Mario Cristobal

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 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.


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.

Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
Mountain West

Gophers lose TE Brandon Lingen to season-ending foot injury

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 22:  Anthony Cioffi #31 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights tackles Brandon Lingen #86 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the second quarter at TCF Bank Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
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Brandon Lingen‘s injury-plagued season continues.  Or, more accurately, has come to an end.

Citing people familiar with the situation, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is reporting that the Minnesota tight end will miss the remainder of the regular season.  Lingen sustained a left foot injury in last Saturday’s game against Purdue.

On the weekly injury report, Lingen is listed as out for this weekend’s game against Illinois.  Beyond that, the school has not addressed Lingen’s status moving forward.

Lingen had missed three games earlier this season with a broken clavicle.  That issue helped limit him to three catches for 28 yards on the year.

A starter in 10 of 12 2015 games, Lingen was third on the team with 33 receptions for 428 yards.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten.

With Lingen injuries, Nate Wozniak (eight receptions, 92 yards) and Colton Beebe (5-42) have taken over the bulk of the responsibility at the tight end position.

Stanford hands keys to offense to QB Keller Chryst

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Quarterback Keller Chryst #10 of the Stanford Cardinal looks downfield to pass against the Washington Huskies on September 30, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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With things not going anywhere close according to plan this season, Stanford head coach David Shaw is in need of a change. This week that change will come at quarterback, where Keller Chryst will get a chance to start his first game with the Cardinal. Chryst will replace Ryan Burns, who has been picked off seven times this season.

”I hate to get to this point,” Shaw said. ”But it’s the best thing for this offense. We need more production at that position. It’s our challenge to support Keller.”

Chryst has attempted 18 passes this season, completing seven for 63 yards with one interception. He has also rushed 11 times for 11 yards.

Stanford’s offensive woes are not to rest squarely on the shoulders of Burns, but one of the biggest ways to spark a struggling offense is to change the quarterback. Shaw hopes this change will turn things around before things get too much worse this season. Stanford’s offensive numbers are down much more than anyone would have expected this season. The Cardinal are averaging just 17.0 points per game and 299.1 yards per game. Stanford has reached the end zone on offense just 10 times. Oklahoma and Texas Tech combined for 17 touchdowns on Saturday.

”I’ve been working with both all year and they’re both great people,” Stanford wide receiver Trent Irwin said. ”Sometimes you just need a change. We’ll see where it goes and have fun with it.”

Stanford takes on Arizona in Tucson this Saturday night.

Mizzou loses LB Mike Scherer and DL Terry Beckner Jr. to torn ACL injuries

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 27:   Tailback Mike Davis #28 of the South Carolina Gamecocks tries to outrun linebacker Michael Scherer #30 of the Missouri Tigers during the second quarter on September 27, 2014 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages)
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Missouri’s defensive depth just got hit with a serious injury big. Missouri head coach Barry Odom announced today linebacker Mike Scherer and defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. have been lost for the rest of the season due to ACL injuries.

“It rips my heart out that he’s done everything he’s done and it ends for him with that injury,” Odom said when reflecting on the injury to Scherer. The senior also suffered a torn MCL in addition to the ACL injury. Scherer’s season comes to an end after leading the Tiger sin tackles this season.

This is the second season in a row Beckner has injured his ACL. Beckner tore his ACL and MCL last November, but the latest injury was to the opposite knee.

While Scherer will be forced to call it a career, Odom said Beckner will most likely be able to make a return to the team in 2017. It is just a matter of when he will be able to rejoin the team, as his rehab would likely linger into the winter and spring months. As noted by Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Beckner did not miss any preseason camp activities this year.

There was some positive injury news for report from Missouri. Defensive back John Gibson and safety Thomas Wilson each returned to practice on Tuesday after having a strained knee and taking a hit that required a concussion test, respectively. Wilson was not diagnosed with a concussion, allowing him to return to practice.

Navy QB Tago Smith denied extra year of eligibility by Naval Academy

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 03:  Quarterback Tago Smith #2 of the Navy Midshipmen celebrates after rushing for a first quarter touchdown against the Fordham Rams at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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It was considered a bit of a long shot for Navy quarterback Tago Smith to receive an extra year of eligibility from the Naval Academy, but today it became official. Smith was denied an extra year of eligibility by the academy, meaning his college football career is over.

Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the season. Had this been almost any other college football program, Smith would have had little problem filing the paperwork to the NCAA to apply for an extra year of eligibility given the circumstances. Things work differently in the service academies, however, and Smith needed to get approval from Vice Admiral Walter Carter, the superintendent of the Naval Academy. After reviewing the situation, Carter’s decision was made, and it was not what Smith had probably hoped.

“The mission of the Naval Academy is to graduate officers for the Navy and the Marine Corps,” Commander David McKinney said in a statement to The Capital Gazette. “This is a four-year academic institution and midshipmen are expected to graduate in that period of time unless the superintendent determines there is a significant reason why they cannot do so.

“Vice Admiral Carter looked at this particular situation and decided that is not the case with Midshipman Smith. While we are sympathetic to Tago’s athletic career, we aren’t an institution that exists to develop professional athletes, we exist to develop leaders.”

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo could not help but feel for Smith upon learning of the decision. After backing up Keenan Reynolds for three years, Smith’s time as starter could not even last one full game this season.

“I would have loved for Tago to have the opportunity to come back, but I have to support the superintendent’s decision,” Niumatalolo said. “I just feel really bad for the kid. Tago has worked so hard and it’s heartbreaking to see his career end this way.”

Helmet sticker to The Capital Gazette.