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TGS 2014 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW...A LOOK AT THE SUN BELT
Call it the ?Great Survivor Conference? instead.

That the Sun Belt has been able to stay afloat and maintain its form in the wake of the rampant shifting of schools within their leagues over the past few years speaks to the power of football. After a quarter-century of existence as an alliance for basketball and other sports, the Belt?s decision to become a football league in 2001 was originally met with suspicion. Almost a decade-and-a-half later, however, the Belt is alive and well, and is quite happy with its seat at the ?kid?s table? of the FBS, its champion team now officially included in the five-league consortium (along with the Mountain West, C-USA, American, and MAC) for one spot in one of the featured ?New Year?s Six? bowls, the successor to the BCS.

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Whether the athletic departments within the Belt are turning a profit because of football remains an elusive question, however. Sources suggest that the gridiron programs at all of the Belt schools probably run in the red, or close to it. The Belt?s purpose for the entirety of the FBS is to provide mostly low-risk non-conference opposition for the ?big boys? (especially the SEC, ACC, and Big 12) who routinely schedule Belt foes and offer them big September paydays that helps pay bills. The expanding bowl season has also found spots for several Belt members, although as we have outlined on these pages before, those adventures are not often money-makers for the schools, either. It is all a rather awkward alliance, but all parties seem to be satisfied by the arrangement, and Belt members have gladly accepted their lot as a ?body bag? opponent. It remains big news in the loop when one of its members steps up to win a game against one of the top leagues (many people might have forgotten that Nick Saban?s first Alabama team lost to UL-Monroe in 2007).

The Sun Belt has also been able to tag along with ESPN, although admiittedly in the caboose of the "Sports Leader's" gravy train. An occasional midweek fotoball game in the fall will feature Belt teams, and if not for the Belt, we're not sure where ESPN3 would get most of its live sports programming.

The Belt?s other function over the past couple of decades has also been as a weigh station of sorts for programs looking to move up the football chain. Over the past two decades, the Sun Belt has been a constant feeder to Conference USA, whose ranks currently include nine members with past Belt affiliation. (Western Kentucky is the latest Belt member to flee to C-USA, where the Tops begin to campaign this fall.) The current composition of the American Athletic Conference also includes two members (UCF and USF) with past ties to the Sun Belt.

Again, the Belt continues to effectively absorb these blows as the granite-jawed Canadian George Chuvalo once did as a heavyweight contender in the 1960s. The Belt simply comes back for more.

This year is no exception, as the Belt welcomes new members Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, up from the FCS ranks, while renewing old relationships with New Mexico State and Idaho, who for a while parked their football programs in the Belt before moving to the WAC in 2005. When the WAC disintegrated as a gridiron loop, the Aggies and Vandals competed as independent entries last season before enlisting for football-only in 2014. While Idaho will compete in the Big Sky in other sports, NMSU, which competes in what is left of the WAC in other sports, still has hopes of full-time membership in the Belt.

Expansion remains an evergreen topic in the Belt, and commissioner Karl Benson (the former longtime WAC commish who is shown above left at the recent Sun Belt media day in New Orleans) has been addressing the subject rather continuously over the past six months. From Benson and other insiders, here is what we have gleaned regarding the Belt?s future.

1) The league would like to at least add a 12th member, one that would compete in all sports, although it has recently stated that it has ?suspended? pursuit of new members for the ?near? future. The Belt?s definition of the ?near future? might differ from the definition of most, however; a couple of weeks or months might be what the Belt has in mind. And, of course, ?suspended? does not mean ?terminated? in sports lexicon.

2) To this point, the Belt had resisted offering full-time membership to New Mexico State, though some sources believe the Aggies are likely to be invited into the league for all sports in the near future.

3) Any renewed interest in full membership for NMSU might be because rumored top target James Madison has recently decided not to pursue a move to the FBS for its football program, which has long been a power at the FCS, or Division I-AA, level. While JMU could readdress those issues in the near future, for the time being it will remain anchored in the Colonial.

4) Liberty, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, could become a target in the near future. Although to this point there is no indicator that the Flames can garner the 75% vote from existing conference members to extend an invitation, several insiders suggest that Liberty should be targeted. More than a few respected college sports observers believe that Liberty, with its devoted religious following and potential nationwide appeal, could at some point become a mid-Atlantic version of BYU. The Flames also have a well-rounded sports program.

5) No invitation has been offered to UMass, which is looking for a new football home after 2015, when its membership deal with the MAC will cease. The move to the FBS level has been disastrous (to this point) for the Minutemen, who are 2-22 on the field since making the jump two years ago, and the Belt?s geographic footprint, already stretched beyond recognition from Boone, NC to Moscow, Idaho, could hardly accommodate a lonely rep from New England. Financially, UMass doesn?t work for the Belt. And when actively pursuing new members before the recent ?moratorium? announcement, it was clear that Benson and the league were looking for all-sport members, which makes the Minutemen a non-starter because of their desire to stay in the Atlantic 10 for hoops and other sports.

Given that we believe the Belt will probably begin actively courting potential members in the near future, there will be no shortage of other potential applicants besides those previously mentioned. The only deadline is the NCAA-mandated June 1 application date for FCS schools to apply to become FBS, so we expect the topic to revive again in the first half of 2015. Keep in mind, too, that the ACC has sponsored a proposal to revisit the rules on conference football championship games. That topic likely won?t be addressed until the NCAA settles its governance issue centered on placating the Big Five Conferences, but if the NCAA decides to relax the rules that mandate conferences have a minimum of 12 teams split into two divisions, the Sun Belt could theoretically host a championship game with just 11 members.

Whatever, don?t be surprised if other schools such as Jacksonville State, Alabama State, Eastern Kentucky, and Missouri State, to name a few, are also considered for Belt membership longl before the next presidential election, two-plus years hence.

How do we know that more change is on the way? Because it has always been so in the Belt.

Following is our Sun Belt preview, courtesy Senior Editor Chuck Sippl. As usual, teams are presented in predicted order of finish, with 2013 straight-up, pointspread, and over/under records included...Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor


LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (2013 SUR 9-4; PSR 5-8; O/U 7-6)... The Sun Belt Conference has been hit by more team changes this season, sending annual contender Western Kentucky up to the C-USA, and welcoming four new teams--2013 Independents Idaho and New Mexico State, plus respected former Southern Conference FCS teams Appalachian State and Georgia State. But don?t look for much change near the top of the standings. Since Mark Hudspeth arrived in southwest Louisiana three years ago from the staff of Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, the Ragin? Cajuns have gone 27-12 overall, 17-6 in Sun Belt games, and 3-0 in the New Orleans Bowl. Hudspeth (9-4 in each of his three seasons in Lafayette) was rewarded with a six-year extension in June.

