Rise of the Sun Belt Conference: Middle Tennessee and Troy

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent INovember 13, 2009

When many college football fans rank conference prestige, one league always lands on the bottom: the Sun Belt. 

With its pitiful television deal and poor bowl tie-ins, the league is looked at as a transition league for former members of the Football Championship Series (Division 1-AA). 

But the play on the field has become something to note, making this league competitive with teams in the BCS as well as other more "prestigious" conferences. Last year saw MAC member Central Michigan defeated by Florida Atlantic, a third-place team in the Sun Belt.

Troy was one bonehead play away from beating Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl. Had a wide receiver simply ran forward as opposed to backward, we'd be talking a perfect 2-0 record in bowl last season.

This year has seen Louisiana-Lafayette beat Big 12 North leaders Kansas State, as well as Middle Tennessee beat Conference USA member Memphis and ACC member Maryland on the road.

This year, the Sun Belt went 2-1 against Conference USA, with Troy beating UAB. The only loss was FAU's to UAB, with the Owls starting their backup quarterback.

Could the Sun Belt hang with the MAC? Sure. Here are the matchups we'd see.

Troy v. Central Michigan

Temple v. Middle Tennessee

Ohio v. Louisiana Monroe

Northern Illinois v. Louisiana-Lafayette

In all honesty, these teams could all have excellent games against each other.

The difference between the Sun Belt and other leagues is one thing: vision.

Teams in the MAC, CUSA, MWC, WAC are all looking to build their programs or their leagues. The Sun Belt is looking to simply exist in the world of college football.

The only way the league will continue grow is new leadership. The talent is on the field, but lacking in the front office.

Can the Sun Belt compete? On the field, yes. Off the field, no.

The future and ability of this league to grow comes down to its ability to want to get bigger. The area is full of talent, it just needs a leader to build showcase the league.

Let's be honest football fans, some smaller leagues have better teams, and some have worse, but just because we don't hear from these teams doesn't mean they can't play.

Remember: five years ago, nobody followed the Mountain West.