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2014 Sun Belt Conference Preseason Rankings Preview

Category: NCAAF Tags: Preseason Sun Belt Preseason Rankings NCAAF Comments: 0
2014 Sun Belt Conference Preseason Rankings Preview - 7/28/2014 Free NCAAF Analysis

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1. UL Lafayette

2013: 9-4 (5-2)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 35th Defense: 63rd
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 9

The Cajuns returns the most starters of any squad in the Sun Belt to a team that won the conference title last season. This makes UL Lafayette the runaway favorites to repeat as champs especially with the highly efficient QB Terrance Broadway returning for his third season as starter. The Cajuns will build the offense around the potent backfield combination of Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris who form the best tandem in the league. The O-line also returns 4 starters, but center remains a question mark. The defense should be improved with 9 returning starters and the addition of Miami transfer Jacoby Briscoe who could be a playmaker at DE.

2. South Alabama

2013: 6-6 (4-3)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 64th Defense: 53rd
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 6

South Alabama has the returning talent and additions to make a significant jump in offensive production in 2014, but much of the anticipated offensive growth hinges on the development of QB Brandon Bridge. Last season Bridge showed flashes of solid play as a dual threat, but he has to become a better decision maker. The top three backs and four receivers from last season return along with Alabama transfer receivers Josh Magee and Marvin Shinn. The O-line also returns their two all-conference tackles to a unit that allowed the least sacks in the league in 2013. The front seven of the defense expects to be solid again even with the losses of all-conference linemen Alex Page and Romelle Jones, but there is a lack of depth up front. The secondary returns four starters and this unit will be expected to step up and make plays if the defensive front isn't as disruptive in the pass game at is was in 2013.

3. Arkansas State

2013: 8-5 (5-2)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 68th Defense: 58th
Returning Starters: Offense: 4 Defense: 8

Arkansas State has regressed slightly since Gus Malzahn left to coach Auburn, but the Red Wolves were still able to reach a bowl and pick up a bowl win last season. QB Fredi Knighten came on the scene at the end of 2013 and he earned the GoDaddy Bowl MVP as he led the Red Wolves over Ball State. Knighten can give defenses in the Sun Belt fits with his athleticism, and his big play capability will be utilizes in Arkansas State's up-tempo offense. Depth at RB and WR are a bit of a concern, but talented guys like RB Michael Gordon, WR JD McKissic, and TE Darion Griswold will help the offense along. The Red Wolves return 8 starters to what was the third best defense in the conference last season, but the interior line is a concern.

4. UL Monroe

2013: 6-6 (4-3)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 102nd Defense: 84th
Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 8

After the top three teams in the Sun Belt the rest of the field appears to be more up for grabs. ULM begins the post Kolton Browning era with the 4 year starting QB expiring his eligibility. The Warhawks have 4 guys competing for the starting QB job, but the likely starter will either be NC State transfer Pete Thomas or Brayle Brown who saw playing time under center last season. ULM is experienced along the line and they should help the run game which features Tyler Cain and Centarius Donald who bring speed and bruising abilities respectively. The receiving and TE spots are also set with talent. The Warhawks finally have some depth and veteran leadership on defense with 8 returning starters. ULM is expected to be solid against the run, but there are some question marks in pass defense.

5. Troy

2013: 6-6 (4-3)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 32nd Defense: 109th
Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 5

The Trojans return the least amount of starting players in the Sun Belt, but if they can find a competent QB the offense could be near the top of the league again this season. Troy led the conference in scoring in 2013 and talent returns at RB, WR, and along the line. Troy's best depth on offense comes along the O-line and this should help the transition for whoever wins the starting QB job. Tory was as bad on defense as they were good on offense a season ago and the outlook is grim with only 5 returning starters on this side of the ball. The defensive front losses three starters and the team went into some desperation as they signed four JUCO D-linemen to fill the holes.

