NCF Nation: Sun Belt

Could top conference be out of title game?

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Heading into the final week before the bowls are announced, the SEC leads ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three of the top five teams in the country in Auburn, Alabama and Missouri.

The SEC’s strong out-of-conference record has a lot to do with its success in the polls; the SEC is 47-9 in nonconference games, including 3-1 last Saturday against the ACC.

Vanderbilt, Georgia and South Carolina all defeated their ACC rivals on Saturday, and the SEC’s only out-of-conference loss this past weekend came at the hands of then-No. 2 Florida State.

However, the biggest debate heading into conference championship weekend is whether the SEC deserves a spot in the BCS National Championship to defend its seven straight titles.

If the season ended today, the top team in the ACC would face off against the top team in the Big Ten. According to ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings, the ACC and Big Ten are the lowest-ranked conferences among the five major ones, and the SEC is by far the top conference in the country.

However, the debate is not necessarily which conference is the best, but which team is the most deserving.

When looking at ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings – a system that determines the most deserving teams in the country -- Ohio State and Florida State are both ranked higher than the top team in the SEC.

Looking deeper by using ESPN’s Football Power Index – a predictor of future strength -- Ohio State should be favored by three points over Auburn and six points over Missouri on a neutral field.

It appears the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be on the outside looking in on the national title debate despite ranking second and third, respectively, in ESPN’s Conference Power Rankings. Both conferences have depth, but their biggest issue is that there is no “elite” team at the top.

Keep an eye on the bowl matchups announced next Sunday to see how conference strength plays into bowl selections. In the last three seasons, the SEC has the best record in bowl games among the five major conferences (17-11) while the Big Ten has the worst record (9-16).

Lunchtime Links

September, 14, 2010
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Injuries aplenty to discuss ...

North Texas quarterback Nathan Tune could be out for the year after dislocating his hip against Rice last week.

BYU is already at a crossroads, writes Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Utah has to adjust because of injuries.

Rice will start Nick Fanuzzi at quarterback against Northwestern. Starter Taylor McHargue is out with a separated shoulder.

Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse is out for Saturday's game against Utah State with ankle and shoulder injuries.

Southern Miss WR DeAndre Brown quieted his critics with a big game last week.

Boise State hopes to redshirt WR Kirby Moore, brother of quarterback Kellen Moore.

The injury bug has hit San Jose State, and the Spartans are just trying to get healthy.

Air Force fullback Jared Tew may have a broken bone in his hand.

Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild vows, "We'll get this thing turned around," after another blowout loss.

Sun Belt teams missed on upset opportunities.

Other conference links:

ACC

Big 12

Big East

Big Ten

SEC

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 6, 2010
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Let's take a look at the good, the bad and the incredible in a nearly complete Week 1.

The good: The Mountain West and WAC were the only two conferences to win games against AQ opponents. The Mountain West had the best record against teams from those automatic qualifying conferences, going 3-3 with big wins from TCU, BYU and Utah. Fresno State had the lone WAC win, over Cincinnati. Of course, there is still one WAC team yet to play. The other conference records against other AQ schools:

[+] EnlargeUtah Celebration
AP Photo/Steve C. WilsonUtah's upset of No. 15 Pitt was just one reason for Non AQs to celebrate in Week 1.
Conference USA: 0-5; 0-6 against all FBS opponents.

MAC: 0-5; 0-7 against all FBS opponents.

Sun Belt: 0-5; 2-5 against all FBS opponents.

The bad: Nobody could possibly have had a worse weekend than New Mexico, which lost 72-0 to Oregon. This is the perfect example of why many people believe the Mountain West should not get an automatic qualifying bid into the BCS. The league is so top heavy it gets weighed down with the teams at the bottom that simply cannot compete. Show me a team at the bottom of any AQ conferences that could lose as badly as this. Not even Duke, Vanderbilt or Syracuse qualifies.

The incredible: You probably have all seen the highlights, but it bears repeating that East Carolina's last-second win over Tulsa is why fans of the sport love it so much. Time winding down, hopes all but gone, and then a ball dropped from the heavens right into the arms of the 6-foot-8 Justin Jones. "That was the greatest experience of my life," quarterback Dominique Davis said after the game. "There was probably people in the stands -- our fans -- who probably thought the game was over. But I told the team, 'Just trust.' As soon as I let it go, I knew he was going to catch it."

The new: Several new starters at quarterback seemed to do all right for themselves on opening weekend. Jake Heaps of BYU, Corey Robinson of Troy and Logan Kilgore of Middle Tennessee all had decent outings. So did Ryan Radcliff of Central Michigan and Jerry Davis of Buffalo.