Despite lingering issues on defense, Louisiana (15 starters back overall) goes into this season as the clear-cut favorite in the Sun Belt. Dual-threat QB Terrance Broadway (62%, 19 TDs, 12 ints. LY, in addition to 442 YR and 8 TDs on the ground) enters his third year as a starter. Sr. Alonzo Harris (942 YR LY) and soph Elijah McGuire (863 YR) represent the top one-two RB punch in the league. 6-4 sr. WR Jamal Robinson (54 recs. and 8 TDC LY) is a mismatch go-to target often underutilized in the Cajun rush offense, which was 26th in the nation in 2013. The engine of the offense---te OL--turns four from a unit that started all 13 games last season, remarkably, the third straight year Hudspeth?s starting OLmen turned that trick. Offense (ULL scored 33.8 ppg LY) the Cajuns have, especially with the seasoned Broadway likely to be more mature in the aerial game.

Defense, especially pass defense, is where Louisiana is still seeking to improve. ULL in 2013 gave up 26.5 ppg, was 80th vs. the pass, and intercepted only 14 opponents? aerials. If Hudspeth is going to boost his team another notch, his stoppers need to play with more stubbornness and bite. In that vain, Hudspeth has had some success in adding some SEC-sized defensive linemen. 6-2, 310 sr. DT Justin Hamilton seeks to improve upon his 4 sacks of 2013. 6-5, 315 jr. DE Marquis White (2 sacks LY as a backup) is now ready to move into the starting lineup. And the Louisiana DL this season adds 6-3, 325 transfer (via Miami-Fla.) Jacoby Briscoe, whose home is in Cajun country.

6-2, 248 jr. OLB Dominique Tovell (67 Ts LY) also boasts an SEC body type, but Tovell is the only returning starter at LB in the team?s 3-4 defense, so defensive coaches spent much of spring looking for help in the second line of defense. Jr. Chris Hill demonstrated the required speed and instincts, but he?s only 5-11, 195?demonstrating that Hudspeth still has work to do with his defensive platoon, despite the increased size up front. Three seniors return in the secondary, led by FS Sean Thomas, who had 3 ints. in 2013.

Summary...With its great experience and proven scoring power on offense, Louisiana is the consensus choice to win the Sun Belt. The Cajuns? only two Sun Belt losses last year came when QB Broadway had a wrist fracture, resulting in a tie for the title in the Belt with Arkansas State. ULL will be bigger up front on defense this season, but playing three of its last four games on the road might still prove to be a hurdle. Still, another New Orleans Bowl is beckoning. Are the Cajuns ready to move up overall in the FBS? That question might be answered in difficult back-to-back September road games at Mississippi and Boise State.


ARKANSAS STATE (2013 SUR 8-5; PSR 6-7; O/U 6-7)... Miami of Ohio for decades has been known as the ?Cradle of Coaches.? Passing through the program at one time or another were the likes of Earl Blaik, Paul Brown, Paul Dietzel, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gillman, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, John Pont, Carmen Cozza, Bill Mallory, Jim Tressel, Jim Harbaugh, and Sean Payton, to name a bunch. Hall of Fame Dodger manager Walter Alston graduated from Miami. You get the idea. But Arkansas State seems to be catching up. In a hurry.

Blake Anderson, a 13-year assistant most recently the offensive coordinator at North Carolina, becomes the fifth head coach in as many years in Jonesboro. Steve Roberts put in an admirable nine years leading the team, helping ASU back to the bowls before flattening out and being dismissed. But then the impressive one-and-done string started for the Red Wolves. Hugh Freeze spent 2011 at ASU, then was hired at Mississippi. Gus Malzahn was the HC in 2012, then went to Auburn. Bryan Harsin took over for 2013, but is now at Boise State. The last three coaches each guided the Red Wolves to at least a share of the Sun Belt title and a berth in the GoDaddy Bowl.

That gets us to Anderson, the team?s fifth HC in the last five years. He inherits a team that appears well-set to operate the fast-paced system that Anderson has been directing the last four years under Larry Fedora at Southern Miss/North Carolina. 2013 QB Adam Kennedy, who transferred from Utah State, has graduated. But 5-11 dynamo Fredi Knighten, recruited by Malzahn, appears ready to take over after a solid backup performance last season (71%, 2 TDs, 1 int.; 344 YR, 5 TDR), including being named MVP of the team?s 23-20 victory over Ball State in the GoDaddy. Knighten solidified his status in spring.

Although the shortish Knighten is no power-passing pocket presence, he constantly threatens with his quick feet and variety of short throws. And Knighten has plenty of seasoned help in jr. RB Michael Gordon (754 YR in 2013; 6.7 ypc), 6-5 jr. TE Darrion Griswold (24 recs., 3 TDC LY), and go-to WR/PR/KR J.D. McKissic. In addition to returning punts and kickoffs, McKissic has caught a robust 182 passes in his first two seasons. Depth behind McKissic is young, as are three starting spots in the OL. The Red Wolves produced 29 ppg last season and were 24th in the nation in rushing. They should at least be very close to those numbers this season.

Eight starters are back on defense, which was a concern last year while allowing 26.2 ppg and 180 ypg rushing (80th in the nation). Too many big plays and too few interceptions (only 9) were the main problems. 2014 might be a different story, however, as all back-seven starters have returned in ASU?s 4-2-5 scheme. That group includes sr. LB Qushawn Lee (134 Ts LY), jr. CB Rocky Hayes (3 ints.), and sr. FS Sterling Young (33 career starts). DEs jr. Chris Stone & soph Chris Odom (3 sacks each LY) will be counted upon to spark the pass rush.

Summary...ASU goes into the season with both the offensive skill players and veteran defensive corps to challenge once again for the Sun Belt crown. But one has to wonder whether the constant coaching turnover will eventually take a toll in the Red Wolves? seeming annual battle with Louisiana for conference supremacy. The early handicapping edge in this year?s race belongs to ULL, which is not only stronger in the pits at the outset of 2014, but also will be the host team for this year?s meeting.

