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Sun Belt Preview: New look, old favorite in Mean Green

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  • Sun Belt Preview: New look, old favorite in Mean Green

    Aug. 7, 2004
    By J. Darin Darst
    SportsLine.com Staff Writer

    The Sun Belt is starting to see many changes.

    Troy joins this season, while New Mexico State, Idaho and Utah State will leave to join the WAC after this season. And in 2005, Florida Atlantic and Florida International join.

    Sun Belt
    Predicted Finish
    1. North Texas
    2. Troy
    3. New Mexico State
    4. Louisiana-Lafayette
    5. Middle Tennessee
    6. Utah State
    7. Arkansas State
    8. Idaho
    9. Louisiana-Monroe
    Off. Player of Year:
    Patrick Cobbs, N. Texas
    Def. Player of Year:
    Adrian Awasom, N. Texas
    Coach of the Year:
    Darrell Dickey, N. Texas

    The one change the conference hasn't seen is on the field.

    North Texas is the only conference champion and Darrell Dickey is the only coach of the year in the Sun Belt's three-year history.

    The Mean Green enter the season with the nation's longest conference winning streak at 18 games. They also return the nation's leading rusher (152.7 yards per game) and scorer (11.5 points per game) in Patrick Cobbs.

    He set school records in rushing yards, rushing attempts, rushing touchdowns, 100-yard rushing games and scoring. He rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his last nine games, including a 110-yard, two-touchdown performance in a loss to Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.

    Cobbs will continue to be the focal point of the offense and knows that everybody wants to end North Texas' conference title streak.


    "We've always had a target on our chest, and it's getting bigger," Cobbs said. "We've won the championship the last three years, and the other guys are angry about that. That would make me angry too."

    Until somebody proves otherwise -- North Texas continues to be the team to beat.

    Team-by-team:
    1. North Texas: Anything less than a conference title will be a major disappointment. The biggest question mark will be how will the team handles the death of backup quarterback Andrew Smith, who was killed in a car accident last week.

    2. Troy: The Trojans are the new kids on the block, joining the conference in its fourth season in Division I-A. The Trojans defense is solid, especially in the secondary, but the offense needs lots of improvement. Troy averaged only 15.4 points per game last season.

    3. New Mexico State: The defense returns 10 starters, including conference newcomer of the year DE Aubrey Dorisme. Quarterback Buck Pierce, who set a school record for completion percentage, returns to guide the offense.

    4. Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin' Cajuns should be one of the most improved teams in the conference after not winning a game outside the conference last season. Jerry Babb is a solid quarterback who should help them challenge for the title.

    5. Middle Tennessee: The high-powered offense should be just as good as last season, especially with the return of wide receiver Kerry Wright (1,280 yards, 9 TDs in 2003). But a weak secondary will mean the Blue Raiders will be playing a lot of 42-35 games.

    6. Utah State: Coach Mick Dennehy has really improved Utah State's defense, and it will once again be the strength, but with no proven running back don't expect much out of the Aggies. Travis Cox is the best quarterback in the Sun Belt.

    7. Arkansas State: Don't expect Arkansas State to have a very good season. The defense is inexperienced and there are no playmakers on offense. The worst part? The team plays at Missouri, at LSU, vs. Memphis and at Ole Miss in four of its first five games.

    8. Idaho: Quarterback Michael Harrington (Joey's brother) runs the show and he has two experienced receivers, but the Vandals defense will be one of the worst in the nation.

    9. Louisiana-Monroe: It won just one game and allowed 39 points per game last season. Things won't be any better this season.

Related Topics

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  • DJRamFan
    Mean Green back for more
    by DJRamFan
    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...
    -08-09-2005, 01:10 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Iowa State coach certain Cyclones will be contenders
    by DJRamFan
    By Daniel Berk University Daily Kansan
    Lawrence, KS (U-WIRE) -- Iowa State was the surprise of the Big 12 Conference last year, taking advantage of a weak division to earn a piece of the Big 12 North crown.

    Last season, the Cyclones were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference. They hadn't captured a football trophy since 1912.

    This season, Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said he was hopeful the Cyclones would continue to improve and contend for the Big 12 Championship again.

    "We have rewritten the history books at Iowa State," McCarney said. "We have done things the school and program has never done in football, and yet we have lots and lots of room to improve. I am proud of what we have done."

    Iowa State finished the season winning five of its last six games, including a victory against Miami of Ohio in the Independence Bowl. The only game the Cyclones dropped during that stretch was a 17-14 match against the Missouri Tigers in the final regular season game of the year.