A few more helmet stickers: Belated helmet stickers to Davis of East Carolina, who went 27-of-46 for 383 yards with five touchdown passes. He also had a score on the ground. Also, much was made of the way Hawaii was able to hang around USC. The offense looked great, even after starting quarterback Bryant Moniz took a hit to the helmet and was forced to leave the game. Kealoha Pilares had five catches for 176 yards and 3 TDs in the win. Two of his touchdowns went for over 50 yards.

A few injury items to note: UTEP running back Donald Buckram missed the opener against Arkansas Pine-Bluff after bruising his knee in practice. A MRI on his knee was negative, and he clearly was not needed in the win over an FCS team. Hawaii's Moniz didn't practice Saturday but said he expects to play this week against Army. Air Force cornerback Reggie Rembert was carted off the field with a neck injury in the opener against Northwestern State, and it's unlikely that he plays this weekend against BYU. Tests on his neck were negative.

Week 2 look ahead: There are several in-conference games scheduled for this week, the biggest being BYU at Air Force. On Thursday night, Central Michigan plays Temple in the MAC; UTEP is at Houston on Friday night in a big divisional game. You can bet the Miners will need Buckram in this game. FIU, New Mexico State and Louisiana-Monroe were the only three idle teams in the country Week 1. They play their first games this weekend.
As more and more camps open, let's take a look around the world of the non-AQs ...

Three freshmen have been dismissed from the Marshall football team.

Six of the nine Sun Belt teams will have new offensive coordinators this season.

Hawaii begins practice tomorrow but will be without linebacker Aaron Brown for at least a week after he sprained his ankle during a workout.

Maryland and Navy want an in-state rivalry.

Southern Miss opened practice Tuesday.

SMU is losing recruits because of tough admissions standards at the university.

Army QB Trent Steelman has bulked up to 208 pounds.

Nevada RB Vai Taua is grateful for his second chance.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

The undefeated season.

It's become the Holy Grail for teams from the Mountain West, WAC, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt, the five conferences that don't earn an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series.

 
  Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
  Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's Utes made a big impression last season going undefeated.
It's the only way the 52 teams from those conferences get a sniff at a BCS bowl.

Since the introduction of the BCS, three teams -- Utah, Boise State and Hawaii -- have played on college football's biggest stages. Those three teams have amassed a 3-1 record in BCS bowls against teams that didn't have to be undefeated for their shot at national exposure and millions of dollars in BCS money. And while it hasn't all been pretty, the teams from the non-automatic qualifying schools are slowly starting to show parity and ultimately demand equality.

That was no more evident than this past season when Utah defeated Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl to cap their 13-0 campaign.

"The only way to get yourself into a BCS situation is to play your way into it," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "That's the way you get there."

But while conquering a schedule that's good enough to reach a BCS bowl has been accomplished by teams in the Mountain West and WAC, the three other non-automatic qualifying conferences -- Conference USA, the MAC and the Sun Belt -- have been on the outside looking in. They're watching their brethren to the West get all the notoriety while they try to negotiate the road map teams such as Utah and Boise State have drawn.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Tuesday blog was a little Buckeye heavy -- apparently they have a big game this week -- so it's time to see what else happened around the league. Let's see ... bad news at Minnesota, no news at Penn State.

Read on.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

The Sun Belt is one of the nation's youngest conference's in Division I-A football. Florida Atlantic starting playing Division IA in 2001, Florida International in 2002, and Western Kentucky will join the league this season -- but it's already considered a conference on the rise.

In 2007 alone, the Sun Belt managed three major upsets: Florida Atlantic defeated Minnesota; Troy defeated Oklahoma State; Louisiana-Monroe toppled Alabamal and Florida Atlantic went on to win its first conference championship.

Florida Atlantic won the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and helped the Sun Belt to $1,823,543 in bowl revenue, according to a report published by the NCAA -- third-most among the non-BCS conferences.

The increased success gave the Sun Belt an opportunity to partner with three new bowls this season, which will give the conference a better opportunity for television exposure and better recruiting. Previously, the Sun Belt was linked to just one bowl.

"This is an excellent opportunity for our football league for many reasons," said Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters regarding the bowl partnership. "It will give our teams a chance to play in regional bowl games, show that we can compete with quality opponents and prove that this league can attract crowds to games and influence TV ratings."

Now, the challenge for the Sun Belt is to balance the league. Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas and Florida International all finished with three or fewer wins. Florida International has not finished with a record above .500 since it joined the league in 2005 and North Texas, which won four consecutive conference championships from 2001-04, has won a total of five conference games since the league restructured in 2005.