SOUTH ALABAMA (2013 SUR 6-6; PSR 8-4; O/U 5-6-1)... Is this the year of the Jaguar? It very well could be, as Joey Jones has further improved his South Alabama team in virtually every department. The former WR for Bear Bryant has demonstrated some very positive coaching tendencies in his five years in Mobile, beginning with his 7-0, 10-0 marks (vs. marginal opposition) in 2009 and 2010 in the two start-up years of the USA football program.

The Jags dipped to 6-4 as an FCS Independent in 2011, and fell to 2-11 in 2012 in their first year in the Sun Belt Conference. However, in just its second season playing a full schedule in 2013, South Alabama was a respectable 6-6 overall (8-4 vs. the spread), and 4-3 in SBC league games. In its contests vs. 2013 conference co-champions Arkansas State and La.-Lafayette, the Jaguars lost only 17-16 on a 4th-quarter TD at ASU, and later walloped Louisiana 30-8 in Mobile, forcing the Ragin? Cajuns to share the title with the Red Wolves. In other words, Joey Jones? boys gave plenty of indications in 2013 they were ?on the verge? in the Sun Belt (which, on the one hand, has become a ?catch basin? for many lower-rung teams, but, on the other hand, has been sending some of its better teams up to better leagues).

For 2014, South Alabama seems well-set at virtually every position except one for a run at the league title. That important question mark surrounds the QB spot, where 6-5, 220 dual threat Brandon Bridge takes over from Ross Metheny, who spent two years directing the offense in Mobile after transferring from Virginia. Bridge also has previous experience, spending 2010-11 at Alcorn State. Last year, Bridge got some valuable time as the backup for the Jaguars, hitting 43.9% for 398 YP with 1 TD and 2 ints., while also rushing for 170 yards. While the strong-armed Bridge has plenty of potential and showed improvement in spring, the lanky QB is barely 50% (228 of 455) for his college career overall.

The table is set for Bridge if the 22-year-old can show development and maturity on the field this season. The Jaguars? top four RBs from 2013 return, augmented by 5-11, 170 redshirt frosh speedster Xavier Johnson. Four of five starters return in the OL, augmented by 2012 starting G Melvin Meggs, who missed last season with a knee injury.

The considerable RB and OL depth mentioned above is swamped by that in the USA receiving corps! The Jags? bring back their top three WRs, including big-play target Shavarez Smith (50 recs. good for 18.8 ypr LY). Also returning is all-Sun Belt TE Wes Saxton (a righteous 50 recs., but--strangely-- no TDs). But get ready for the improvements to this already quality group. Incoming are two transfer WRs from Alabama, and a JCAA TE! The transfers are former four-star recruit 6-2 soph Marvin Shinn (a member of the Crimson Tide for two BCS title years) and 5-10 RS frosh speedster Josh Magee. The JCAA is 6-4 pass-receiving TE Braedon Bowman, who nabbed 66 balls for 13 TDs last season for the creatively-named Fighting Artichokes of Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. The Jags scored 29 ppg last season, and have the potential to top that in 2014.

South Alabama held its last four Sun Belt foes of 2013 to 17 points or fewer, so defensive improvement was noted as early as last November. The Jaguars racked up 38 sacks LY, but there were only 11 ints., not to mention 30+ allowances five times. Those latter two numbers have room for improvement, with LB coach Travis Pearson elevated to defensive coordinator to take his shot at tightening up USA?s 4-2-5 scheme. Four of five starters are back in the Jag secondary that allowed 58.9% completions?not bad in these days of uptempo, spread offenses. Especially when three of those returnees are now already veterans going into their junior year (scrappy 5-8 CB Qudarius Ford with 76 Ts LY; 6-1 CB Montell Garner with 3 ints.; and S Terrell Brigham with 65 Ts).

Last year, the Jaguars were undersized up front, and 3 of 4 starters in the DL have departed. But, as a sign of the continuing development of the USA program under Jones, help is on the way. South Alabama signed the top sacker in the junior college ranks last year in 6-0, 255 Jimmie Gipson III, who recorded 17 sacks and 24 TFL in 2013 at the JC level. Jaguar starting NT Jesse Kelley (a 5-10, 275 jr.) will be getting help come August from 6-1, 315 juco Dondre Chanet.

Coach Jones, in true Bear Bryant fashion, has placed an emphasis in his young program on avoiding mistakes, something the Jags did well last year, when they committed only 13 turnovers (only four teams had fewer), finishing +5 in turnover margin. But a seasoned senior QB in Metheny helped minimize mistakes last year. Now, says Jones, it?s Bridges? time. But the key with this veteran offense will still be to avoid mistakes. The 6-5 Jones doesn?t have a history of great consistency as a passer. But he does have a big-play arm and some running ability that should allow him to grow into the job at Mobile.

Summary...If jr. QB Bridge can show some refinement as a passer (often easier said than done), the Jaguars have the material elsewhere to contend in the Sun Belt. However, South Alabama?s road schedule is testing, with trips to Moscow, ID, and Boone, NC, not to mention Lafayette, LA, and Jonesboro, AR (and Columbia, SC). The Jags--at 6-6--hit the minimum level for bowl eligibility in 2013; but no bowl. Is there a spot beckoning for South Alabama in this year?s new Camellia Bowl Dec. 20 in Montgomery?

TROY (2013 SUR 6-6; PSR 6-6; O/U 11-1)...Larry Blakeney, for most of his 23 years as head coach, has presided over an entertaining, offensively-potent football outfit in southeastern Alabama, churning out conference titles, turning out some top-flight players (DeMarcus Ware, Osi Umenyiora, Leodis McKelvin), and springing the occasional eye-opening upset. But it?s now been three straight seasons at Troy without a winning record (3-9, 5-7, 6-6). And the 66-year-old Blakeney is feeling some pressure.

That explains this season?s plunge into the junior college ranks for help where it is needed most on the 2014 Troy depth chart. After last season, the Trojans lost their top two QBs (Corey Robinson & Deon Anthony), 3 of 4 starters in their defensive line, and safeties Camren Hudson & Chris Pickett, the team?s top two tacklers. Not surprising then, is the fact that Troy?s 2014 recruiting class includes two juco QBs, four juco defensive linemen, and three juco DBs. Blakeney knows it?s important to get the Trojans back on the winning track as soon as possible.

One or two years will tell whether Blakeney?s gamble has paid off. The current facts are these. Even though there is still considerable of talent at Troy, the defensive speed and depth in recent years have been found lacking while the competition in the upper level of the Sun Belt Conference has improved (thanks to the likes of Arkansas State, Louisiana, Western Kentucky). Thus, 2014 will be a major test for Blakeney?s decades of coaching experience.

