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 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

Car accident will sideline starting FAU lineman Reggie Bain for 2016

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On off-field incident late last week will cost FAU one of the top offensive linemen in Conference USA moving forward.

Over the weekend, FAU confirmed that Reggie Bain sustained injuries that were described as “not life threatening” in a car accident Friday. However, the non-specified injuries will likely sideline the true junior offensive tackle for the entire 2016 season.

“I have been in constant contact and have visited with both Reggie and his family,” a statement from head coach Charlie Partridge began. “His FAU football family has surrounded him with support and will continue to do so. Out of respect for Reggie, his family and our team, all questions should only be directed to me. I know that inquiries may be well-intentioned, under the HIPPA law, and per the request of Reggie and his family, there is very little I can disclose.”

No details surrounding the accident have been released.

Bain has started all 24 games in his two-year career with the Owls, earning second-team all-conference honors following the 2015 season. Coaches made Bain a preseason all-league selection last month.

Bryce Love ‘unlikely’ to play in Stanford’s opener vs. K-State

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Bryce Love #20 of the Stanford Cardinal is tackled by Kyle Gibson #25 of the UCF Knights in the first quarter at Stanford Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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It appears someone else will have to ease the load for a newly-minted starter under center and a Heisman Trophy contender, at least in the very early portion of the season.

According to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, Stanford head coach David Shaw has deemed it “unlikely” running back Bryce Love will play in the season opener Friday against Kansas State.  Love sustained what was described as a lower-body injury at some point during summer camp.

The good news for the program and the player is, after the opener, the Cardinal goes on a bye before hosting 20th-ranked USC Sept. 17.

Wilner writes that “Love… is considered central to eighth-ranked Stanford’s efforts to take the pressure off new quarterback Ryan Burns and tailback Christian McCaffrey.”  Burns has thrown one career pass and will be making his starting debut against K-State.

Last season, Love averaged 7.8 yards on his 29 carries.  He added 15 receptions for 250 yards, and three total touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving).

Rico McWilliams, 18-game starter at corner for Gamecocks, gives up football

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 10:  Malachi Dupre #15 of the LSU Tigers catches a pass in front of Rico McWilliams #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks during the third quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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South Carolina has seen one of the most experienced members of its secondary not only leave the program but the sport as well.

Rico McWilliams has decided to leave the Gamecocks and give up football, first-year USC head coach Will Muschamp announced Monday.  No reason was given for the decision.

McWilliams had started 18 the past three seasons, but began to tumble down the depth chart in the spring and failed to gain much ground in summer camp.  He had left camp early on for what were described as personal reasons, but eventually returned.

I am back with the team and have to stay focused,” the cornerback said just three days ago.

As a redshirt junior last season, McWilliams started 10 of USC’s 12 games, the lone exceptions being the contests against Georgia and Texas A&M.  He was credited with 32 tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.

Additionally, Muschamp announced that redshirt freshman wide receiver Christian Owens had left his team as well.  A three-star 2015 signee, Owens didn’t play as a true freshman.

Jim Harbaugh clarifies comments on Colin Kaepernick anthem controversy

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Via social media, Jim Harbaugh has attempted to walk back some of his strong talk.

Monday, the Michigan head coach was asked to comment on one of his former San Francisco 49er players, Colin Kaepernick, who kicked up quite the controversy this past week by sitting down during the playing of the national anthem to protest what he believes to be the mistreatment of African-Americans in this country. Not surprisingly, the outspoken Harbaugh didn’t mince many words.

“I acknowledge his right to do that, but I don’t respect the motivation or the action,” the coach said.

A short time later, Harbaugh took to Twitter to offer a clarification that he had no issue with Kaepernick’s motivation, merely his methods.