CFT predicts: the Sun Belt

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Like other non-power conferences, the Sun Belt will be getting a different look in the near future. Florida International and North Texas are out to Conference USA, while Georgia State and Texas State will enter in 2013.

FIU is the preseason favorite for the second consecutive year and Arkansas State will have a new coach in former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Sun Belt should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

1. Florida International (last season: 8-5; lost Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl) 
Mario Cristobal continues to be the hot coaching commodity, but he turned down Rutgers for another year with FIU. The Golden Panthers are the favorite to win the league this year despite losing receiver T.Y. Hilton.

2. Arkansas State (last season: 10-3; lost GoDaddy.com Bowl)
The Red Wolves have Gus Malzahn as the coach to replace Hugh Freeze. They do not, however, have former Auburn running back Michael Dyer joining them this year, next year or any year. Dyer was dismissed from the team last month after another run-in with the law.

3. Western Kentucky (last season: 7-5) 
Willie Taggart is doing great things at Western Kentucky, and he’ll keep the momentum going this year despite losing the most productive running back in the conference last year in Bobby Rainey. The Hilltoppers have a tough schedule to start, but could end strong.

4. Louisiana-Lafayette (last season: 9-4; won New Orleans Bowl) 
Mark Hudspeth is quickly making a name for himself as one of the hot name coaches in college football. However, the Ragin’ Cajuns return only 12 starters and need to replace practically their entire defense.

5. Troy (last season: 3-9)
The Sun Belt had belonged to Troy for the past couple of years, but a 3-9 campaign last season was an eye-opener. The Trojans could pass the ball, but not much else and were statistically one of the worst teams in 1-A (FBS) football in 2011. The return of nine offensive starters and 15 overall should help.

6. Louisiana-Monroe (last season: 4-8) 
Things should get bad and fast for Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks do have Brent Leonard coming back at receiver, but ULM also has to replace more than half their defensive starters from a year ago.

7. North Texas (last season: 5-7)
Dan McCarney was able to pull UNT out of the dark ages and lead the Mean Green to the most wins  in a season since 2004. UNT has lots of returning starters, but they do lose their key running back, Lance Dunbar. Also, North Texas plays just five home games this season.

8. Middle Tennessee (last season: 2-10) 
The Blue Raiders have been trending down since 2009, but Rick Stockstill isn’t on the hot seat just yet. Another year like 2011, though? Things could be warming up. Like North Texas, MTSU only plays five home games this year.

9. Florida Atlantic (last season: 1-11) 
Legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger has had better departures than the one he had at FAU. Ex-Nebraska assistant Carl Pelini will try to get the Owls back into the postseason and has added former Ohio State and Alabama wide receiver Duron Carter. 

10 South Alabama (last season: 6-4 in FCS) 
South Alabama, already a Sun Belt basketball member, finally makes its football debut. Even in a mostly terrible league, the Jaguars will struggle despite a relatively soft non-conference schedule.

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ‘em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
WAC
Independents

Rutgers declares war on Washington, comes armed with jacuzzi for fans

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Rutgers will open up the 2017 season at home against defending Pac-12 champion Washington on Friday, September 8, and the Scarlet Knights are declaring war on the Huskies. In a somewhat awkward promotion for the season opener, Rutgers is advertising the game as the “War Before the Shore,” thus encouraging fans to come out to the game before enjoying their Labor Day weekend down at the Jersey shores in the final weekend of the summer.

The first 5,000 fans attending the game will be handed a rally towel complete with the “War Before the Shore” logo designed for the game. In addition, students attending the game will walk away with a tank top that reads “Rutgers The State Football Team of New Jersey.” Students will also receive a pair of sunglasses to go with their new tank top, if they are among the first 2,000 fans to walk through the gates of the student section. The student section will also feature a temporary jacuzzi.

But if that’s not enough to entice fans to come out and enjoy a football game, Rutgers will fill the areas outside the stadium with volleyball courts, food trucks, carnival rides and boardwalk games to keep a shore feeling going.

