(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)
After spending the entire week reviewing the Sun Belt, it's time for the Crystal Ball Run staff to make their conference championship picks!
Allen Kenney's Take: Same story, different conference. Conference expansion continues to dilute leagues like the Sun Belt, which makes these projections a real bear.
I think the Sun Belt title comes down to the two Louisiana squads. Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth is one of college football's best-kept secrets. He has a number of weapons returning on the offensive side of the ball, including junior quarterback Terrance Broadway. The Ragin' Cajuns are losing a bunch of proven performers on D, however.
ULL's in-state rival, meanwhile, brings back a veteran team with 17 starters. Louisiana-Monroe has returnees at key spots, including four offensive linemen and the entire defensive secondary.
I'm betting that ULM's experience helps the Warhawks navigate a tough schedule to start the season and come out on top of the conference race.
MVP: Terrance Broadway, QB, Louisiana-Lafayette
Coach of the Year: Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe
Dave Singleton's Take: Western Kentucky will wind up getting quite a bit of attention for at least the first couple of weeks this season because of the hire of Bobby Petrino.
But the attention in this league needs to be focused points south. The two schools in Louisiana are, as Allen said, the front runners to win this league, and my money would be on Louisiana-Monore. The Battle of the Bayou at Cajun Field on November 30 will be the game to watch.
However, I would keep an eye out for Texas State-San Marcos. As I wrote about on Thursday, I think that the schedule sets up nicely for them to make a run at a bowl game, and if the ball bounces just right in a couple of games, you might be looking at a dark horse title contender.
MVP: Terrance Broadway, QB, Louisiana-Lafayette
Coach of the Year: Dennis Franchione, Texas State-San Marcos
Kevin McGuire's Take: As much as I am excited to see Bobby Petrino return to coaching at Western Kentucky this season, I struggle to go all-in on the Hilltoppers this season. I think Petrino will have a fun offense to keep tabs on but I keep coming back to the Louisiana schools this fall as well. Louisiana-Monroe played some tough opponents down to the wire last season and may have been a couple plays away from being able to score at least one more victory over a program from the SEC or Big 12, and that experience can be something to build off of. But Louisiana-Lafayette seems to be more of a consistent program right now and if push comes to shove I'll line my chips up with Mark Hudspeth, who I believe will be coaching at a bigger program this time next year. Sure, they lose something on defense, but I think they will have enough to rely on to pick up a conference title this season.
MVP: Terrance Broadway, Louisiana-Lafayette
Coach of the Year: Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
Aaron Torres' Take: Ho-hum, another conference…. and once again it looks like I'm going to be boring and project Louisiana-Lafayette (or "Louisiana" as the kids call them) to win the title. Louisiana-Monroe seems to have the most talent overall and Western Kentucky the best coach, but in the end, I just think that the versatility of the aforementioned Terrance Broadway, the opportunity to play Louisiana-Monroe at home, and the experience of winning two straight bowl games will propel the Cajuns' to a league title.
MVP: David Oku, Arkansas State
Coach of the Year: Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette
Andy Coppens' Take: As just about everyone else has mentioned the spotlight for this conference this year will be on the state of Louisiana and the last week battle on the Bayou between Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe.
That said, it should be noted that it isn't as much of a given as some are thinking. I'm very surprised that no one has mentioned the two time defending champion, Arkansas State. Yes, they loose Ryan Aplin and have yet another new head coach coming on board. The latter is nothing new for the Red Wolves and if it's not going to be one of the Louisiana schools this team would be a great place to look for a champion. However, I fully expect the final week battle between the two UL schools to decide the championship and I love Kolton Browning and the Warhawks' chances to win it all this year and pull off an upset or two in the non-conference season as well.
Some have also pointed to a team I've become a fan of in terms of a true sleeper and that's Texas State. The Bobcats have a nice schedule, some good offensive weapons for the Sun Belt and most importantly one of the better veteran coaches in the league.
MVP: Kolton Browning, ULM
Coach of the Year: Dennis Franchione, Texas State
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun