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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Meanwhile, In the Sun Belt…

Two straight posts with ellipses in the headline? That’s an awful poor precedent to set. They’re unavoidable in this case, as the ellipses suggest the unknown landscape that is Sun Belt football from the end of one regular season until the start of another: few teams make major noise, and any news that may issue out from a Sun Belt denizen quickly dissipates once a major team from a major conference does anything of consequence. So what’s happening in the Sun Belt as the conference begins to look towards the summer?

As a whole, the Sun Belt is looking ahead to 2012 — when it adds a 10th team in South Alabama — and beyond, as it is already entertaining the notion of adding an 11th team, as Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald writes:

The conference has entertained expansion overtures from multiple programs in recent months, and the league has expressed keen interest in at least one of those candidates, The Miami Herald has learned… The Sun Belt would only consider universities with an established Football Bowl Subdivision program currently aligned with another conference. And the conference would want any new member to fit into its geographical footprint.

So who’s next? As Beasley reports, while the Sun Belt did nab South Alabama from the F.C.S. ranks it is from this point forward only interested in adding teams with established F.B.S. credentials. That will leave the conference looking at castaways from the rapidly disintegrating WAC: New Mexico State would he tickled to land on its feet at another conference, though a program like Louisiana Tech would likely look to join Conference USA if the WAC disbanded.

Troy took steps to recognize Larry Blakeney’s impact on the athletic department by naming the playing surface at Veterans Memorial Stadium in his honor. From here on forth, by edict of Troy University, we shall refer to its stadium by its full, rightful title: Larry Blakeney Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Wordy. The name will change but the tune will stay the same, as Troy will score points but struggle to get stops on many an occasion, as the Trojans tend to do.

Losing defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to Mississippi State was a tough blow to Florida International, but his replacement is no slouch: Todd Orlando held the same position at Connecticut from 2006-10, and became available only after Randy Edsall left Storrs to take Ralph Friedgen’s spot at Maryland. When considering the fact that Collins was a short-term rental — he’s going places — F.I.U. should be ecstatic about the experience his successor brings to the table. In more good news, the Golden Panthers still have offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield. The offense should continue to progress in 2011.

Dwight Dasher’s suspension and subsequent poor level of play last fall defined Middle Tennessee State’s season, but there’s a silver lining to that disappointment. Dasher’s four-game suspension to open 2010 allowed Logan Kilgore to earn some significant snaps, which should diminish the learning curve that accompanies his debut season as M.T.S.U.’s starting quarterback. Speaking of learning curves, the Blue Raiders have two new coordinators: Steve Ellis on defense and Willie Simmons on offense. Both were promoted from within the staff, which might help.

Here’s an interesting factoid: Arkansas State gained at least 300 yards of total offense in each of its 12 games last fall, a program first. Perhaps that’s why Hugh Freeze made the quick move from first-year offensive coordinator to first-year head coach, replacing the man who hired him a year ago, Steve Roberts. For any of his soon-to-be-discovered faults — not to say he has any, but if he does — Freeze provides a level of excitement, a trait hardly if ever associated with his predecessor. He also brings a strong offensive background, which helps.

The campuses of Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe are separated by about 180 miles, with the former closer to the Gulf of Mexico and the latter closer to Arkansas, roughly parallel with the infamous Civil War city of Vicksburg, Miss. There’s a far slighter distance separating the two football programs: the all-time series stands tied at 23-23, which is just about as even as two sides can get. New Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth inherits a bit of a mess, but he has an all-American candidate to work with in tight end Ladarius Green, the conference’s best player regardless of position.

Perhaps no other team in the country, let alone the Sun Belt, lost as much production in the passing game as Florida Atlantic. Gone is quarterback Jeff Van Camp, who threw for 2,459 yards and 17 scores a year ago. The pair battling to be his replacement, David Kool and Graham Wilbert, combined to make seven attempts in 2010, completing one. Gone are receiver Lester Jean and tight end Rob Housler, with no one returning receiving target having made more than 12 grabs in 2010. So the losses are substantial, even if a player like Van Camp was a slight disappointment as a senior.

Will Dan McCarney have an immediate impact at North Texas? You better believe it: his arrival might not manifest itself immediately in the win column, but he’s already started reversing a losing culture. Does Willie Taggart have what it takes to win at Western Kentucky? His quest to improve upon last fall’s 2-10 finish is aided by the return of running back Bobby Rainey, but three issues remain: quarterback play, run defense and the kicking game.

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  1. Ezra says:

    This is simply a very odd statement: “Perhaps no other team in the country, let alone the Sun Belt, lost as much production in the passing game as Florida Atlantic.”

    TCU jumps to mind, with quick-draft-riser Andy Dalton graduating, taking with him (in just 2010) 2857 yards and 27 touchdowns. Also graduated: Jeremy Kerley, Jimmy Young, Curtis Clay, and Bart Johnson, who combined for 124 receptions, 1527 yards, and 18 touchdowns.

    TCU’s remake of its passing game for 2011 will be almost total.

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