2013-07-29 06:00

So here I am again.

Sorry for the long gap but there did not much happen worth spending my unpaid time to write about in the world of college football.
The programs did do their spring routines and did sharpen their roster line-ups.

Of cause some players did leave or did join, but that's happening and I will cover notable changes in my preview.

That's right; I decided to do some previews on the teams and conferences.
Last year I started those in another blog, but it did not created much attention, so I decided to spend my time with something else.
When Peter ask me later if I would like to do my blog here at RZA it was too late to do the whole previews, so I started more or less with the first gameday.

Hmmm. Let's just start with the weakest conferences and at first I have to cover the

Western Athletic Conference
The WAC did basically stopped supporting football after so many football playing schools left that a regular conference schedule was no longer possible.
I did write about that in the offseason.
So .. nothing to preview here.
I will note the former WAC teams in the other previews.

That was easy. Now starts the real work.

Sun Belt Conference
You can argue regarding the strength of the conference, if they are worth the first preview (as the weakest) conference, but as long as they don't get a better standing in the FBS world, they stay at the bottom of my list, even if I expect a different conference to compete for the weakest conference title in 2013.

Teams added 2013:
Texas State (from the WAC)
Georgia State (former FCS)

Teams lost 2013:
Florida International (to CUSA)
Florida Atlantic (to CUSA)
North Texas (to CUSA)
Middle Tennessee State (to CUSA)

The future does not look that bad, even if they have to play at the moment with only 8 teams in football. They will get 4 additional teams (Idaho and New Mexico State (former WAC, this year as Independent) and Appalachian State and Georgia Southern (at the moment FCS, but they will advance to the FBS next season).
But they will also lose another one (Western Kentucky will leave also to the CUSA in 2014), so the conference is far from being out of trouble.

But ... this season there are 8 Teams:
Arkansas State University (ASU) Red Wolves
Georgia State University (GSU) Panthers
University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) Ragin’ Cajuns
University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) Warhawks
University of South Alabama (USA) Jaguars
Texas State University – San Marcos (TSU) Bobcats
Troy University Trojans
Western Kentucky University (WKU) Hilltoppers

Now let's get a bit into the details:

Arkansas State Red Wolves
They had a bit of bad luck with good coaches the last two years.
They were too successful and too good to stay at ASU.
Hugh Freeze did leave to Ole Miss after one year at ASU and his successor Guz Malzahn did leave to Auburn, also after one year at ASU.
In both seasons did assistance coaches led the teams to Bowls and did WIN!
This year the former Texas Longhorns OC Bryan Harsin is the new head coach and we will see if the Red Wolves will win the SBC again.

Non-Conference games are against: Arkansas–Pine Bluff (FCS), @Auburn, @Memphis, @Missouri and Idaho.
Auburn (against their former HC) and Mizzou will be probably too much, but the rest can be won.

This team will probably be Bowl worthy again this season, but as a SBC-team you have to be lucky to get a Bowl spot, if you are not first or second place.
I doubt they will crack the TOP 3 this year, but that's what I thought about them last year, too.

Georgia State Panthers
This Team did come from the FCS and they will probably have a very hard time to adjust.
Last year they had a 1-10 record, they have a new head coach and they will have to face BETTER opponents than last year.
That doesn't sound that promising, right?
They hired Trent Miles, former head coach of Indiana State (FCS) to start the new FBS era.
He did turn Indiana State from a 0-12 team into a 7-4 team in 5 seasons.
Not that bad, but we will have to wait what that means for Georgia State.

Non-Conference games are against: Samford (FCS), Chattanooga (FCS), @West Virginia, Jacksonville State (FCS) and @Alabama.
The three FCS games are at home and could mean some wins this season; those away games against WV and the Crimson Tide are waaaaaaaaaaaay out of their league.

This team will probably be the bottom line of the SBC. They are a bit lucky to play in a Conference which has with South Alabama and Texas State two programs which were new on the FBS level last season.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Yeah! I don't know why, but I love that team.
They have with Mark Hudspeth a coach with now two seasons behind him as head coach and normally you expect big things happening after that time.
He had in both seasons a 9-4 record including two Bowl wins.

Non-Conference games are against: @Arkansas, @Kansas State, Nicholls State (FCS), @Akron and New Mexico State.
This looks like the typical year for the Cajuns. The SEC and Big 12 Teams will probably too much, the three remaining games do look manageable or even like sure win.

So it will again come down to the inner conference games and because of the new teams from this year and last year, they will definitely play again for the SBC championship.
They might again come up short, but for sure they will be Bowl eligible and inside the TOP 3.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
They did surprise me very much last year. Basically twice last season.
First time was their season start. They won against Arkansas (when everybody still thought Arkansas could beat supposed to be weaker teams with half of the team sleeping), then they lost barely against Auburn and Baylor.
Not too bad!
They marched from win to win after that until in November they start losing the crucial games and did throw their chances for the SBC championship away. Their starting QB did not play for some games and that was the result.
It was the second surprise.
They also lost their Bowl game (first EVER Bowl game in school history) against a (very strong) Ohio team.
Todd Berry is now in his 4th season and last season was his first winning season with the Warhawks.
It will be interesting to see, if they escape that November crush from last year and come up big this time.
Chances are not that bad.

