2010 Sun Belt Conference: Looking Ahead

David HedlindAnalyst IIMay 7, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 20:  Dwight Dasher #9 of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders runs for a touchdown past Justin Wilson #8 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles during the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on December 20, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Blue Raiders defeated the Eagles 42-32.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Making strides is hard when you are considered the bottom of the barrel.

The Sun Belt conference must be doing a little something right because they doubled their bowl affiliations after last season.

Granted, that takes the automatic tie-in to two, but for the Sun Belt, this is good.

After last seasons 44-41 double overtime thriller between Central Michigan and Troy, the GMAC bowl extended an invite to the Sun Belt to send a team to the bowl next year despite this years' representative losing.

The conference has earned two bowl bids each of the last two seasons. Even though they have a .500 record among these four bids, the two losses were by a combined six points.

People still think of the Sun Belt as fodder for padding the schedules, but I don’t think the conference is as easy as it used to be—at least not with all the teams.

For years now, a Sun Belt team has managed to pull off a victory—2009 was no different and 2010 won’t be either.

Last season Middle Tennessee edged Maryland for a win, and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if they open 2010 with a win over visiting Minnesota.

Other games to watch for are FAU vs. Michigan State and at South Florida, Troy at Oklahoma State, and Arkansas State vs. Louisville and at Indiana.

The Sun Belt conference added Western Kentucky as a football member last season, but all it really did was add another win to everyone’s record.

The Hilltopers went 0-8 in conference and 0-12 overall. The bad news is that next season starts with four games against BCS conference opponents, three of which are on the road.

Some good news may be in the changes in the coaching staff.

The new head coaches may be a set back at first as they take time to adjust, but in the long run they might pay off.

An unknown commodity as a head coach, Willie Taggert, will make his head coaching debut at his alma mater, WKU, in a job he has wanted since he played for WKU in the late 90’s.

The other coaching change in the conference was at ULM.

New head coach Todd Berry returns to ULM where he used to be an assistant under the man he replaces, Charlie Weatherbie.

Weatherbie was arguably a good coach at ULM, where he was the head man for both of ULM’s non-losing seasons since moving up to FBS and winning a share of the conference in 2005.

Berry was the head coach at both Illinois State and Army before bouncing around in various positions including stints at ULM, Miami, and UNLV before taking the head job at ULM.

I don’t have a lot of information on all the teams just yet, but I will bookend my selection for conference standing by saying, with Dasher back, Middle Tennessee is my favorite to win, and Western Kentucky will bring up the rear again.

With all the talk of expansion I felt it would make sense to touch on that topic as well. Depending on what teams go where, if any moves at all, the only real change I could see is if and Conference USA teams move up to the Big East. 

If this were to happen, like it did when the Big East got raided by the ACC, then I could see schools such as Troy or Middle Tennessee moving up to Conference USA.  Depending on how many schools are needed, Florida Atlantic could be another option. 

The Sun Belt itself would could stay no matter how many teams they lose.  There is no lower limit for number of teams and in the near future there are a few schools moving to the ranks of FBS level which could come in and fill out the conference.