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August 15, 2008

FAU has makings of another solid offense

MORE: 2008 Sun Belt Preview

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD
1. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Quarterback Rusty Smith is one of the nation's top 25 quarterbacks. There is no standout tailback, but Charles Pierre gets the job done.
2. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Quarterback Michael Desormeaux and tailback Tyrell Fenroy both ran for more than 1,000 yards last season. Fenroy is looking to reach that plateau for the fourth season in a row. Desormeaux's passing is mediocre, though.
3. ARKANSAS STATE
Tailback Reggie Arnold will battle it out with Fenroy for the league rushing title. Quarterback Corey Leonard is a solid runner and an improving passer. However, he needs to cut down on his picks.
4. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Quarterback Dwight Dasher is an exciting sophomore, but he may not be able to beat out steady Joe Craddock for the starting job. Tailback Phillip Tanner will be running behind an injury-ravaged line.
5. WESTERN KENTUCKY
David Wolke who began his career at Notre Dame and K.J. Black seem likely to share quarterback duties again. Tailback Tyrell Hayden is looking for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.
6. LOUISIANA-MONROE
Quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster enters his third season as the starter. A lot is expected of sophomore tailback Frank Goodin, who ran for 596 yards in a backup role last season.
7. NORTH TEXAS
Quarterback Giovanni Vizza threw 17 TD passes as a true freshman last season, but may not be able to hold off touted freshman Riley Dodge, the coach's son. The running game needs work.
8. TROY
The Trojans will have a new quarterback and a new tailback. The tailback job is up in the air, but the quarterback likely will be sophomore Jamie Hampton.
9. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
FIU was horrible on offense last season, and that seems likely to continue. Tailback A'mod Ned has some talent, though.

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT END
1. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Cortez Gent is the best wide receiver in the league and teams nicely with Smith in a solid pass-catch combo. Even without star tight end Jason Harmon, who will miss the season with a knee injury, this is the league's best receiving unit.
2. LOUISIANA-MONROE
Lancaster has three solid targets in wide receivers LaGregory Sapp and Darrell McNeal and tight end Zeek Zacharie.
3. NORTH TEXAS
Casey Fitzgerald again should surpass the 100-catch plateau. But a No. 2 receiver needs to emerge.
4. TROY
The Trojans' spread attack frequently uses four-receiver sets, but outside of sophomore Jerrel Jernigan, there is no proven talent. Two of the top four receivers are shorter than 5 feet 9.
5. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Jason Cherry and Derrick Smith are a solid duo, but chances are they'll be underutilized in the Ragin' Cajuns' run-oriented offense.
6. ARKANSAS STATE
Brandon Thompkins had a solid season as the No. 2 guy last season. Can he make the jump to go-to receiver?
7. WESTERN KENTUCKY
Leading receiver Curtis Hamilton is gone, and there doesn't appear to be a true No. 1 receiver on the roster. Jake Gaebler gets first dibs on the job.
8. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Patrick Honeycutt is the only returning receiver who made more than 15 catches last season and he had only 28.
9. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
All the receivers return, but FIU completed only 159 passes last season. In short, this is not a passing game to be feared.

OFFENSIVE LINE
1. TROY
While the Trojans will have an all-new backfield, at least the new guys will be well-protected. Four of the five starters are back, led by the tackle tandem of Dion Small and Chris Jamison. The new guy is guard Tyler Clark, who was a part-time starter last season.
2. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Four starters return, though the health of guard David Matlock (knee) bears watching. Tackle John Rizzo is tough on the outside.
3. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Hey, there's a reason ULL runs the ball so well. Center Chris Fisher is the guy to watch. Guard Brad Bustle is the coach's son.
4. NORTH TEXAS
The Mean Green's linemen did a nice job adapting to a pass-heavy offense last season. Center Kelvin Drake is the leader of the group.
5. WESTERN KENTUCKY
The key to the line's performance is senior tackle Greg Ryan, who redshirted last season. He is one of three new starters.
6. ARKANSAS STATE
Tackle Matt Mandich is the only returning starter for the Red Wolves, which means Arnold could find it tough sledding. Mandich is one of the league's best linemen.
7. LOUISIANA-MONROE
The Warhawks love to run the ball, but there will be four new starters this season. The holdover tackle Larry Shappley has a chance at all-league honors.
8. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
The Blue Raiders have been hit by injury after injury on the line during fall practice. It's possible that two true freshmen end up as starters. Guard Jamal Lewis is a good one.
9. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
These guys are big, but they didn't provide much of a push last season. Guard Joe Alajajian's brother Nick is one of the nation's best high school linemen this season.