Still, there's a sense that teams such as North Texas and Middle Tennessee State can regain its past form and make the league a little less top heavy and a little more competitive across the board.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Who has the biggest recruiting budget?

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a report for its August issue detailing the recruiting budgets for more than 1,000 collegiate institutions across the country. The report encapsulates all recruiting, not just football, but breaks it down by money spent on each gender.

Tennessee, Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn, Kansas State, Georgia, Nebraska, Arkansas, Duke, and Ohio State round out the top 10, while schools such as Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia are scattered across the nation's top 25.

According to the article, 21 Division I schools each spent more than $1 million in 2007, including all of the schools listed above (Tennessee was the only school over $2 million). The 65 top teams spent a total of more than $61 million in 2007, an 86 percent increase from 10 years before.

So what does this mean for the non-BCS?

Well, it doesn't take a mathematician to realize that the schools of the non-BCS don't have the scratch to keep up with the big boys in recruiting. Of the 51 non-BCS schools, not including the independents, only UNLV tops $700,000 in recruiting with $514,025 to spend on men's sports. Only four schools have total recruiting budgets of more than $600,000, but just two use over $400,000 for men's sports. The WAC doesn't have a team that spends more than $352,000 on men's sports recruiting (Idaho). The next biggest spender in the WAC is New Mexico at $305,000. The Sun Belt doesn't have a team that spends more than $266,000 -- Florida International. Middle Tennessee State spent $260,000 on men's sports. There's not another team in the $200,000s.

Louisiana-Monroe, the team that knocked off Alabama last year, has a men's sports recruiting budget of just over $87,000, the lowest of the non-BCS. Want more perspective? Appalachian State, the Division I-AA team that knocked off Michigan last year, spends around $140,000 on men's recruiting.

Of course these totals don't all go to football, though football recruiting takes up a significant portion, and different conferences have different men's sports. But the vast differences in recruiting budgets, even across the non-BCS, is staggering. What's even more interesting is that the teams that are consistently winning -- Boise State ($228,172 for men's sports), Hawaii ($190,387) and Troy ($133,297) -- work on some of the smallest men's recruiting budgets in Division I-A.

Over the next few posts, I'll break down each non-BCS conference by men's sports recruiting money and overall recruiting money. The numbers will amaze. It's not always the biggest budgets that mark success.

Coming up in the next post, Conference USA.

Hate Meter: The Sun Belt

July, 30, 2008
7/30/08
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On Tuesday, ESPN.com began a series on rivalries and the most-hated teams in the conference. I got through the WAC and the Mountain West and now it's time to turn attention to the other side of the country.

The Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mid-American have rivalries as fierce as anyone even though some of the rivalries of 20 years ago -- or even five years ago -- have disappeared because leagues have been restructured and some teams have moved to other conferences. But most rivalries are deep-rooted and the level of hatred between the teams lives on.

1. Middle Tennessee -- Again, this has little to do with winning and more to do with the fact that three SBC teams call Middle Tennessee State their rival. That's a lot of teams to upset in a nine-team conference.

2. Troy -- Ever since DeMarcus Ware and beating Missouri on ESPN2, Troy has been the darling of the Sun Belt and playing it up with games against the nation's best BCS teams. Too bad the Trojans haven't been able to recapture the magic.

3. Florida Atlantic -- A newbie in the league, but already a Sun Belt champion and now the team to beat. The Owls have only been playing football since 2001, which makes all those storied programs look a little sad.

4. Louisiana-Monroe -- Yeah, we all know you beat Alabama on the road. We saw the T-shirts. Read the stories. OK, we got it. Now, everyone in the SBC wants to take you down.

5. North Texas -- Todd Dodge was one of the best high school coaches in Texas, but it hasn't translated to the college game -- yet. It's coming, which puts the Mean Green in the middle of the hate meter.

6. Arkansas State -- The Red Wolves have the potential to be spoilers and be good every so often. They were a field goal away from costing FAU the SBC title.

7. Western Kentucky -- The Hilltoppers aren't even eligible for SBC wins this year (new to the league), but many teams are chomping at the bit to get at them. A lot of that comes from the basketball rivals, which will move to football next season.

8. Louisiana-Lafayette -- Proximity, rather than competitiveness, makes the Ragin' Cajuns a little higher on the hate meter than some of the lower-tier SBC schools. The Ragin' Cajuns haven't had a winning season since 1994.

9. Florida International -- Its brawl with Miami a few years back gave the Sun Belt and most of college football a bad rap. They've only been playing football since 2002, which creates a discrepancy in skill.

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