Among other things, the Trojans go into August practice without a clear-cut starter at QB. Not that Blakeney doesn?t have choices. But that choice is likely to set the tone for the team?s offense this season. After all, the supporting cast is already in place. A veteran OL, with three starters back and joined by promising 6-6, 290 soph LT Antonio Garcia and 6-4, 310 Ole Miss transfer G Ethan Hutson. Two quality RBs in 5-9 jr. Brandon Banks (675 YR, 36 recs. LY) and soph Jordan Chunn, a 231-pound masher who had 514 YR and 14 TDR last season. And another good WR corps, led by big-play target Bryan Holmes (40 recs.; five of them for more than 50 yards), sr. B.J. Chitty (59 career recs.), sr. Chandler Worthy, and jr. K.D. Edenfield (son of offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield). Not to mention a handful of juco wideouts, led by 6-5 Jarvis Bentley. (As with most four-WR schemes, the Trojans need 2 to 3 go-to guys, depending upon the situation, plus a two-deep group due to the continual route-running.)

But who will trigger the Trojan offense, which scored 34 ppg LY and was 13th in passing yardage (13th in the nation)? Here?s a brief look at the August candidates (in TGS handicap of the field).

5-11 juco Dontreal Pruitt--The JCAA dual threat led East Mississippi to a 12-0 mark and the JC title LY (63%, 3939 YP, 45 TDs, 7 ints., 507 YR last season in junior college).

6-7 jr. Dallas Tidwell--12 of 16 with 2 TDs and 0 ints. as LY?s No. 3 at Troy.

5-11 Connor Bravard--a 5-11 overachiever from Iowa who led his team to an 11-1 mark LY; went 44-1 in high school.

6-2 RS frosh Brandon Silvers--A dual-threat type from Gulf Shores, AL; considered an under-the-radar type.

The feeling here is that one or two among this group will assert themselves relatively quickly and resume the point-production conveyor belt once again in Troy.

It?s the defense where Blakeney?s team must improve in order to quell the antsy alumni. Last year, the Trojans were 107th in allowing 35.9 ppg, and were a virtually helpless 121st vs. the pass. The Troy defenders were burned for a terrible 16.4 yards per pass completion, grabbed only 6 ints. (only 8 teams had fewer), and forced only 11 takeaways (only 2 teams had fewer).

The plus side is that those numbers could hardly get worse. Thirty-six-year veteran coach Wayne Bolt is in the second year of his second stint as defensive coordinator at Troy. He has some veterans in jr. DE Tyler Roberts (5½ sacks LY), sr. LBs Wayland Coleman-Dancer & Mark Wilson, and sr. CB Ethan Davis (9 passes broken up). But for many of the other spots, Bolt is counting on his jucos to step up...and in a hurry. To add a couple of other question marks for 2014, Troy will have a new kicker and punter.

Summary...The Trojans are still undersized on defense in 2014, but not as undersized as the were last year. And Troy?s potentially-beneficial schedule includes each of the four new teams (Idaho, Appalachian State, New Mexico State, Georgia Southern) in the recently-expanded Sun Belt. Not to mention winless Georgia State (0-12 last year) and FCS Abilene Christian. You get the idea. There are plenty of winnable games. It behooves Blakeney and d.c. Bolt to win them and to grab a spot in the ever-expanding bowl field. Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik (a friend of Blakeney; currently not coaching) visited spring practice in March. Just about everyone in Troy took notice.



LOUISIANA- MONROE (2013 SUR 6-6; PSR 5-7; 0/U 4-8)... At 6-6, Monroe was one of nine bowl-eligible teams left out of the watered-down postseason last year. Now, with seemingly-indefatigable QB Kolton Browning departed after four years at the controls of the Warhawk offense, one has to wonder whether ULM can even make it back to 6 and 6.

Quite naturally, with the clever Browning (81 career TDP) gone, the main questions for 2014 surround the offense, which generated only one TD per game when backup Brayle Brown subbed for Browning (quad injury) last season. The 6-2 Brown, now a junior, did pass for 275 yards (no TDs) in a 31-10 loss LY vs. Western Kentucky. So he should show some development this season. But the returnee will have to hold off 6-5, 235 pocket passer Pete Thomas, who started six games LY at N.C. State after previously playing at Colorado State. Thomas (1667 YP for the Wolfpack) had problems meshing with the NCS offense, with 9 ints. vs. only 4 TDs, being unseated as the starter in Raleigh.

Either QB will inherit a couple of proven targets, as 6-0 jr. Rashon Ceasar caught 65 balls last season, while 5-10 soph Ajalen Holley nabbed 21, with each collecting 5 TDs. And Ceasar also stood out as a punt returner. The OL is likely to start four seniors. But the rush offense of HC Todd Berry?s spread offense has usually played second fiddle to the passing game, as ULM ranked 105th on the ground last season (and it gained only 3.8 ypc). With a new starting QB, perhaps 6-1, 223 sr. RB Centarius Donald (433 YR LY) and 5-8 jr. speedster Tyler Cain (redshirted LY; 19 career games) will get more rushing opportunities this season.

Without Browning, the defense will also be asked to carry more of the load in 2014. Even with nine starters back in the Warhawks? 3-3-5 scheme, that might be asking a lot, as last year saw ULM give up 30 ppg (83rd in the nation), finish 87th vs. the run and 90th in total defense. Monroe defenders collected only 16 sacks (107th). The Warhawks have solid leadership at all three levels of their defense--jr. NT Gerrand Johnson (11 TFL LY); jr. LB Hunter Kissinger (73 Ts, 3 ints. LY); 6-1, 215 jr. LB/S Mitch Lane (53 Ts, 2 ints. LY); and sr. S Cordero Smith (63 Ts LY). However, without the ball possession provided in recent years by the playmaking Browning, ULM?s top defenders are likely to be under greater pressure to perform.

Kicking has been a bit of adventure for the Warhawks in recent seasons, with sr. Justin Manton only 16 of 32 on career FG attempts (only 5 of 9 LY, with two blocked). ULM has suffered a total of nine punts/kicks blocked the last three years.

HC Berry says Warhawk depth has steadily developed, with many of his third-string players now competitive. But that improvement will be tested this season, with ominous--but money-generating--road games at SEC reps LSU, Kentucky, and Texas A&M sprinkled in the first eight games of the campaign. While ULM did surprise Wake Forest 21-19 last season, it should fairly be noted the Warhawks lost 34-0 at rebuilding Oklahoma and 70-7 at explosive Baylor (49-7 at the half).