    A victory in that game would have given the Cyclones sole possession of the Big 12 North division, and would have sent them into the Big 12 Championship game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

    Leading the charge for the Cyclones this season will be sophomore quarterback Bret Meyer. Meyer started all 12 games for Iowa State last season, and accumulated 122 rushing yards in the Independence Bowl.

    McCarney said in order for the Cyclones to have another successful season, Meyer would have to continue to improve.

    "There is a tremendous upside to Bret Meyer," McCarney said. "It is just a matter of improving, doing the little things right, and picking up where he left off last year."

    Meyer will be joined in the backfield by junior running back Stevie Hicks. Hicks ran for more than 1,000 yards last season and will take the pressure off Meyer on offense.





    Also important on offense will be sophomore wide receiver Todd Blythe. Blythe was named to the Big 12 Media Preseason Football Team after wowing opponents by catching nine touchdowns and leading the conference last year with 21.4 yards per catch.

    Another target for Meyer will be junior wide receiver Austin Flynn. Flynn saw time at quarterback last year, but was moved to wide receiver in the off season to make room for Meyer.

    On defense, the Cyclones will have to replace first-team All-Big 12 cornerback Ellis Hobbs. Hobbs was the only Cyclone chosen in the NFL draft. Senior safety Nik Moser will be expected to replace Hobbs as the leader in the secondary.

    Another stand-out on defense will be senior defensive tackle Nick Leaders. Leaders is a four-year starter who coaches named second-team All-Big 12. Last season, Leaders racked up 50 tackles and led...
    -08-29-2005, 06:11 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Boise again stands between Fresno and WAC title
    by DJRamFan
    Aug. 14, 2005
    By J. Darin Darst
    CBS SportsLine.com Staff Writer
    Tell J. Darin your opinion!





    Expectations are high at Fresno State this season.

    But as long as Pat Hill is coaching, this year is just like any other.

    "My expectations have always been to win -- that will never change," said Hill, who is entering his ninth season at the school. "Until we finish the job every game for the entire season, we aren't getting the job done. It places a big bull's-eye on my back every year, but we are going to set our goals high and our job is to obtain those. And we haven't done that yet."

    WAC
    Predicted Finish
    1. Fresno State
    2. Boise State
    3. Nevada
    4. New Mexico State
    5. Louisiana Tech
    6. Hawaii
    7. Idaho
    8. San Jose State
    9. Utah State
    Off. player of year:
    Bryson Sumlin, Fresno State
    Def. player of year:
    Korey Hall, Boise State
    Coach of the year:
    Pat Hill, Fresno State

    Fresno State returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback Paul Pinegar and running back Bryson Sumlin. That's good news for a team that finished 9-3, averaged 40 points per game and won its third consecutive bowl game over a team from a BCS conference.

    But the one thing the keeps evading the Bulldogs is a conference title and a chance to play in a major bowl game.

    Fresno State's last conference title was 1999, and a major reason for the drought is Boise State.

    Boise State is 4-0 against Fresno State since joining the WAC in 2001 and has won the past three championships and a record 26 consecutive conference games.


    Boise State QB Jared Zabransky returns after throwing 16 TDs in 2004. (Getty Images)
    "If you are going to win this conference you have to win against Boise," Hill said. "I compare Boise State to BYU in the '70s and '80s; they just didn't lose. Right now we are going through a cycle where Boise State has a very good program. What they've done over the past three years is amazing."

    Fresno State has lost at least two conference games in each of the past four seasons but has knocked off an impressive list of teams from BCS conferences, including Kansas State, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Virginia, Oregon State and Colorado.

    This season's schedule features two more out-of-conference games that could get the Bulldogs closer to achieving their goals -- Sept. 17 at Oregon and Nov. 19 at Southern Calfornia.

    "We have the type of schedule for us to obtain certain goals in Division I. We need to focus and play every game like a Game 7," said Hill. "This team has a lot of potential, but you got to win the WAC. ... You...
    -08-16-2005, 04:24 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Big 12 preview: No end in sight for North's woes
    by DJRamFan
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!





    The Big 12 North isn't a division, it's a kennel.

    You know, a place where all the mutts go.

    The division's six teams fell just short of making it into Letterman's monologue last year. Colorado was the "champion" and lost by 39 points to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. In inter-divisional play, the North won only three of 19 games against the loaded South. Conference officials are still determining whether those even count. All three were against Baylor.

