By J. Darin Darst
CBS SportsLine.com Staff Writer
Tell J. Darin your opinion!





The old saying "Two heads are better than one" might be the best way to describe North Texas this season.

While most teams are trying to find one starting running back, the Mean Green have two.

Patrick Cobbs, the nation's leading rusher in 2003, and Jamario Thomas, No. 1 in 2004, return to once again make North Texas the favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference.


Sun Belt
Predicted Finish
1. North Texas
2. Middle Tennessee
3. Louisiana-Lafayette
4. Troy
5. Louisiana-Monroe
6. Florida Atlantic
7. Florida International
8. Arkansas State
Off. players of year:
Patrick Cobbs, N. Texas
Jamario Thomas, N. Texas
Def. player of year:
Bernard Davis, Troy
Coach of the year:
Darrell Dickey, N. Texas
Cobbs had a tremendous 2003 season, leading the nation with 152.7 yards per game, finishing with 1,771 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.

Unfortunately he injured his knee in 2004, sitting out the season and taking a medical redshirt.

Thomas, who was just a freshman, stepped in as the starter and ended up leading the nation with 180.1 rushing yards per game, setting the NCAA freshman record for 200-yard games with five.

Now both will be in the backfield, causing headaches for opposing teams.

"We knew from Day 1 that Patrick was capable of doing great things," said North Texas coach Darrell Dickey. "When Jamario got here, he could do some great things too. These guys take everything in stride. We are looking forward to having both in the backfield."

Having two great running backs will also help ease the pressure for an inexperienced quarterback.


Patrick Cobbs' return should help North Texas break in an inexperienced QB. (AP)
The likely starter is sophomore Joey Byerly. He had an effective spring practice, but saw very limited action last year, throwing only 12 times.

"We don't throw a ton, but we look at passing efficiency. That's what we are looking for, somebody who can manage the game plan, manage the weapons and get the ball to these two guys. With both of them in the backfield, it's going to be tougher for defenses to key in on one individual," added Dickey.

Conference Previews
ACC MWC
Big East Pac-10
Big Ten SEC
Big 12 Sun Belt
C-USA WAC
MAC Indep.
And tougher for the rest of the league to win the conference title.

Predicted order of finish:

1. North Texas: Can they make it five consecutive conference titles? The Mean Green's biggest test will be the second week of the season -- at Middle Tennessee.

2. Middle Tennessee: With eight starters back on offense and 10 on defense, the Blue Raiders pose the biggest threat to North Texas. Clint Marks is the best passer in the league.

3. Louisiana-Lafayette: With the return of quarterback Jerry Babby and wide receiver Bill Sampy, the Ragin' Cajuns should be able to compete for the conference title.

4. Troy: After a fantastic season in 2004, it's going to be tough for the Trojans to have an encore this year. The defense will be strong again, especially with the return of LB Bernard Davis and DB Johnny Faulk.

5. Louisiana-Monroe: Dual-threat quarterback Steve Jyles is back, but the season will depend on the running game of Kevin Payne and an inexperienced defense.

6. Florida Atlantic: The Owls should have a strong secondary, led by Willie Hughley, but the offense will be young. Former West Virginia backup Danny Embick gets the start at quarterback.

7. Florida International: The offense will be the strength with the return of quarterback Josh Padrick, but the defense must be much better than it was last year.

8. Arkansas State: Running back Antonio Warren and quarterback Nick Noce return, but the rest of the team is inexperienced. Defensive back Tyrell Johnson is one of the best in the conference.