Summary...Berry is in his fifth year in Monroe, sporting a 23-26 overall record, one winning campaign, and one bowl appearance (a 45-14 loss Ohio U. in the 2012 Independence Bowl). That is likely danger territory for him if the Warhawks tail off in 2014, especially considering those three SEC foes, only five home games, and four of the last five for ULM this season on the road. Unless one of Berry?s QBs comes through to pleasantly surprise on a team without much of a running game, a repeat 6-6 in 2014 would seem to be a stretch.


TEXAS STATE (2013 SUR 6-6; PSR 5-7; O/U 6-6)...There?s at least one good thing this season for Texas State. For the first time in four years the Bobcats will be in the same conference! Wow! A little familiarity can?t hurt Texas State after spending 2011 in the FCS Southland Conference, 2012 in the now-defunct WAC, and finally 2013 in the Sun Belt (going 2-5 in league play and 6-6 overall).

The 2013 Bobcats were one of the least-potent teams in the nation, finishing 111th in total offense and 93rd in scoring (only 23.9 ppg). In last season?s rebuilding year for the TSU offense, the Bobcats were 113th in passing. Only ten teams passed for fewer yards per game, including five land-locked triple option teams--Georgia Tech, New Mexico, Air Force, Navy, and Army.

The good news for the Texas State faithful in San Marcos is that things are expected to get better on the offensive side of the ball this season. That?s because 6-2 soph Tyler Jones ascended to the starting QB job in the fourth game last year. Although he missed the last 1+ games with a hand fracture, Jones (62.5%, 1130 YP, 8 TDs, 5 ints.; 257 YR) showed enough ability and potential for HC Dennis Franchione to plan an expansion of the team?s offense for 2014. With two talented junior RBs (Robert Lowe 945 YR, 5.8 ypc; Chris Nutall 477 YR, 5.7 ypc) and a now-experienced OL to go with his young QB, the Bobcat offense will feature more of the familiar uptempo, spread plays that have swept across the college football landscape in recent years.

Facing a rebuilding OL and limited QBing last season, State?s foes ganged up against the run and dared the Bobcats to employ their then-limited passing game. It was often tough slogging for the TSU offense. Now, that rebuilt Bobcat OL is bigger and more experienced, with four starters back, plus powerful 6-5, 316 redshirt freshman Jackson Hoskins threatening to grab playing time from one of the returnees.

The limiting factor of the 2014 Texas State offense figures to be its receiving corps. No wideout in 2013 had more than 2 TDC. The top returning receiver from LY is 6-5 TE Bradley Miller with 24 catches, but he had no TDs (although fellow TE Ryan Carden found paydirt with 3 of his 7 catches). Jr. Brandon Smith (22 recs. LY) and sr. Ben Ijah (16) will be counted upon to boost their production as Franchione increases the tempo and expands the 2014 offense for soph QB Jones. Jr. RB C.J. Best was moved to wideout in the spring to aid the WR corps.

Even with their limited offense last season, the Bobcats played fairly stubbornly on defense (58th in the nation overall), but faded in the second half of the season (34 ppg their last five games). However, there?s a lot of rebuilding on defense in 2013 after TSU lost seven from last year?s starting unit. That?s why Franchione signed at least nine jucos this season, the bulk of those on defense, with the idea of adding bulk to a defensive line that needs plenty of it after losing all four up-front starters in its 4-2-5 scheme. There are two senior anchors at LB, as David Mayo had 89 Ts and a handy 4 ints. LY, while active Michael Orakpo (brother of the Redskins? Brian) had 4½ sacks. Sr. CB Craig Mager is in his fourth season as a starter. Veteran defensive coordinator John Thompson takes over the unit this season, planning to install more alignments that will allow the Bobcats to morph into 3-4 or 4-3 fronts at times.

TSU found a kicker last season after punter and kickoff guy Will Johnson missed his first five FG attempts of the campaign. While those misses were a downer, backup kicker Jason Dann wasn?t, as Dann took over for the last eight games and connected on 9 of 10 FGs the rest of the way. Both Dann and Johnson return TY.

Summary...While QB Tyler Jones appears to be a bona fide talent at QB, the soph is still in the learning process as he tries to balance the attack while Texas State increases the tempo this season. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Bobcat defense faces a tougher schedule (Navy, at Illinois, at Tulsa) this season. Dennis Franchione, one of the more fastidious coaches going, contends this will be his most-ready team for FBS action since TSU moved up from the Southland Conference three years ago. However, with the upper echelon of the Sun Belt getting a bit more crowded these days, it?s tough to see the Bobcats getting to .500 in 2014.


GEORGIA SOUTHERN (2013 7-4 SUR as an FCS team; PSR 1-0; O/U 1-0)... It is a year of transition in more ways than one in Statesboro for Georgia Southern. After winning a record six championships at the Division II/FCS level, the Eagles are taking their act to the Bowl Subdivision, joining the Sun Belt Conference. Georgia Southern is eligible for the Sun Belt title, but not for a bowl game this season.

But there are other important changes. Coach Jeff Monken has taken his triple-option expertise to Army, with the incoming coach being Willie Fritz, who has worked his way up the coaching ladder from Blinn Junior College, to the Central Missouri Mules, to the Sam Houston State Bearkats, twice reaching the FCS title game. With the arrival of Fritz, out goes Georgia Southern?s ground-gobbling triple-option offense, with Fritz saying he is employing a spread-option attack. That means instead of attempting only about 9 passes per game, Fritz will be shooting for a better-balanced 16 to 20.

While remnants of the triple-option will remain, Fritz says he saw enough promise in the spring to make the change to the spread. Returning jr. QB Kevin Ellison was second on the team LY in rushing with 886 yards, 7.0 ypc, and 8 TDR. He had six starts. But he had only 79 pass attempts, hitting 52%, with 2 TDs vs. 3 interceptions. Still, Ellison brings a substantial running threat to the spread-option. But he will continue to get competition in August from 6-1 soph transfer Favian Upshaw (at Florida International in 2012), RS frosh L.A. Ramsby, and soph Vegas Hartley. Most were recruited for their running skills, which largely explains the quartet?s 10 for 26 performance in the spring game. Fritz has his work cut out.