6. Georgia Southern

FCS 2013: 7-4 (4-4)

Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 8

Georgia Southern closed last season beating Florida in "The Swamp" and that was a great way for this FCS school to transition going into the FBS for the 2014 season. The Eagles will go away from the triple option offense as they head more towards a spread option attack under head coach Willie Fritz. Georgia Southern returns starting QB Kevin Ellison and coach Fritz has been pleased with Ellison's ability in the pass game. The transition from FCS to FBS can be difficult, but the Eagles have the size up front to be a factor on offense right away. Depth and size are problems on defense, but this unit was able to hold down Florida on the road to end last season and they return 8 starters to boot. Georgia Southern is undersized up front, but the back end of the defense will be formidable in the Sun Belt.

7. Texas State

2013: 6-6 (2-5)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 95th Defense: 71st
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 3

The Bobcats have their QB of the future set with sophomore Tyler Jones, but there are a lot of question marks surrounding most of the offensive unit. Texas State is thin at WR and the O-line struggled with consistency in 2013 and these are two areas of concern for the Bobcats coming into 2014. The RB position is more solid in the with Robert Lowe returning after rushing for 945 yards and 9 TDs last season. The defense will have a new scheme with John Thompson coaching his read and react philosophy and I'm  not sure this is the best system for a squad that has question marks in the secondary and on the D-line. The linebackers will lead the defense with David Mayo returning in the middle .

8. Appalachian State

FCS 2013: 4-8 (4-4)

Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 8

Appalachian State returns 16 starters to what was one of the least successful Mountaineer teams in recent memory. ASU will make the transition to the FCS this season and they open the year in Ann Arbor to try and upset Michigan like they did back in 2007. The offense returns accurate throwing QB Kameron Bryant who will utilize his arm through the spread attack. Bryant completed over 71 percent of his passes a season ago, but significant turnover at the receiver position coupled with going against tougher competition could hurt his numbers. ASU has Marcus Cox returning at RB. The talented back is coming off a 1,250 yard season and he will be running behind a veteran O-line. Appalachian State is still young on defense, but they should understand the 3-4 scheme better in their second season in the system. ASU is solid up front, but a young secondary leaves question marks.

9. Idaho

2013: 1-11 (Independent)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 118th Defense: 126th
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 7

Idaho was one of the worst teams in the FBS a season ago, but a move to the Sun Belt conference should help the Vandals competitively as Idaho will go against a number of former FCS squads in their new conference. Last season's starting QB Chad Chalich appears to have lost out to redshirt freshman Matt Linehan. If Linehan struggles he could be on a short leash with Chalich ready to return from his shoulder injury.  The O-line is anchored by center Mike Marboe and he will lead a unit that will try to open up more holes in a run game that averaged just 3.3 yards per carry a season ago. Top returning receiver Dezmon Epps was dismissed and that will hurt a position that was already underwhelming. The defense was torched time and again in 2013 and one of the worst secondary's in college football remains a big question mark.

10. Georgia State

2013: 0-12 (0-7)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 116th Defense: 111th
Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 5

The Panthers were shutout last season in Sun Belt play, but perhaps with a slightly more manageable schedule Georgia State will pick up a win or two this season. There are question marks up and down the offense for the Panthers. Georgia State losses 6 O-linemen along with their top receiver from 2013. The Panthers have concerns with depth at WR and whoever wins the QB battle will get little help. The defense was undersized last season, but the young guys up front have put on noticeable weight during the offseason  to help the run defense. The secondary lost eight players from their depth chart and the coaching staff will try to replenish the stock with JUCO transfers.

11. New Mexico State

2013: 2-10 (Independent)

2013 Offense/Defense FBS Rankings: Offense: 105th Defense: 123rd
Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 3

The offense took a hit when WR Austin Franklin decided to leave early for the NFL and there will be competitions up and down the offensive unit for starting jobs going into the 2014 season. NMSU has an open competition at QB, but JUCO transfer Tyler Rogers got the majority of the snaps in spring. There are potentially six guys competing for the starting QB job behind Rogers. The O-line returns 4 starters, but the left tackle position still needs to be sorted out. New Mexico State returns just 3 starters to what was the worst defense in the FBS last season in terms of yards given up per contest. There will be inexperience and youth throughout the defense and this unit will struggle to be much better than they were in 2013.

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