Conference USA Prediction
Conference USA: Muy Interesante
Sun Belt Prediction
Sun Belt: Muy Interesante
The lone conference to produce three quarterbacks with 40 or more touchdown passes last season was Conference USA. The three players who accomplished said feat were David Johnson of Tulsa with 46 touchdown passes, Case Keenum of Houston with 44, and Chase Clement of Rice with 44. Not only did these three quarterbacks play in the same conference, they also played in the same division! Not surprisingly, each team also enjoyed a successful season, as each won their bowl game and they combined for 29 wins versus just 11 losses. In conference play they were even better, combining for a 20-4 record. Of their four losses, three came versus each other, in a sort of Rock/Paper/Scissors circle. Tulsa blasted Rice by 35, Houston hung 70 on Tulsa in a 40-point win, and with the division on the line, Rice beat Houston by 14, handing the title to Tulsa. The only other team to beat the triumverate in the league last season (until the title game of course) was Marshall, who upset Houston. Unfortunately for Rice and Tulsa, Johnson and Clement have exhausted their eligibility meaning Houston has a definitive leg (or arm) up in their quest to take the West division in 2009.
It's About The Climb
If you're the Sun Belt, widely regarded as the weakest conference in all of IA football, how do you measure progress? One way would be to look at your record against the rest of the IA-football playing world. In its present incarnation (with the exception of adding Western Kentucky for the upcoming 2009 season), the Sun Belt has looked the same since 2005. Here's how they've done outside the league since then (the 2007 and 2008 numbers do not included any games played by Western Kentucky, a provisional IA member at the time).As you can see, the Sun Belt was effectively an amalgamation of IAA schools, at least performance-wise, in 2005. Their only victory outside the league that season was Middle Tennessee State's upset of Vanderbilt that kept the Commodores from bowl-eligibility. They improved a little in 2006, failing to record a win versus a BCS school, but winning more than a third of their games against fellow non-BCS members. The league kept improving in 2007, winning thrice against the big boys, including upsets of two bowl-bound teams (Oklahoma State by Troy and the infamous victory by La-Monroe over Alabama). The league treaded water in 2008, beating two big boys (Texas A&M by Arkansas State and Maryland by Middle Tennesse State), but failing to capture any other notable scalps. But if we look at a different set of numbers, it looks like the Sun Belt may have enjoyed its finest season ever in 2008.Last season, Sun Belt members won only twice against BCS members, but they were much more competitive. Florida International lost by only 8 versus South Florida from the Big East. La-Lafayette (now called simply Louisiana) lost by just 3 at Illinois and by 8 at Kansas State. La-Monroe nearly pulled a second consecutive shocker losing to Arkansas by a single point. Middle Tennessee State not only beat Maryland, but also played Kentucky within 6 points and Mississippi State within 9. And who can forget the biggest near miss of all, Troy's 9 point loss to LSU in Death Valley, a game they were winning at one point 31-3. If you're the Sun Belt, you measure success by not getting pounded by the big boys. And if you're a big boy playing any Sun Belt member besides North Texas and Western Kentucky this season, take heed and don't look past them.