Non-Conference games are against: @Oklahoma, Grambling State (FCS), @Wake Forest, @Baylor, Tulane.
Well ... that won't be too easy. Oklahoma will probably be a monster, Grambling should be a win, but Wake Forest and Baylor will again be tough (Ok, maybe the Demons not THAT much). Tulane is at home and should be winnable.

So, assuming a small portion of luck and more maturity in the team, this will be a contender for the SBC-Championship.
I expect them to be inside the TOP 3.

South Alabama Jaguars
This is the second year for the Jaguars in the FBS. Joey Jones did lead them from the FCS (3 seasons) to the FBS and recorded a 2-10 record last year.
They won against Nicholls State (FCS) and against Florida Atlantic in 2 OTs.
This season they might not end at the bottom of the SBC, because of the two newcomers.

Non-Conference games are against: Southern Utah (FCS), @Tulane, @Tennessee, Kent State and @Navy.
That's not too bad, but since the team is not fully build as an FBS team (you need 4 seasons normally because of the scholarships) this will not be a piece of cake.
The FCS team should be in reach, also Tulane, if they are lucky (or good), but I expect the rest to be too much.

Inside the conference they probably will have to settle with winnable game against TSU and GSU. The rest might be too good.
I expect them NOT to be the worst team in the SBC but close to that.

Texas State Bobcats
Dennis Franchione did take over TSU with the already set goal for the FBS.
He did lead them one year in the FCS and last season in the FBS.
He won 4 games in 2012, which is quite good for a newcomer team in the FBS.
Most surprising win was for sure their win against Houston.
The rest was good, but after everyone could see how bad Idaho and New Mexico State did perform, those wins are not THAT surprising.
So what will happen this year?
Franchione was a very good coach. Not TOP but very good. So he will get TSU better.
How much? I think it will be enough to win some games and probably more than last year.

Non-Conference game are against: @Southern Miss, Prairie View A&M (FCS), @Texas Tech, Wyoming, @Idaho
Except the Texas Tech game I would expect TSU to at least compete in every single one of them and get at least 3 wins out of this.

Now add games against South Alabama and Georgia State inside the conference and you have already 5 wins.
Maybe. Bottom line is, I expect them to be in the lower part of the conference but not at the bottom.
They might even crack the 6 win barrier, but as a SBC team you don't get invited to a Bowl by winning 6 games. You need more (not to be eligible but to get selected).

Troy Trojans
This is the dark horse of the SBC.
Larry Blakeney is coaching them since the last ice age (well ok, only since 1991!) and he had them win the SBC conference from 2006 to 2010 (3 times split with other teams).
Then the team did crash to a 3-9 record and rebounded last season with a 5-7.
So will they rebound ... well ... further to a winning record or even compete for the title?
I expect the former but not the latter.
They will have easy games against the newcomers but the TOP teams from the last 2 seasons will for sure not step aside without a fight.

Non-Conference games are against: UAB, Savannah State (FCS), @Mississippi State, @Ole Miss and @Duke.
UAB and the FCS team look like winnable games, but the rest might be too much.
If this would be the Troy team from former seasons ago and the Duke team the Blue Devils of former seasons ago, the Duke game would also be manageable, but not this season.

So at the end, they might fight against TSU and Arkansas State for a mid-field spot.
Or they will surprise a bit and become the Trojans of the past.
We will see.
I expect them not inside the TOP 3.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Bobby Petrino will be the Headcoach for at least THIS season.
Why do I say that? Because he is a damn good one and it might happen, that a better paid job comes up right after the season.
That’s valid, IF he can bring in his coaching skills in the first season.
He needed 4 seasons in Arkansas to form a threat to all those SEC teams, so maybe he needs a bit more than one season to win with this team.
And of cause there is this reason why he LEFT Arkansas (or was let go ...) and not every college will want someone like him at their sidelines.
We will see.
Their last coach Willie Taggart did quite good and landed the coaching position at South Florida.
He took over a bad team and after 1 season had them on a 7-5 record twice, until he left.
WKU did play a Bowl last season and did lose under an interims coach.
So Petrino does not get a sucky team here.
Actually he gets a pretty good one and that's why I think the Hilltoppers will crack the TOP 3 this year.

Non-Conference games are against: Kentucky, @Tennessee, Morgan State (FCS), Navy, @Army
This could be an easier schedule. Easily this can go 1-4, but I think they can give at least Army a good fight and they might even scare one of the others.
Main question will be, if they can win most of the conference games.
I think they can. I'm not sure if they can top ULL or ULM but I'm not expecting wins by those teams with high margins.

So my TIP is:
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Arkansas State Red Wolves
Troy Trojans
Texas State Bobcats
South Alabama Jaguars
Georgia State Panthers

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