1050-yard rusher Jerick McKinnon completed his eligibility last season, so Fritz is seeking a new featured RB. Coming aboard is 5-10, 210 juco Ken Thomas, who rushed for 1334 yards for East Mississippi CC, last year?s national JC champs. Three senior starters return in the OL, including FCS All-American LT Garrett Frye. In the change of offensive schemes, the new TE is 6-2, 255 Nardo Govan, who rushed for 245 yards last season at fullback and has reportedly shown considerable promise at his new spread-option position.

Defensive coordinator Jack Curtis has been held over from the Jeff Monken regime, so at there will be lots of continuity with the defense, which gave up a very respectable 23.2 ppg, but which had only 11 sacks and 12 takeaways last season. Those latter two stats would be unacceptable even if the Eagles were remaining at the FCS level. With six starting defenders back, the core of this year?s team will be the LBs in Custis? variable 4-3/4-2-5 scheme. Sr. OLB Edwin Jackson registered 92 Ts LY, while 6-3, 240 jr. Antwione Williams is expected to hold down the middle after missing LY due to injury. Three of four return in the secondary, where sr. Deion Stanley had 3 ints. LY, while jr. S Matt Dobson had 2.

Georgia Southern has demonstrated considerable speed for years on both offense and defense. But, like most teams moving up from the FCS (whose teams have a scholarship limit of 63) to the FBS (where the limit is 85), the Eagles are undersized in several spots and lack depth in most. Plus, there issues remain at QB due to the change from the triple option. On the one hand, incoming coach Fritz is modernizing the offensive scheme. But on the other, he is doing a favor for opposing defensive coordinators, who hate preparing for the triple option and its steady diet of 90% runs and 10% potential game-breaking pass attempts.

Summary...The move to coach Fritz shows that the glory days of Erk Russell and Paul Johnson are now even more distant in the past in Statesboro. But the Eagles can take pride in the fact that in their final game as a the triple-option team, Georgia Southern ran for 429 yards and passed for zero (0 for 3) in a 26-20 upset of crippled Florida in Gainesville. They will still run the ball. If their new spread offense finds its wings by mid-September, the Eagles have the pedigree (275-101-1 all-time) and potential to be a pest in the Sun Belt. But if the new offense stutters, or if defensive injuries take a toll, proud GSU could be headed for the lower division of the SBC in its first year in its new league.


APPALACHIAN STATE (2013 4-8 SUR as an FCS team; PSR 1-0; O/U 0-1))...The Sun Belt Conference loses one team this season (Western Kentucky, to C-USA), but adds four--ormer FCS teams Appalachian State and Georgia Southern from the Southern Conference, and former WAC teams Idaho and New Mexico State, which played as Independents in 2013.

The move up to the FBS level seems to make sense in some respects for App State, as the Mountaineers were a long-time FCS title contender under former coach Jerry Moore, who led the team to a 215-87 record in his 23 seasons in charge, including national championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007. It was Moore?s speedy 2007 team that rocked the college football scene with its 34-32 upset at Michigan, helping to bring an end to the Lloyd Carr era in Ann Arbor.

After a first-round playoff home loss to Illinois State, followed by a so-called mis-communication between Moore and athletic director Charlie Cobb, Moore retired/was ousted, with former Mountaineer QB and long-time assistant Scott Satterfield taking over for the transition to the FBS level. Satterfield?s rookie season as head coach resulted in a disappointing 4-8 record. But the consensus in App State?s home city of Boone, NC, is that it won?t be long before the Mountaineers ratchet up their program to contend in the Sun Belt.

The App State offense has some key veteran elements this season that should allow the Mountaineers to trade some points with just about every Sun Belt foe. QB Kameron Bryant proved to be an accurate passer last year as a soph, hitting a righteous 71.2% for 2713 yards, with 14 TDs vs. only 4 interceptions. While one might expect some improvement this season, Bryant lost his top two WR targets, Andrew Peacock & Tony Washington, to graduation. That means the App State spread will be looking for new go-to targets and TD makers. Juniors Malachi Jones and Simms McElfresh combined for 51 recs. LY, but good for only 2 TDs. Coaches hope that 5-9 Tacoi Sumler (a one-time Oregon Duck plagued by knee problems recently) can stay healthy enough to provide a big-play spark.

The ground game is in good hands with 5-10, 187 soph Marcus Cox, who racked up 1250 yards and 15 TDR LY, not to mention catching 43 passes. Thus the Mountaineers join the Sun Belt with a one-two pass/run punch in the backfield that threatens to be among the best in the league. Lots of experience returns in the OL, with four returning senior starters, although G Alex Acey must prove he has recovered from last year?s foot injury. Even with a move up to the FBS level, App State should increase its point production over 2013's 23.6 ppg.

It?s the defense which is of greater concern. Six starters return from LY. However, the this year?s unit is loaded with lots of youth and not a lot of proven depth. Two big pluses from 2013 are the return of soph LB John Law (71 Ts and 3 ints.) and 6-2, 325 soph NT Tyson Fernandez, who should do better in the middle TY in his second season after being switched from offense. But more playmakers are required on a unit that gave up 28 ppg last season vs. a predominantly FBS slate. It yielded 220 ypg on the ground, collected only 8 sacks in 12 games, and allowed 63.7% completions. HC Satterfield concedes that many new recruits will see action this season as App State increases its scholarship level and builds its FBS talent base.

One advantage the Mountaineers expect to have is their Blue Ridge Mountain home field in Boone (pop. about 18,000; named after Daniel Boone) in northwest North Carolina, roughly equidistant from Greensboro, NC and Knoxville, TN. Kidd Brewer Stadium (23,000) is situated about 3300 field above sea level, the highest of any town its size east of the Mississippi.

Summary...It looks like a case of good offense, marginal defense for App State this season. Coaches such as TCU?s Gary Patterson and West Virginia?s Dana Holgorsen have previously pointed out a similar extra strain on their depth when moving from the Mountain West and Big East, respectively, up to the Big 12. Will respected Appalachian State experience a similar numbers shortage in its first year in the Sun Belt? While the Mountaineers can win the Sun Belt title in this year of transition, they can?t accept a bowl bid. And, it should be noted that App State will make its official FBS-level debut at ?The Big House? in Ann Arbor. (We don?t like the odds of another upset.) If the Mountaineers keep their key players healthy, they might have a shot at .500 this year. Anything more than that will require a tip of the hat for over-achieving.


GEORGIA STATE (2013 SUR 0-12; PSR 8-4; O/U 6-6)...If Georgia State (0-12) were a pro soccer team in England, the Panthers would be in grave danger of being ?relegated? after just one season in the Sun Belt.