Washington defeated Rutgers 48-13 in the 2016 season opener. The Huskies went on to win the Pac-12 and play in the College Football Playoff. Rutgers struggled through a 2-10 season in the first season with Chris Ash as head coach. Rutgers lost home games to No. 4 Michigan 78-0 and No. 9 Penn State 39-0 last season. If this season plays out on a similar note, Rutgers may want to add some more hot tubs.

Texas TE Andrew Beck out 6-8 weeks with broken foot

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On Wednesday in practice, Texas tight end Andrew Beck went down with a foot injury. Texas later announced the injury was a broken foot, and it will cost Beck some playing time at the start of the year.

This is the second time this offseason Beck has been sidelined with a lower body injury. He also sat out of spring practices with a broken foot. It has been unconfirmed if the injury is to the same foot or not. Whatever the case may be, Beck will be out of action for the next six to eight weeks at the minimum. Going off of that timeline, the earliest Beck might be available would be for the Big 12 opener against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa on Thursday, September 28. That is six weeks out from now. The two weeks after that will be games against Kansas State and Oklahoma.

The Longhorns will have to figure out who to trust at the tight end position now. The leading candidate may be Syracuse graduate transfer, Kendall Moore. Moore started four games for the Orange in 2014 and 2015, so his starting experience is limited. Moore just joined the Texas program at the end of July and was immediately thought to be a potential starter in the event Beck suffered a setback with his foot. The depth at the tight end position is not quite where Herman would ideally like to have it, but the Longhorns may be able to survive the first part of the season with their heads above water until Beck is able to return.

Foot injury puts Georgia CB Malkom Parrish on sideline

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With the start of a new college football season just around the corner, Georgia suddenly has a concern in the defensive secondary to address. Senior Malkom Parrish reportedly suffered a foot injury that will require surgery. As a result, his status for the start of the season is now in question.

The news of the injury surfaced Thursday after reporters noticed Parrish had been missing from practice for a second straight day. Seth Emerson of Dawg Nation reported the injury was a broken bone, according to an anonymous team source. Georgia has not commented on the injury status at the time of this writing. Taking the place of Parrish on the practice field was Aaron Davis, who normally plays a safety position for the Bulldogs.

Georgia’s defense returns a loaded unit of starters from last season, including Parrish. His absence from the defense for whatever amount of time he may miss could be critical if recovery time extends deeper into the season. Georgia opens the 2017 season at home against Appalachian State and continues the next week on the road against Notre Dame.

Notre Dame and Purdue tack on two more games to upcoming series

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Notre Dame and Purdue originally had a four-game schedule set in place between 2021 through 2026. Today, the Boilermakers and Fighting Irish added two more games to that scheduling agreement to extend the series into 2028.

Notre Dame will host Purdue on September 4, 2027. Purdue will host the Irish the following season, on September 23, 2028. A game previously scheduled for September 26, 2026 that was to be played on a neutral field to be determined at a later point, will now be played on Purdue’s campus.

“Having been on the other side of the series some years ago, I am familiar with the history and tradition of the Purdue-Notre Dame matchup,” Purdue athletics director Mike Bobinski said in a released statement. Bobinski is a Notre Dame graduate and former Irish baseball player. “Sellout crowds, national television, two outstanding universities in close proximity and intensely competitive games. I am excited that the series will resume and know our fans will be, as well.”

The addition of the Irish to the 2027 schedule forced Purdue to reschedule a previously scheduled game against Wake Forest of the ACC. That game will now be played on September 9, 2028. Purdue also announced it has added Memphis to the schedule in 2020 (September 12, 2020), and Indiana State in 2022 (September 10, 2022).

Purdue’s power conference scheduling commitment in the Big Ten is fulfilled through 2021 and from 2023 through 2029. Purdue currently needs a power conference or power conference equivalent opponent in 2022. The Big Ten recently relaxed its policy regarding FCS opponents, which is why Purdue is permitted to schedule Indiana State in 2022.