Sun Belt Adds Talent Through Subtraction
By Steve Barnes
With the recent conference realignment, the prevailing question is whether a particular move was good for a school or a league.
Is Maryland better off in the Big Ten rather than the ACC? That is debatable. Is Notre Dame playing an Atlantic Coast mini-schedule beneficial to the Irish? You can flip a coin on that one. But the trickle-down effect of schools’ moving around has without a doubt made the Sun Belt a better conference.
The Sun Belt is not a bad league to begin with despite being tagged with the “mid-major” moniker. Many a BCS team has fallen to the little guys from the South. Just in 2012, Western Kentucky beat Kentucky, Troy whipped Navy and lost to Mississippi State and Tennessee by a combined 14 points and Louisiana-Monroe topped Arkansas in overtime and a week later lost to Auburn in the extra period.
Yes, the Sun Belt is good and thanks to Conference USA, it is better in 2013.
C-USA dipped into the Sun Belt cupboard and snagged North Texas, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Florida International. All of those schools have fine programs, but none really throw the fear of an upset and moving your family to a Division II school in a coach’s mind.
Look at the facts. Only one of those teams (MTSU) had a winning record last year at 8-4. The other three combined to finish 10-26. FIU did win the Sun Belt in 2010, but no other defector has won a title in six years.
The schools were not selected for their athletics. They were singled out because of their geography.
With FIU and FAU, Conference USA now has a presence in the Miami market. Middle Tennessee gives the league a stake in the Nashville market which has been dominated by the SEC’s Vanderbilt and Tennessee. North Texas gives C-USA a team in the Dallas market.
If Conference USA had been serious about upgrading its competition instead of its exposure, it would have opted for either of the Sun Belt’s Louisiana schools, Western Kentucky or Arkansas State. Each went to bowl games, but who really cares about the media markets in Monroe or Lafayette, La., Jonesboro, Ark., or Bowling Green, Ken.?
Come on, Troy won four consecutive Sun Belt titles, but the Montgomery and Dothan, Ala., markets aren’t at the top of the ratings lists.
So the Sun Belt replaced the quartet of teams that left with a couple of FCS programs that will make the move to the Football Bowl Subdivision. And the league did not get a pair of also-rans. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will enter the conference in 2014 after completing a well-deserved last hurrah in FCS.
Between them, they have won six national championships. App State went into Michigan and upset the Wolverines. Georgia Southern has scared the tar out of Georgia, Auburn and Florida State in the past. It is a good thing for the Sun Belt the media markets of Boone, N.C., and Statesboro/Savannah, Ga., aren’t attractive to the big guys.
With the addition of two of the most successful FCS programs joining the Sun Belt, look for more coaches to worry their athletic directors are going to schedule one as a cupcake.
But remember, people choke on cupcakes.
Pros And Cons Of Each Sun Belt Opponent
Pros: The Red Wolves are on their third coach in three years and that kind of instability hurts a program. Also, quarterback Ryan Aplin’s finally gone.
Con: Arkansas State has won a lot recently, including a bowl win a year ago. The returning players know what it takes to win.
2013 marquee games: at Auburn, at Memphis, at Missouri. Watch out Auburn and Memphis.
Pros: A new program with a new coach and not a lot of players.
Cons: Your fans will leave the stadium before the end of the third quarter.
2013 marquee games: at West Virginia, at Alabama. Watch out, well nobody. Sorry Panthers.
Pros: Maybe your AD will schedule a home-and-home. That way a trip to Lafayette will be in order and you can have dinner at Prejean’s. Order the fried platter.
Cons: Louisiana is a talent-rich state in high school football and they can’t all go to LSU.
Marquee games: at Arkansas, at Kansas State. Watch out K-State.
Pros: The coach can actually tell the truth in the pregame press conference and say the Warhawks can play with anyone in the country.
Cons: The coach will mean it. The Warhawks can play with anyone in the country.
Marquee games: at Oklahoma, at Wake Forest, Tulane. Watch out everybody.
Pros: Another young program that doesn’t have all its pieces in a row as of yet.
Cons: Like Louisiana, Mobile is a high school football hotbed. Many who go to other schools have found themselves homesick and USA is getting the lion’s share of them as transfers.
Marquee games: at Tulane, at Tennessee, at Navy. Watch out Tulane and Navy.
Pros: A newcomer to the conference who lost to New Mexico and Navy last year.
Cons: Does anyone not know about the players Texas high school football produces?
Marquee games: at Southern Miss, at Texas Tech, Wyoming. Watch out USM and Wyoming.
Pros: The Trojans faithful travel well and the Troy band might show up and demonstrate what a college band should be like.
Cons: DeMarcus Ware, Osi Umenyiora, Leodis McKelvin, Dujuan Harris all were at Troy before the NFL.
Marquee games: at Mississippi State, at Duke at Ole Miss. Watch out State and Duke.
Pros: A new coach with a new system takes time to learn.
Cons: Bobby Patrino’s system works.
Marquee games: vs. Kentucky (Nashville), at Tennessee, at Navy. Watch out everybody.