The Sun Belt Conference usually gets relegated to the bottom of the college football totem pole. While that might have been true several years ago, play in the Sun Belt Conference is picking up as it completes its first decade of competition this year. Here are five questions to quickly look at the conference as we head into the 2010 season.
1. Who will win the conference? Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. MTSU will end Troy's four year run at the top. Troy lost quarterback Levi Brown to graduation, while Dwight Dasher returns for MTSU. All of this is assuming that Dasher returns quickly from his suspension.
2. Who is the top returning player? Dwight Dasher, Middle Tennessee State. The electrifying, dual-threat quarterback exploded in 2009 and passed for 2,783 yards and ran for 1,154 yards. He also accounted for 36 touchdowns (23 passing, 13 rushing). Dasher's production led MTSU to its most successful season ever at the FBS level.
3. Which team will be the most improved? Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The Hilltoppers faced a lot of challenges last year. This year they should reap some of the benefits. WKU should improve greatly against the run with linebackers Thomas Majors and Mike Gothard returning. Free safety Mark Santoro will help WKU improve against the pass. Offensively, quarterback Kawaun Jakes was a freshman last year. With his year of experience and maturity, in addition to the return of leading rusher Bobby Rainey, the offense will be much improved.
4. What will be the biggest surprise? I think that just happened last night with the news of Dwight Dasher's suspension. Hard to imagine anything more surprising happening. I was planning to say that a Sun Belt team would crack the national rankings, but Dasher's suspension throws that into question as well. Rather than take the easy way out, I will proffer that the biggest surprise, once the season starts, is that the Sun Belt will have 5 bowl eligible teams. The Sun Belt has never had more than four bowl eligible teams.
5. Which coach is on the hottest seat? Todd Dodge, North Texas. Dodge is 5-31 in his three years on the job, and North Texas has never won more than two games in his tenure. North Texas was 7-5 and won the conference in 2004. Unless Dodge gets North Texas closer to those results, he will not be around in 2011.