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Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Updated: May 11, 1:28 PM ET
Can't wait to see these things this fall

By Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde

Three Things I Can't Wait To See This Fall In the Sun Belt
Ivan Maisel
Pat Forde
1. North Texas tailback Jamario Thomas endured a hamstring-induced sophomore slump last season, rushing for only 361 yards. He proved himself when healthy, grinding out 83 yards against LSU. Much like Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma, as a healthy Thomas goes, so go the Mean Green's Sun Belt hopes. We'll find out early. North Texas opens at the defending national champion Texas Longhorns.

2. Louisiana-Lafayette closed last season with a five-game winning streak, the fifth-longest current streak in Division I-A. The fast finish erased a 1-5 start and gave the Ragin' Cajuns a share of the league championship. The streak won't see six -- ULL opens at LSU and at Texas A&M -- but an offense with steady quarterback Jerry Babb and sophomore tailback Tyrell Fenroy (1,053 yards, 12 touchdowns) will be worth watching.

3. Which suicide, check-chasing schedule catches your eye? Florida Atlantic opens with five road games (Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, ULM) while Troy's four-game trip includes Florida State, Georgia Tech, Nebraska and UAB on consecutive Saturdays. FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger and Troy coach Larry Blakeney are the two most accomplished coaches in the Sun Belt, but I just want to see if their teams survive long enough to play each other on Nov. 11.

1. Has Rickey Bustle turned the corner at Louisiana-Lafayette? The former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator has improved the product steadily in four years, going from 3-9 to 4-8 to 4-7 to last year's 6-5 mark. The Ragin' Cajuns enter this season on a five-game winning streak and bring back 1,000-yard rusher Tyrell Fenroy. That might be enough to earn the favorite's role in an evenly matched conference.

2. Oklahoma State vs. Arkansas State in Little Rock on Sept. 9. Louisville vs. Middle Tennessee State in Nashville on Oct. 6. If this league is ever going to score a major credibility victory on something other than the opponent's home field, these are as good as the opportunities might get. Arkansas State is coming off a New Orleans Bowl bid and facing an Oklahoma State program that lost its way a bit last season. Middle Tennessee is in much tougher company, taking on a Cardinals program that should be ranked in the top 15. These are the rare opportunities the Sun Belt must take advantage of.

3. Can North Texas relocate its mojo? The Mean Green had owned this league from its inception until last season, when they slumped to 2-9. Was that the true end of an era, or just a one-year blip? This season might provide the answer.