2014 Scout Sun Belt Football Preview

Terrance Broadway

A snapshot preview of the Sun Belt, where four new schools join the conference...

Conference realignment is in full swing in the Sun Belt, as four teams join the fray in 2014 while another program, Western Kentucky, departs. Among the newcomers for football only are two familiar faces to the league: Idaho and New Mexico State (both former members, from 2001-05). Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, on board for all sports, will round out the Sun Belt’s new 11-team shape on the gridiron. They’re all likely to be chasing UL Lafayette, South Alabama and Arkansas State, the consensus top three teams in the conference. Mark Hudspeth’s Ragin’ Cajuns, who shared the league title a season ago with Arkansas State, enter this fall as the favorite behind third-year starting quarterback Terrance Broadway.

OFFENSIVE MVP
QB Terrance Broadway, UL Lafayette – The Baton Rouge native already holds numerous school records for passing just two years into his tenure as starting signal-caller for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Much is expected in Broadway’s senior season, especially given the duo of stud running backs returning in the UL Lafayette backfield.

DEFENSIVE MVP
LB Qushaun Lee, Arkansas State – One 100-tackle season is good. Two in a row makes you a bad man. Lee, who finished with a conference-best 134 tackles as a junior in 2013, is certainly that. Like Broadway, Lee is entering his final collegiate season and looking to lead the Red Wolves back to the promised land.

BREAKOUT PLAYER
RB Elijah McGuire, UL Lafayette – McGuire made his mark in the Sun Belt as a freshman in 2013, finishing with 863 yards rushing, 384 yards receiving and 11 total touchdowns. So it’s not as if he’s a total unknown heading into this fall, but McGuire has a chance to explode if given more touches in 2014.

COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Doug Martin, New Mexico State – Will Martin realistically be fired if the Aggies repeat last year’s 2-10 performance as an FBS Independent program? Probably not. But it’s a trend he’d better reverse sooner than later. Martin had a record of 29-53 during his time leading Kent State from 2004-10. It’s time for Martin to produce, even in a tough spot entering a new league.

SLEEPER TEAM
Troy – The Trojans have slipped a bit in the conference pecking order of late, but in 2014 Larry Blakeney’s troops have the potential to march back into the top three. Troy avoids Arkansas State and hosts UL Lafayette to end its season, sandwiched between bye weeks. If the defense can come around, Troy will do more than just survive.

MUST-SEE CONFERENCE GAME
Arkansas State at UL Lafayette, Oct. 21 – With respect to South Alabama, which will be a contender in 2014, these have been the two mainstays atop the conference over the past three seasons. So when they get together on this Tuesday night in October, it’s a lock that all eyes in the Sun Belt will be fixed on them.

MUST-SEE NON-CONFERENCE GAME
Arkansas State at Tennessee, Sept. 6 – Close second honors go to UL Lafayette at Ole Miss in week three, but the Red Wolves’ trip to Knoxville is more appealing because Arkansas State might have a better chance in this week-two matchup. UT head coach Butch Jones is still getting his footing on Rocky Top, and the Vols will have to come ready for the Wolves.

IMPACT RECRUIT
CB Nehemiah Wagner, Arkansas State – The 6-0, 170-pound cornerback from Mesquite, Tex., was a three-star prospect as rated by Scout.com and fielded offers from a number of Division I schools. After transitioning from safety to cornerback in high school, Wagner brings a lot of versatility to the Red Wolves’ defense.

BEST TAILGATING
Cajun Field (UL Lafayette) – With a winning combination of delicious food and some of the most party-happy people in the country, how could you wrong with Lafayette? The locals know how to prepare their incomparable jambalaya, gumbo and other Cajun cuisine, meaning all you have to do is bring your appetite.

BOLD PREDICTION
Sun Belt scores a major non-conference win ... And my gut tells me it could be Arkansas State over Tennessee in Neyland Stadium on Sept. 6. There are other legitimate chances, though: UL Lafayette at Ole Miss; Duke at Troy; Mississippi State at South Alabama; Appalachian State at Michigan (again?). In at least one of those games, the Sun Belt will shock somebody and grab the nation’s attention.

HEISMAN CANDIDATES
1. QB Terrance Broadway, UL-L
2. RB Michael Gordon, Ark. St.
3. RB Alonzo Harris, UL-L
4. WR Rashon Ceaser, ULM
5. WR Dezmon Epps, Idaho

TOP QUARTERBACKS
1. QB Terrance Broadway, UL-L
2. QB Fredi Knighten, Ark. St.
3. QB Tyler Jones, Texas State
4. QB Kevin Ellison, Georgia S.
5. QB Brandon Bridge, S. Alabama

TOP SKILL-POSITION PLAYERS
1. RB Michael Gordon, Ark. St.
2. WR Rashon Ceaser, ULM
3. RB Alonzo Harris, UL-L
4. RB Robert Lowe, Texas State
5. WR Dezmon Epps, Idaho

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYERS
1. LB Qushaun Lee, Ark. St.
2. LB Michael Orakpo, Texas St.
3. DB Rocky Hayes, Ark. St.
4. DL Tyler Roberts, Troy
5. LB Joseph Peterson, Georgia St.

BIGGEST SHOES TO FILL
1. QB Brandon Bridge, South Alabama (for Ross Metheny)
2. QB Pete Thomas, ULM (for Kolton Browning)
3. QB Brandon Silvers, Troy (for Corey Robinson)
4. DL Dexter Blackmon, Arkansas State (for Ryan Carrethers)
5. WR Ben Ijah, Texas State (for Isaiah Battle and Andy Erickson)

BREAKOUT PLAYER
1. RB Elijah McGuire, UL-L
2. QB Fredi Knighten, Ark. St.
3. WR Jamal Robinson, UL-L
4. WR Ben Ijah, Texas State
5. QB Brandon Bridge, S. Alabama

BEST HEAD COACH
1. Mark Hudspeth, UL-L
2. Dennis Franchione, Texas St.
3. Todd Berry, ULM
4. Joey Jones, South Alabama
5. Larry Blakeney, Troy

TOP CONFERENCE GAMES
1. Arkansas State at UL-L
2. South Alabama at Ark. St.
3. South Alabama at UL-L
4. App. State at Georgia S.
5. Troy at South Alabama

TOP NON-CONFERENCE GAMES
1. Arkansas State at Tennessee
2. UL Lafayette at Ole Miss
3. Miss. State at South Alabama
4. Duke at Troy
5. ULM at Kentucky

2014 RECRUITING CLASS RANKINGS
1. UL Lafayette
2. Texas State
3. Arkansas State
4. Appalachian State
5. Idaho

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