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December 7, 2012
Publishers from across the Rivals.com network give their picks on the Sun Belt Conference bowl games.
Team News and Notes
Arkansas State Red Wolves
ASU claimed the outright Sun Belt Conference title and has now won back-to-back conference championships for the first time since 1985-86 . . . With its 45-0 win over Middle Tennessee, ASU extended its winning streak to seven games, its second longest since 1986 . . . The Red Wolves claimed their 19th victory since 2011 for their most ever over a two-year span in school history . . . A-State now has nine or more victories in a season for the seventh time in school history . . . ASU won seven Sun Belt Conference games for the second time ever (8 in 2011) . . . The Red Wolves improved to 11-1 over their last 12 home games and ran their winning streak at Liberty Bank Stadium to three games . . . A-State now stands 19-5 over its last 23 regular-season games and is 15-1 against Sun Belt Conference opponents over the last two seasons. ASU's 19 regular-season victories are its most ever over a two-year span . . . The Liberty Bank Stadium crowd of 31,243 was the largest ever home crowd in Arkansas State history . . . ASU's 45-point victory over Middle Tennessee was its largest margin of victory ever against a Sun Belt Conference opponent . . . The Red Wolves will make their second straight appearance in a bowl game and ninth appearance all-time . . . ASU now has 5,782 yards total offense this season, leaving it just 40 yards shy of the school record with a bowl game left to play. It's 5,782 total yards are also the sixth most in Sun Belt history and 532 shy of the league record . . . ASU has posted over 30 points in a game for the 10 times this year to tie the most in a season since 1951 . . . The Red Wolves have scored 437 points this season for the third most in school history. A-State needs 20 more to break the school record. It's 437 points are also the third most in Sun Belt history and six shy of the league record.
Florida Atlantic Owls
Florida Atlantic University's football team will has concluded its first season under the direction of Carl Pelini. The Owls posted a 3-9 record and finished 2-6 in Sun Belt Conference play. The season saw the Owls travel to top-5 Georgia and to then No. 1 ranked Alabama. FAU was the first to score on the tide in 2012, four games into the campaign. While FAU opened the season with a home victory, the next victory was hard to record. FAU held the lead for much of the game versus South Alabama, but would eventually fall in overtime. FAU then defeated Troy, a team that had previously only been beaten by the Owls, once (2007). The squad's first road victory was a thrilling win over Western Kentucky, a game that saw Keith Reaser come into play in all facets of the defense. Reaser's maturity was instrumental for FAU's defense as was fellow DB Brent Harstad, who led all tacklers with 103. Senior David Hinds added 80 total tackles and led the team with 6.5 tackles for a loss. While the defense showed steady improvement the more drastic signs of improvement were shown on the offensive side. Senior QB Graham Wilbert, who improved his efficiency from 91% to 134.5%, and the Owls scored 32 touchdowns in 2012 nearly doubling their 2011 total. The Owls improved their turnover ratio from a -9 to -2 and their third down conversion improved from 29 to 41%. Penalties were another area where FAU saw improvement cutting down on the flags and eliminating more than 200 penalty yards. The Owls also transitioned 19 new players into the squad, all but one will return in 2013.
Jonathan Wallace will return in 2013 after leading the Owls with 648 yards on 175 carries. The junior also will see the return of fellow juniors Damian Fortner (318), Martese Jackason (222) and Travis Jones (80). In total, FAU backs surpassed the 1,000 yard plateau with 1,268 yards. While the Owls will have a new signal caller, the squad will return 12 receivers, including eight who scored in 2012. The receivers will be led by William Dukes, who emerged into a big-play receiver with 979 yards on 63 catches. Dukes score four times and averaged 81.6 yards per catch. His longest of the season was a 75-yard score versus ULL. The defensive line will return in 2013 as will all but one linebacker. Expect Adarius Glanton and Andrae Kirk to return to anchor the linebackers after tallying 75 and 70 tackles, respectively. They will each have a year under their belts of the system and both saw tremendous improvement in 2012. The defensive backs will return three of the top-seven tacklers from 2012 and will be led by rising senior Keith Reaser, Jeremy McKnight and rising sophomore Cre'von LeBlanc who had 42 tackles and four passes defended in 2012.
