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

Wyoming QB Josh Allen deleted Twitter off his phone following loss to Oregon

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Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen was one of the most heavily discussed signal-callers in the country this offseason and labeled by many as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick. Some thought he has the physical tools to transition effortlessly from the Mountain West to the NFL just like Carson Wentz.

By late September though, people are starting to hit the brakes on the hype train for the Cowboys QB and so, too, is the player himself it appears. The Associated Press published a long profile of Allen this week and one nugget seemed to jump out: following a 49-13 loss to Oregon last Saturday in which he completed just nine passes for 64 yards and an interception, the quarterback promptly deleted Twitter of his phone.

“Those guys on Twitter aren’t making draft picks and putting together teams in the NFL,” Allen said. “All I really care about is respect from my teammates and my coaches here.”

We’ve seen players delete apps or jump off social media when they face a little adversity on the field and it seems that the Wyoming star is the latest to join the bandwagon and swear off tweeting in the foreseeable future. We’ll see if it makes any difference on Saturday as his team takes on Hawaii at home to open Mountain West conference play.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s contract extended through 2025

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The future of the Big 12 conference still seems a little murky but one thing remains clear: commissioner Bob Bowlsby will be in charge no matter which way things go.

The league announced on Friday morning that Bowlsby’s contract was extended through 2025, keeping him at Big 12 headquarters through the next round of television negotiations and right up to the expiration date on the conference’s grant of rights.

“This is an important time for college athletics. This is an important time for the Big 12,” West Virginia President Gordon Gee, the chairman of the conference’s board of directors, said in a video statement. “To have a valiant and committed leader and someone who understands athletics as well as anyone in this country leading our conference is something that is very much important to the league and to the individual schools and I believe to college athletics.”

Bowlsby notably guided the Big 12 through on-again, off-again rounds of conference expansion the past few years and played a big role in bringing a football championship game and new tiebreaker scenarios to the league since he took over in 2012. The former Stanford and Iowa athletic director will be 73 at the end of his new contract, which is paying him right under $2.7 million a year according to USA Today.

Arkansas tailback Devwah Whaley will play against Texas A&M following “disagreement” with teammate

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Things got heated at Arkansas in the lead up to their next game and we’re not just talking about head coach Bret Bielema’s hot seat among the Razorbacks fan base either.

It appears that starting tailback Devwah Whaley was involved in what is being called a “minor disagreement” with a teammate this week at practice. While scuffles in the middle of an intense play are nothing new in football, there were a lot rumors that the running back was actually injured in the brouhaha and wouldn’t be able to take the field at AT&T Stadium on Saturday against Texas A&M.

“He’s ready to play,” the coach said on his radio show, according to Hawgs Illustrated. “How many times are 21-year-olds in a disagreement? Devwah is excited to play in the game in his home state.”

Whaley himself confirmed that he wasn’t injured and would be playing against the Aggies on Twitter:

While one side of this “disagreement” is all set to play at JerryWorld against Texas A&M, the other side is not. That’s because wide receiver Brandon Martinwho was also reportedly involved, is staying home in what Bielema labeled a previously determined decision due to his lingering hamstring injury. Either way, Razorbacks fans are probably hoping for a lot of the same fight they’ve seen this week from the team to carry over to their game on Saturday.

Banged up North Carolina down three starters after trio of season-ending injuries

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North Carolina’s injury situation has gone from bad to worse in the blink of an eye this week.

The school confirmed via their weekly injury report on Thursday night that three starters were lost for the rest of the season as linebacker Andre Smith, offensive lineman William Sweet and receiver Thomas Jackson all won’t return to action. The trio, who were not listed with a specific injury, were part of a whopping 19 players who were banged up on the report.

Smith did not play in last week’s game for the Tar Heels but it appears both Sweet and Jackson went down against Old Dominion and did not return.

“It is what it is. It’s the same old thing: The next guy has to get up, and the next guy has to play,” head coach Larry Fedora said earlier in the week. “You hope you can build some type of continuity at some point.”

The three starters join a lengthy injury list for the Tar Heels that is now up to nearly a 1/10th of the roster — nine names long — out for the year.

Defensive lineman Jalen Dalton was also ruled doubtful for UNC’s game against triangle rival Duke on Saturday, along with cornerback Corey Bell. offensive lineman Cam Dillard and Bentley Spain, as well as wideout Dazz Newsome, were all listed as questionable.