    Big 12
    Predicted Finish
    North
    1. Colorado
    2. Iowa State
    3. Nebraska
    4. Kansas State
    5. Missouri
    6. Kansas
    South
    1. Texas
    2. Oklahoma
    3. Texas A&M
    4. Texas Tech
    5. Oklahoma State
    6. Baylor
    Off. player of year:
    Vince Young, Texas
    Def. player of year:
    Rodrique Wright, Texas
    Coach of the year:
    Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M
    Once again, the conference's title game (Dec. 3 in Houston), is expected to be a formality. Texas or Oklahoma will wipe the floor with the North's Last Comic Standing.

    It wasn't always this way. The league debuted 10 years ago with most of the power concentrated in the North. Nebraska was in the midst of winning three national championships in four years. Kansas won 10 games in 1995. Kansas State was an emerging national power. But while you were in the kitchen getting a sandwich, Big 12 North football became the island of misfit boys.

    Actually, it took a little longer than that. In the pillow fight that was the Big 12 North race last year, all Iowa State had to do was beat floundering Missouri -- which had lost to Troy -- to win its first race of any kind since tying for the Missouri Valley in 1912. After 92 years, a tap-in right?

    No, just another case of the yips. Missouri won in overtime, leaving the field feeling somewhat better about a 5-6 train wreck of a season in which its hothead coach needed some anger management and a new offensive coordinator. How dare media ask why Gary Pinkel's offense was able to turn Brad Smith from brilliant scrambling Heisman contender to pocket piņata?

    Once again, all six teams in the North have a chance to win the division going into 2005. That's kind of the problem. Colorado won it last year as much as the other five didn't.


    Gary Barnett and the Buffs are the best team in a bad Big 12 North division. (Getty Images)
    Can the Big 12 North bounce back? The short answer is "no" which, for now, is also the long-term answer. Blame it on Tom Osborne. When T.O. hung it up in December 1997, in retrospect, that sent Nebraska and the North...
    -08-18-2005, 08:49 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Bowling Green's Jacobs the next QB in line
    by DJRamFan
    By Tony Mejia
    CBS SportsLine.com Staff Writer
    Tell Tony your opinion!





    Record-setting Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a near-perfect run through his rookie season in the NFL, with every completed pass and victory elevating the Mid-American Conference's reputation. Although Marshall has defected from the league, both Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich cut their teeth against MAC competition.

    MAC East
    Predicted Finish
    1. Bowling Green
    2. Miami (Ohio)
    3. Ohio
    4. Arkron
    5. Kent State
    6. Buffalo
    MAC West
    Predicted Finish
    1. Toledo
    2. Northern Illinois
    3. Eastern Michigan
    4. Western Michigan
    5. Central Michigan
    6. Ball State
    Off. player of year:
    Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green
    Def. player of year:
    Justin Parrish, Kent State
    Coach of the year:
    Gregg Brandon, Bowling Green
    Very soon, Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs will join them in carrying the flag for the league at the next level. At 6-feet-4 and packing a powerful, accurate arm, he's projected a first-round pick whenever he turns pro. There is considerable buzz surrounding him after a sophomore season in which he threw for over 4,000 yards and 41 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Even if he does leave early, the junior's aim -- while people whisper his name as a dark-horse Heisman candidate -- is to lead the Falcons to a conference championship. Everything else is secondary.

    "We've challenged him," said Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon. "How many championships has he won? Can he do that? Can he lead a team to a championship? That is what he has got to get done for us."

    Bowling Green switches divisions this season -- with Marshall and Central Florida gone -- and has immediately been installed as the East favorite over two-time reigning champ Miami. While some might have expected the program to take a tumble once Urban Meyer left for Utah, the Falcons have remained a power under former assistant Brandon, accumulating a 20-6 mark in his two seasons. They still run the same complex offense that made Meyer a household name, and based on Jacobs' production, do so just as efficiently.


    Omar Jacobs celebrated last year's bowl victory with coach Gregg Brandon. (Provided to SportsLine)
    In fact, Bowling Green has the potential to accomplish what Meyer's Utah team did last year, bullying its way into the BCS. Senior tailbacks P.J. Pope and B.J. Lane and receivers Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders rejoin Jacobs on an offense that produced over 500 yards a game, second in the nation. The Falcons could be an unruly guest in visits to Wisconsin and Boise State in the season's first month. If they are able to escape unscathed,...
    -08-09-2005, 01:08 PM
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