Despite taking on three FCS teams (Samford, Chattanooga, Jacksonville State) last season, Georgia State still couldn?t grab a victory. This year will be the fifth overall for the Panther football program, with the first three directed by former long-time NFL center/college head coach Bill Curry. Last year was the first for Trent Miles, who also started 0-12 with the moribund Indiana State program in 2008 before boosting the Sycamores to 7-4 by 2012.

While the Georgia State football program is relatively new at the school, GSU itself is not, having been founded a century ago and now boasting a student population of more than 32,000. And even though the Atlanta-based university must play third fiddle (at best) in its own state to the beloved University of Georgia and to Georgia Tech--and second fiddle in its own city to Tech--the very positive Miles is confident there is more than enough quality material to go around.

Miles contends his team is improved in every area in 2014. And, even though--by definition--it could hardly be worse in 2014 than last year?s 0-12, a close examination of the 2014 roster and depth chart indicates that progress is being made.

It?s both bane and boon for GSU that 27 seniors from last year?s team are now gone. Many of that group were recruited by Curry to play at the FCS level, so even last year?s first go-round in the lower-echelon Sun Belt Conference proved to much for the men. However, HC Miles--as he began doing upon his arrival in Atlanta--has been filling his open roster spots with upgraded personnel who have better upside potential.

Before some of the positives for this year, a truncated look at last year?s negatives. Among other things, the offense scored only 18.8 ppg (112th), rushed for only 3.4 ypc, and converted only 33% (108th) on third down. The defense gave up 36.7 ppg (109th), 50% on third down (122nd), and collected only 11 sacks (120th) and 6 interceptions (114th). You get the idea.

Here are some of the potential bright spots for 2014. 5-11 jr. QB Ronnie Bell developed into a decent threat during his sophomore year, throwing for 2573 yards (15 TDs, 11 ints.) despite the absence of a decent ground complement. But the Panther starting QB job remains open, as Miles has imported 6-1, 230 juco passer Nick Arbuckle from California to provide competition and depth. Arbuckle, who fired 73 TDP in two years in junior college, enrolled in January, with the battle for the starting QB spot to resume in August. 6-3 soph WR Robert Davis (44 recs. LY) and 6-3 soph TE Keith Rucker (14 recs.) return after productive freshman seasons, to be augmented by incoming 5-7 juco WR/KR Michael Harrison and 6-4 transfer TE Joel Ruiz (via Presbyterian). While the Panther running game remains unproven, soph Jonathan Jean-Bart (269 YR) showed promised last season. Of greatest concern on offense is the line, which saw six members end their eligibility last season. Three jucos offer the promise of help. Former Boston College HC and long-time NFL offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is in his second year as o.c., so it will be no surprise if the Panthers increase their point production in 2014.

There are five starters back on defense, which--considering last year?s performance--is both the good news and the bad news. However, the returnees now have some quality credentials. Speedy ILB Joseph Peterson had 103 tackles and 2 sacks LY. 6-5, 250 OLE/DE Mackendy Cheridor is one of Miles? true sophs with big-time size and potential. So are 6-4, 270 soph DEs Shawayne Lawrence and Tevin Jones. To help beef up a totally rebuilt secondary, 6-1, 210 former LB Tarris Batiste (77 Ts LY) has been moved to safety, while touted juco CB Marcus Caffey is expected to start immediately.

Summary...Georgia State (16 straight losses) is a combined 1-22 the last two seasons, with its only victory a 41-7 rout at Rhode Island in 2012. But look for Miles? boys to end their drought in 2014, perhaps as early as its first two games! The Panthers? opener is at home vs. FCS Abilene Christian (6-5 LY). And Game Two is versus New Mexico State (2-10 LY with victories over Abilene Christian and 1-11 Idaho). Should double disappointment set in after those two games, 2014 could turn out to be another long, long season for Trent Miles and staff. However, handicappers should take note. Georgia State was 8-1 as a double-digit underdog last season; 0-3 when getting only single digits.


NEW MEXICO STATE (2013 SUR 2-10; PSR 4-7; O/U 9-2)...The Aggies squeaked out two victories (vs. Abilene Christian and Idaho) in Doug Martin?s first year at the helm. Needless to say, the former Kent State coach was not happy. But he knew when he took the job that he faced a monumental task, and he hasn?t shied away from it. And he seems to be going about it the right way. Rather than attempting a quick fix by bringing in a lot of junior college players, Martin signed 23 freshmen in his recruiting class, hoping to ?hit? on several who will give the Aggies a full four years of participation. After all, it?s going to take a while to elevate a New Mexico State program that hasn?t been to a bowl game since the 1960 Sun, and that has been to only three bowls in its history (all of them the Sun).

It?s also a positive that N.M. State is back in a league after one season as an Independent following the demise of the WAC. The Aggies were in the Sun Belt from 2000-04, and they join fellow WAC refugee Idaho in rejoining the SBC. Even though N.M. State won?t be a football contender this season, it can only be beneficial to have the prospect of being a contender in upcoming years.

Even though Martin was unable to break through in a major way at Kent, he usually produced tough, competitive teams during his seven years in the MAC. And that?s his short-term goal in Las Cruces, where the 51-year-old coach has placed a major emphasis on fundamentals for this season. Martin has also hired 71-year-old, long-time defensive coordinator Larry Coyer (seven years with the Broncos, three with the Colts among his 50 years in the coaching ranks) to re-craft an Aggie defense that returns two starters and was dead last last year in rushing defense (299.5 ypg) and total defense (549.5 ypg) in the FBS.

Noting that things can hardly get worse, Coyer used spring ball to make a number of changes after the Aggies (who allowed a monstrous 6.9 ypc LY and collected only 11 sacks) were among the premier punching bags in the nation. This year?s defense will again be undersized, but Coyer has made some changes designed to increase his unit?s speed and athleticism. 6-3, 240 sr. Clint Bernard (67 Ts LY as a LB) has been moved to DE. Aggressive 5-11 soph Samuel Oyenuga (out LY due to injury) has been moved from DB to a speed LB spot. Former QBs King Davis III and Travaughn Colwell are now patrolling the back line of defense as safeties. They join hustling soph S Kawe Johnson, who tied for the team lead with two ints. in 2013. When you consider Johnson?s 5-8, 177 frame, you begin to get the importance of added size on the unit.