DEFENSIVE LINE
1. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
This is an experienced, talented unit. Tackle Jervonte Jackson is stout in the middle, and there is good depth.
2. TROY
The Trojans always seem to come up with big-time linemen. They are especially strong at end this season and return three starters overall.
3. LOUISIANA-MONROE
Three starters return for the Warhawks, and big things are expected from junior end Alaric Coleman. And keep an eye on tackle DeMarcus Carmouche, projected to be the one new starter. He had a good season in 2006, but didn't do much last season.
4. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
The Blue Raiders have the potential to have a top-flight pass rush. The middle of the line could be quite good, as well.
5. ARKANSAS STATE
End Alex Carrington has great size (6-5/280) but needs to be more consistent. He and Brian Flagg form a good end duo.
6. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
Six linemen with starting experience are back. There is no standout, but this could end up being FIU's best unit.
7. WESTERN KENTUCKY
The Hilltoppers run a 3-4 set, and both ends return. If a new nose tackle can hold his own in the middle, this could be a nice group.
8. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Tackle LaQuincy Williams is the only returning starter from a group that didn't hold up against the run last season. The new starters are inexperienced.
9. NORTH TEXAS
Ultra-productive end Jeremiah Chapman is gone. Even with Chapman, the Mean Green were horrible against the run. This season looks like more of the same.

LINEBACKERS
1. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
All three starters return, and they just happened to be ULL's top three tackles last season. Antwyne Zanders has all-league talent, and sophomore Grant Fleming is tough and instinctive.
2. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Frantz Joseph is the league's best linebacker, but running buddy Cergile Sincere is gone. Still, this is a speedy, aggressive group. Andre Clark is another with all-league talent.
3. LOUISIANA-MONROE
The Warhawks run a 4-2-5 scheme and both starting linebackers are back. Cardia Jackson should be one of the league's best linebackers this season.
4. TROY
Boris Lee has good speed and instincts. He is the only returning starter after Terence Moore was moved to safety.
5. ARKANSAS STATE
Tackle machine Koby McKinnon is gone, but Ben Owens should move nicely into his role as the Red Wolves' leading tackler.
6. WESTERN KENTUCKY
The sublimely named Dusty Bear is gone, but the Hilltoppers still return two of their four starters here. Blake Boyd is the guy to watch.
7. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
The Blue Raiders' best LB is Lonnie Clemons, who has all-league talent but is battling a foot injury that could cause him to miss a few games. Middle man Danny Carmichael needs to make more big plays.
8. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
Scott Bryant flies around and makes a lot of tackles. This is a smallish group, with no starter taller than 5-11 and no one heavier than 225.
9. NORTH TEXAS
Hey, it wasn't just the line's fault that the Mean Green was horrible against the run last season. Sophomore Craig Robertson has potential. He had five picks last season despite making only seven starts.

SECONDARY
1. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
There are two new safeties, but the cornerback duo of Tavious Polo, who had seven picks last season, and Corey Small is the best in the league. Both projected starters at safety are seniors, so the Owls should be just fine in the secondary.
2. TROY
There are two new cornerbacks, but the safety duo of Sherrod Martin and Tavares Williams is the best in the league. There are a couple of concerns at corner, though.
3. LOUISIANA-MONROE
The Warhawks run a 4-2-5 set, and three starters return in the secondary - headed by strong safety James Truxillo and free safety Greg James. Both starting corners will be new, but ULM should be OK there.
4. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Free safety Gerren Blount is the only full-time starter who returns, but there is some experience at cornerback.
5. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Alex Suber should be one of the best corners in the league, but he is the only returning starter.
6. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
Sophomore cornerback Anthony Gaitor is the only returning starter. But eight players return with at least some starting experience, including strong safety Jeremiah Weatherspoon - who missed last season for academic reasons.
7. WESTERN KENTUCKY
Both corners return, including Marcus Minor - who was second on the team with 61 tackles. Both safeties will be new.
8. NORTH TEXAS
The Mean Green secondary struggled last season, just like the line and linebackers. Free safety Kartey Agbottah has good size (6-2/190) and is primed for a good season.
9. ARKANSAS STATE
The Red Wolves lost a tremendous safety duo. Tyrell Johnson was a second-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. Both starting corners also are gone. The Red Wolves need immediate help from three junior college defensive backs.

