominion
Nov. 10 @ Maine
Conference Outlook & Predictions
The losses of FIU and North Texas to Conference USA will hurt the Sun Belt. Georgia State, South Alabama, and Texas State will all have a rough start, but eventually will evolve into competitive Sun Belt teams. Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Western Kentucky have to maintain success to make up the slack of the departures. It would also help if Troy or Middle Tennessee can return to winning ways.
Of the teams projected to not have winning records, Western Kentucky appears to be the strongest team and could get some more unexpected wins to give them a winning record. Louisiana-Monroe, North Texas, Troy, and Middle Tennessee all may flirt with bowl eligibility. Florida Atlantic really has no chance and the new teams coming over to the Sun Belt in 2013 are not competitive enough yet to vie for a bowl game.
The Sun Belt will probably have three bowl teams in 2012. There is a longshot chance of some big non-conference wins that could lead to more, but they could also beat up on each other leading to the records being more even which is a definite possibility.
Even though projected at 11-1, FIU could easily lose a couple more games, same goes for Louisiana-Lafayette. I projected Arkansas State as winning eight games due to tough road conference games against FIU and Louisiana-Lafayette, but there is still a good chance they could win one of the two and retain the Sun Belt championship.
1. FIU 11-1*
2. Louisiana-Lafayette 10-2 (conference champion)
3. Arkansas State 8-4
4. Western Kentucky 5-7
5. Louisiana-Monroe 5-7
6. North Texas 5-7*
7. Troy 4-8
8. Middle Tennessee 4-8
9. Georgia State 3-9**
10. Florida Atlantic 2-10
11. South Alabama 2-10**
12. Texas State 2-10**
*exits Sun Belt in 2013 to join Conference USA
**joins Sun Belt in 2013. South Alabama plays Sun Belt schedule in 2012, but will not be eligible for championship until 2013.
1. Arkansas State
4. Western Kentucky
6. North Texas*
8. Middle Tennessee
9. Florida Atlantic
10. Texas State**
11. Georgia State**
12. South Alabama**
Bowl Game Winning Percentage (Since 2007):
Conf., W-L, %
MWC, 17-8 .680
SEC, 30-16 .652
Big East, 18-10
Big 12, 22-17 .564
Sun Belt, 6-5 .545
Pac-12, 15-14 .517
C-USA, 14-15 .483
Big Ten, 15-25 .375
ACC, 15-27 .357
MAC, 7-15 .318
WAC, 6-14 .300
The Sun Belt was 1-2 in bowls last season.
Ragin Cajuns dramatic win in New Orleans Bowl
2012 Preseason Sun Belt Poll
As voted on by the league's 10 head coaches. First place votes in parentheses.
1. FIU 92 (5)
2. Arkansas State 85 (2)
3. Louisiana Lafayette 81 (2)
4. WKU 70 (1)
5. Troy 60
6. Louisiana Monroe 47
7. Middle Tennessee 42
8. North Texas 36
9. Florida Atlantic 23
10. South Alabama 14
Arkansas State Quarterback Ryan Aplin on Offseason Work Outs
2012 Preseason All-Sun Belt Team
As voted on by the league's 10 head coaches and selected media members.
QB Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State, Sr.
RB Kedrick Rhodes, FIU, Jr.
RB Alonzo Harris, Louisiana-Lafayette, So.
WR Josh Jarboe, Arkansas State, Sr.
WR Javone Lawson, Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr.
WR Eric Thomas, Troy, Jr.
TE Jack Doyle, WKU, Sr.
OL Zach McKnight, Arkansas State, Sr.
OL Rupert Bryan, FIU, Sr.
OL Caylin Hauptmann, FIU, Sr.
OL Leonardo Bates, Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr.
OL Cyril Lemon, North Texas, So.
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year:
QB Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State, Sr.
DL Isame Faciane, FIU, Jr.
DL Tourek Williams, FIU, Sr.
DL Tony Davis, Troy, Sr.
DL Quanterus Smith, WKU, Sr.
LB Winston Frazier, FIU, Sr.
LB Andrew Jackson, WKU, Jr.
DB Don Jones, Arkansas State, Sr.
DB Jonathan Cyprien, FIU, Sr.
DB Melvin White, Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr.
DB Brynden Trawick, Troy, Sr.
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year:
DL Tourek Williams, FIU, Sr.
PK Brett Baer, Louisiana Lafayette, Sr.
P Will Atterberry, North Texas, Sr.
Return Specialist John Evans, WKU, So.
Returning Individual Leaders
Top 5 Rush Yards Per Game
1. Kedrick Rhodes, FIU 88.4
2. Benjamin Cunningham*, Middle Tenn 62.6
3. Alonzo Harris, UL-Lafayette 58.3
4. Jyruss Edwards, ULM 55.6
5. William Pratcher, Middle Tenn 48.8
*Played only eight games.
Top 5 Receiving Yards Per Game
1. Javone Lawson, UL-Lafayette 84.0
2. Eric Thomas, Troy 72.9
3. Brent Leonard, ULM 62.6
4. Taylor Stockemer, Arkansas St 58.2
5. Harry Peoples, UL-Lafayette 58.1
Top 5 Tackles
1. Brynden Trawick, Troy 123
2. David Hinds, Florida Atlantic 110
3. Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky 109
4. Randell Johnson, Florida Atlantic 92
5. Andrae Kirk, Florida Atlantic 87
Top 5 Pass Efficiency
1. Blaine Gautier, UL-Lafayette 153.6
2. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas St 133.6
3. Corey Robinson, Troy 126.3
4. Derek Thompson, North Texas 121.0
5. Logan Kilgore, Middle Tenn 119.7
Top 5 Total Offense Per Game
1. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas St 321.2
2. Corey Robinson, Troy 277.8
3. Blaine Gautier, UL-Lafayette 264.9
4. Kolton Browning, ULM 243.8
5. Logan Kilgore, Middle Tenn 212.5
Top 5 Sacks
1. Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky 7.5
2. Leighton Gasque, Middle Tenn 7
3. Greg Hickman, FIU 5
4. Randell Johnson, Florida Atlantic 5
5. Brandon McCoy, North Texas 4.5
5. Tourek Williams, FIU 4.5