On offense, Martin has kept the team?s spread passing scheme that helped NMS finish 55th (241 ypg) through the air last season. Still, the Aggies produced only 20.9 ppg (103rd) and were -6 in turnover margin. There is a nucleus of veterans to work with, as 4 of 5 starters return in the OL, while four WRs with at least 30 catches are also back. However, the Aggies will be breaking in a new QB, mostly likely 6-3 juco soph Tyler Rogers, who enrolled early and progressed nicely in terms of his reads and mechanics in spring. Still, Rogers has yet to attempt a pass at the NCAA level. The same can be said for the five (!) freshman QBs being brought aboard for 2014.

PK Maxwell Johnson hit 10 of 12 FG attempts last season and was a bright spot for the Aggies. However, the team?s front line seemed to be overwhelmed at will, as NMS had five punts/kicks blocked.

Summary...This year?s QB will be new, while the Aggies? defense will be small and often overpowered--again. Martin had some success with undersized players while at Kent. Still, this will be another long season in Las Cruces, with progress measured in small steps. Perhaps New Mexico State?s greatest fear is that it will lose its road games at Georgia State and Idaho, who combined for a 1-23 record last season!



IDAHO (2013 SUR 1-11; PSR 3-9; O/U 7-5)...It might only be the Sun Belt, but the vagabond Vandals are happy they finally have a home. Even if they are ineligible for any bowl this season due to substandard NCAA academic progress. But let?s be honest. After witnessing the last three seasons of 2-10, 1-11, 1-11, the Vandal Nation wasn?t exactly making plans to follow Idaho to this season?s first ever final-four football playoff.

The stats for 2013, obviously, were pretty ugly. So let?s get most of them out of the way. 115th in scoring at 18.2 ppg. Only 3.3 ypc on the ground. 53 sacks allowed; the most in the nation. Minus 8 in turnover margin. A defense (46.8 ppg) that allowed the most points in the country; 40 or more nine times; 50 or more four times. That porous unit yielded 5.5 ypc, 68% completions, and 47% conversions on third down. But enough with the jokes.

Get ready for this. Things are finally looking up in Moscow, ID. Yes, there are still plenty of problems in the second year for Paul Petrino, who was born in Butte, MT and played QB at Carroll College in Helena. But at least Idaho--an Independent last season--is staying at the FBS level and rejoining the Sun Belt, where the Vandals played their football from 2001-05. After the demise of the WAC in 2012, Idaho briefly considered returning to the FCS level with the Big Sky, where its other non-football teams will now compete.

And Petrino has a couple of promising young QBs battling for the starting job this season. One is 6-0 soph Chad Chalich (61%, 5 TDs, 3 ints.; 204 YR), who grabbed the job LY and was progressing nicely until he was felled by a shoulder injury after seven starts. The other young QB is 6-3 redshirt frosh Matt Linehan, the son of former Idaho QB and current Dallas Cowboys? assistant Scott Linehan. Petrino says Linehan developed steadily and impressively last season on the scout team. Now that Chalich?s shoulder is nearly 100%, the competition will resume with more intensity in August. With Chalich also owning some running ability, Petrino says, ?I feel we?re in a good position with those guys. It?s been a great battle, and it?s probably one that will go on for a while.?

At RB, Petrino will start with a committee approach, with veterans sr. Jerrel Brown (216 YR LY) and 5-8 soph Richard Montgomery (196 YR) likely getting the first shots. But the Vandals also have some RB youth on the way in 5-8 Florida product Aaron Duckworth and 6-2, 248 juco Elijhaa Penny. Petrino offenses (including the one of brother Bobby at Louisville) have always had a role for a power RB/FB type.

At receiver, the Vandals are a little thin, with 6-2 sr. backup QB Josh McCain (2 TD passes; 223 YR LY) moved to wideout in the spring. 5-10 sr. Dezmon Epps, with 79 catches LY, is the top returnee, but he got nailed for DUI after the spring game, so his status is up in the air a bit. The OL has nine players who return with starting experience. But Petrino goes into August still looking for the best group after Vandal QBs were sacked a nation-leading 52 times in 2013.

While last year?s defense was overwhelmed, a returning core of veterans offers some promise for improvement in 2014, especially if the offense improves its ball control. Unlike many bottom-20 teams, the Vandals actually boast a pass rush. Sr. DE Maxx Forde had 5½ sacks, jr. DE Quinton Bradley had 3, and 6-4, 305 sr. DT Quayshawne Buckley will get a look from pro scouts after collecting 7½. Last year?s top four tacklers return, led by jr. OLB Marc Millan, who had 91, including 4 sacks. Juco LB Irving Steele showed in spring that he would be able to contribute early.

As indicated by the statistics enumerated above, last year?s secondary was a near-disaster. Plagued by a lack of speed, and sometimes a lack of much hope, WRs at times were employed in the defensive backfield in an attempt to narrow the speed gap. Seeking to keep things steady will be 5-9 jr. CB Jayshawn Jordan (77 Ts LY) and sr. S Bradley Njoku (89 Ts). But perhaps the best help for the Vandal defense is more consistency and ball control in Petrino?s QB-friendly offense.

The kicking game is worth a mention, as oft-used soph P Austin Rehkow led the nation with an average of 47.8 yards per boot. He spent much of his time in the off-season working on his FG accuracy after hitting only 10 of 17 attempts last season.

Over the last three campaigns, Idaho has gone 4-32, with the four victories over North Dakota, San Jose State, New Mexico State, and Temple. Not exactly a murderer?s row. But HC Petrino says this spring was much different than 2013, when Petrino says he focused mostly on attitude & effort, and progress in the classroom--i.e., changing the culture. To help boost the overall talent in Moscow, Petrino inked 16 jucos in this year?s class. This spring, the emphasis has been on technique and execution, with the HC saying his team is improved in every area.

Summary...While Petrino still faces a monumental task, some progress IS being made. And at least Idaho is back in a league, even though there is no possibility of a bowl. But even though this year?s team has the promise of being better than last year, the schedule might even be worse, even without 2013's 80-14 wipeout at Florida State. Once again, there are only five home games at the cozy Kibbie Dome (16,000 capacity). The Vandals hit the road for games in Gainesville, FL; Monroe, LA; Athens, OH; San Marcos, TX; Statesboro, GA; San Diego, CA; and Boone, NC. Few teams have it tougher travelwise. On the other hand, Idaho?s Sun Belt foes face unfamiliar trips to Moscow. There are a few potential wins in the slate if Petrino?s young QBs come through
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