SPECIAL TEAMS
1. ARKANSAS STATE
Kicker Josh Arauco and punter Brett Shrable are the best duo in the league. Te Red Wolves were strong on both their return and coverage units last season.
2. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Kicker Drew Edmiston is steady but didn't make a kick longer than 40 yards last season. Punter Spencer Ortego needs to improve. The coverage units need improvement, and the return folks weren't very good last season, either.
3. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Punter David DeFatta is solid, and freshman Alan Gendreau is expected to handle the kicking duties. Junior Desmond Gee should be an exciting return man, but he hasn't showed it yet. The coverage units are good.
4. NORTH TEXAS
Junior college transfer Jeremy Knott is expected to be an upgrade at kicker. Punter Truman Spencer is solid. There will be new return men, and the coverage units were adequate last season.
5. WESTERN KENTUCKY
Punter Jeremy Moore is a good one and the return units are good, too. If the Hilltoppers can find a new kicker, they're in good shape here.
6. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Kicker Warley Leroy was 19 of 27 on field-goal attempts last season. DiIvory Edgecomb is a good kick returner. But there will be a new punter, and the punt-return team and the coverage units need to greatly improve.
7. LOUISIANA-MONROE
Punter Scott Love is the league's best. Redshirt freshman Radi Jabour will be the new kicker. The return units and kickoff-coverage units weren't that good last season.
8. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
The return units are expected to be better than last season. FIU's coverage units were fine in '07. The kicking and punting jobs are up in the air. Returning punter Chris Cook has back issues that may force him to redshirt. Junior college transfer Carlos Munera, a walk-on, may kick and punt.
9. TROY
Redshirt freshmen are expected to handle the kicking and punting duties. The return units should be fine, but the coverage units were awful last season.

COACHING STAFF
1. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Howard Schnellenberger and his guys know what they are doing. They recruit well in their home area of south Florida, and have an athletic team.
2. TROY
Larry Blakeney will miss offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who left for Auburn.
3. LOUISIANA-MONROE
Charlie Weatherbie has developed a consistent program in northeast Louisiana. ULM has finished in the top three in the league in three of the past four seasons.
4. ARKANSAS STATE
Steve Roberts is heading into his seventh season in Jonesboro. He has won at least five games in five of those seasons and likes to rely on a punishing ground attack.
5. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Rick Stockstill has worked under some coaching giants (Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier) and took MTSU to its first bowl in 2006. Offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus, who was a walk-on quarterback at Florida when Spurrier was there, likes a wide-open attack.
6. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Rickey Bustle is feeling the heat in southwest Louisiana. Defensive coordinator Kevin Fouquier has had success in this league.
7. NORTH TEXAS
Todd Dodge transformed a stodgy, rush-oriented offense into a pass-first attack last season. It was his first campaign after moving up from the high school ranks. If Dodge and his staff continue to recruit as well as they did this year, UNT eventually will make a big move up the Sun Belt standings.
8. WESTERN KENTUCKY
The Hilltoppers still are a season away from full-fledged I-A membership. David Elson has won 37 games in five seasons as coach and never has had a losing record. Elson serves as his own defensive coordinator.
9. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
Former Miami player and assistant Mario Cristobal has re-energized a scandal-ridden program. However, he and his staff have a ways to go before FIU can compete annually. Cristobal has three assistants who played at Miami. The new offensive coordinator is Bill Legg, who as co-coordinator last season at Purdue.

MORE: 2008 Sun Belt Preview

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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