What’s Up is Down, Which is Fun
By Paul Myerberg // Oct 18, 2011
What’s up is down. Florida Atlantic, which wore the Sun Belt crown in 2007, might not merely be the worst team in the conference; the Owls may be the worst team in the country. Middle Tennessee State, winners of 10 games in 2009 and the presumptive conference favorite heading into 2010, recently bottomed out with a loss to Western Kentucky. Troy, which has run this conference with an iron fist throughout the Sun Belt’s history, just suffered its worst home loss to a conference foe since, well, ever. So what’s up? Louisiana-Lafayette — that’s what up. And Arkansas State. And even the Hilltoppers, who have stormed out of the Sun Belt gate to a 2-1 start.
It’s hard to give a quick-picture explanation of what’s happened to this league, one that has historically been explained with ease: regardless of what happens around the bottom, the top tier will be headed by Troy. It won’t be the Trojans in 2011, not after they went into the state of Louisiana — first the Ragin’ Cajuns, then Louisiana-Monroe — and left with a pair of one-sided losses.
Has the Sun Belt caught up with Troy? That’s seemingly the case in 2011, though it’s far too early to say whether this a trend or a long-term development. When it comes to Florida International, which took home the league last fall, years and painful years of development led it to the top of Sun Belt. But Louisiana-Lafayette?
The Ragin’ Cajuns weren’t supposed to be this good, this fast — the Ragin’ Cajuns were never supposed to be this good, perhaps. But they’re the undisputed king of the Sun Belt through mid-October, having rushed out to 6-1 with wins over both the Trojans and the Golden Panthers. U.L.L. can’t cruise to the New Orleans Bowl, but the hurdles that looked so daunting in the preseason have been passed.
F.I.U., 4-2 over all and 1-1 in conference play, remains an intimidating presence in the Sun Belt. But for U.L.L., the conference crown should come down to a Nov. 12 trip to Jonesboro to take on Arkansas State — and raise your hand if you predicted that to be the Sun Belt game of the year.
What’s up is down, and what was once predictable is now completely and utterly unpredictable. No one thought Troy would be the worst team in the Sun Belt. No one thought Louisiana-Lafayette would be the best. And what else? Even with six or seven games in the books, there’s no way to know how the rest of the conference season will play out.
The Sun Belt is unique in this regard. Combing through the standings, looking for another conference this undecided? The A.C.C. is up for grabs, though in a different way: the top slice still contains the should-be-there sort of teams; Duke isn’t leading the Coastal division, in other words. The Big East? West Virginia rules the roost. MAC? Temple and Toledo — not surprising. Pac-12, SEC, Big 12? Right down party lines, as expected.
Not the Sun Belt, where even the decided seems completely undecided. Who’s to say that U.L.L. won’t stumble, that Troy won’t make a run, that F.I.U. won’t justify the hype and finish the year 10-2 overall? Why can’t the Hilltoppers make their own run?
In short, the Sun Belt is the only league in college football that has reinvented itself — has been recycled, basically — between 2010 and 2011 for non-expansion reasons. Everything else is status quo, more or less. But this league, so maligned and overlooked, is giving us a taste of the unpredictable. Isn’t that what we want to see in college football?
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
Tags: Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee State, Sun Belt, Troy, Western Kentucky
Leave a Comment