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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Can't wait to see these things this fall

By Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach

Three Things I Can't Wait To See This Fall In The Sun Belt
Ivan Maisel
Mark Schlabach
Todd Dodge1. The most fascinating new coach in college football is Todd Dodge at North Texas. Dodge became one of the most successful high school coaches in the state at Southlake Carroll. There haven't been many coaches who made the direct leap from Friday night to Saturday. In fact, the only one that leaps to mind is Hank Rockwell in the Chip Hilton books.

2. One of the best running backs you've never heard of is Louisiana-Monroe senior Calvin Dawson, who begins the season with a streak of five consecutive 100-yard games. It's no coincidence that the Warhawks won three of those five, rallying to finish the season 4-8. That should provide momentum for this season, if the opening trio of Tulsa, at Clemson, at Texas A&M doesn't kill it.

3. Troy quarterback Omar Haugabook has been a star at every level: prep player of the year in Florida in 2003, conference MVP at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College in 2005. He made a steady transition to the big time last season. First five games: seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions. Last seven: 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions. If he improves at his usual pace, the Trojans will make nonconference foes Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma State (in Troy!) and Georgia work to contain him.
1. Can Howard Schnellenberger lead Florida Atlantic to its first bowl game? The Owls went 5-7 in 2006, losing to Sun Belt co-champion Troy by a touchdown. Nine starters are back on offense and 10 return on defense. Quarterback Rusty Smith showed improvement in the spring, and 19 sophomores who started a year ago surround him. The nonconference schedule is once again daunting, with road games at Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Florida and home games against Minnesota (Dolphin Stadium) and South Florida.

2. What will Rick Stockstill do for an encore? In his first season as Middle Tennessee's coach, Stockstill led the Blue Raiders to a 7-6 record, a share of the Sun Belt regular-season title and their first bowl game, a 31-14 loss to Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. If Stockstill can find replacements for tailback Eugene Gross and quarterback Clint Marks, the Blue Raiders will once again be dangerous. They finally have a BCS conference foe coming to Murfreesboro, Tenn. -- Virginia plays at Floyd Stadium Oct. 6.

3. Will Todd Dodge be more successful than Gerry Faust, the former Notre Dame coach hired from a Cincinnati high school? North Texas plucked its new coach from the Texas high school ranks, luring former Mean Green offensive coordinator Todd Dodge back to Denton to replace fired Darrell Dickey. Dodge, 43, had a staggering five-year mark of 79-1 at Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas, leading the Dragons to four straight state titles and a 48-game winning streak to end his tenure. Dodge employs the spread offense, but he can't forget tailback Jamario Thomas led the country in rushing as a freshman three years ago.