The Florida Atlantic Owls are nearly a preseason consensus pick in the Sun Belt Conference football race for '08. However, the College Football News is departing from conventional wisdom and is going with the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders for '08.
The Sun Belt Conference is the lowest rated conference in the FBS division entering '08, by most accounts. Though, Phil Steele rated the Sun Belt ahead of the MAC to close out '07 (page 18 of Phil Steele's 2008 College Football Preview).
Lindy's has Florida Atlantic at #84 nationally, behind 3 MAC teams (Central Michigan, Ball State, and Miami-OH). Athlon Sports on the other hand has FAU #70 nationally, ahead of everyone in the MAC, other than #62 Central Michigan. PFW/College Football News picks Middle Tennessee ahead of FAU in the conference race, but has FAU #82 nationally, behind 3 MAC teams (CMU, Ball State, and Bowling Green), while Middle Tennessee is rated #108 nationally. All three magazines have FIU #119, last nationally of all FBS teams for '08.
Top 15 Sun Belt OOC games to watch in '08 -
- Troy at Ohio State
- Florida Atlantic at Texas in season opener
- Florida Atlantic at Michigan State
- Arkansas State at Texas A&M in season opener
- Arkansas State at Alabama
- Florida Atlantic at Minnesota
- Troy at Oklahoma State
- ULM at Auburn in season opener
- ULM at Arkansas
- ULM at Ole Miss
- Louisiana-Lafayette at Illinois
- Maryland at Middle Tennessee
- North Texas at Kansas State in season opener
- FIU at Kansas in season opener
- FIU at Iowa
Finally, defending BCS champion LSU hosts both Troy and North Texas in '08 in the OOC. Troy is the only FBS team in '08 that will face both the BCS champ and runner up on their schedule. Who will be this year's victim to the Sun Belt in the OOC in '08. ULM beat Alabama in November '07, while Troy beat Oklahoma State in '07?
The Sun Belt will add Western Kentucky as a football member in 2009 and South Alabama in 2013. For what it's worth, according to Wikipedia, Florida Atlantic has the strongest endowment of all football members in the Sun Belt.
So, who does one pick in the Sun Belt Conference for 2008?
- Troy Trojans (7-1 in '07) are going for their 3rd straight share of a Sun Belt title and they have several skill position holes to fill in '08. My surprise pick!
- Florida Atlantic Owls (7-1 in '07) have the upper hand, playing Troy at home in '08?
- Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (4-3 in '07) won a share of the Sun Belt in '06 w/ Troy.
- UL- Monroe Warhawks (4-3 in '07) last won a share of the Sun Belt in '05.
- Arkansas State Red Wolves (3-4 in '07) also last won a share of the Sun Belt in '05.
- UL-Lafayette Red Wolves (3-4 in '07) also last won a share of the Sun Belt in '05.
- North Texas Mean Green (1-6 in '08) won a share or outright Sun Belt title from '01 to '04.
- Florida International Golden Panthers (1-6 in '08) are the #119 team in the nation and will likely need another year before moving out of the Sun Belt cellar.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers play five games vs. Sun Belt teams, but will not become an official conference member in football until next season.
- Biggest Game: Oct. 7th - Troy @ Florida Atlantic
- Biggest Football Rivalry Game: Aug. 28 - Troy @ Middle Tennessee to open season
- Coach of the Year: Larry Blakeney, Troy (his 18th season for Trojans)
Some other projections for the Sun Belt in '08 that I googled after I made my own picks. Jason Lowry's picks. Jeff Alexander's picks. Catfish and Cornbread picks. I know I went on a limb in the Sun Belt for '08.