With the 2012 season now complete, FIU says goodbye to nearly 30 student-athletes who spent the past four to five seasons wearing the blue and gold. Four seniors, Chuck Grace, Junior Mertile, Andre Pound and Jacob Younger, witnessed the opening day of FIU Stadium versus a nationally-ranked South Florida Bulls squad on September 20, 2008, while seniors who arrived for the 2009 season were the first Panthers to experience the amenities of the beautiful state-of-the-art R. Kirk Landon Fieldhouse, a spacious home locker room, massive weight room complex, dedicated football sports medicine facility, individualized position film rooms and grand team meeting room.
Against ULM, the FIU defense held the Warhawks to a season-low 235 total offensive yards, 106 yards less than their next lowest output. The Panthers also held ULM to season-low nine rushing yards and quarterback Kolton Browning to a season-low two rushing yards. Browning's 218 passing yards was his second lowest in the 10 full games he played in 2012.
Seniors Johnathan Cyprien (S), Rupert Bryan, Jr. (OT), Winston Fraser (LB) and Tourek Williams (DE) each finished their respective collegiate careers with the most starts at their positions at FIU. Senior Jose Cheeseborough had the second-most starts at cornerback.
Despite nagging injuries at quarterback and runningback throughout the season, the 2012 team still put up some top program-comparable offensive numbers, including: No. 3 in rushing yards (1,744), No. 2 in rushing attempts (489), No. 2 in rushing TDs (20), No. 1 in passing yards (2,861), No. 2 in passing TDs (17), No. 2 in passing efficiency (136.4), No. 3 in total offensive yards (4,605) and No. 2 in total offense per game (383.8)
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Louisiana-Lafayette reached the eight-win mark in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history, defeating Florida Atlantic, 35-21, to improve to 8-4 on the year.
After ending a streak of 41 straight seasons without a bowl game last year, the Cajuns are headed back to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl again this season, facing East Carolina (8-4) on Saturday, Dec. 22 in New Orleans.
Quarterback Terrance Broadway accounted for 291 yards of total offense at FAU, passing for 168 and rushing for 123, to finish the year as the Sun Belt leader in total offense (339.1) and passing efficiency (164.8) in Sun Belt games only. He was also fourth in passing (264.9), rushing (74.2) and scoring (5.2).
Linebacker Justin Anderson used a nine-tackle effort to become the third Cajun in the last six seasons to total 100 tackles in a season. Anderson leads the squad with 101 tackles this year.
The Cajun defense came up big at FAU, forcing three turnovers, blocking a field goal and stopping the Owls three times on fourth down, including on each of their final two possessions.
The duo of Alonzo Harris (127 yards, three touchdowns) and Broadway (123 yards, one TD) combined to rush for 250 yards at Florida Atlantic. It was the second time in three games that both surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark in the same game.
Safety Rodney Gillis made his team-leading fifth interception at FAU, giving him the most picks by a Cajun since Charles Tillman made six interceptions in 2000.
ULM closed the regular-season on a two-game win streak to improve to 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Sun Belt Conference... The eight wins by the Warhawks are the most of the FBS-era (1994-pres.) and the last time the squad won eight or more games was during the final year of FCS (1-AA) play in 1993 (9-3).
With the 23-17 win over FIU on Saturday night, the Warhawks improved to 6-2 all-time against the Panthers (the 2005 win by FIU was later vacated)... The meeting in Miami between the two schools was the final meeting as conference members as FIU will join Conference USA beginning next season.
The overtime game against FIU was the fourth overtime contest of the season for the Warhawks... ULM finished with a 3-1 mark in overtime games during the 2012 regular season.
ULM is now 8-3 in overtime games and the squad only played seven OT games prior to this season (1996, 1997 , 2002, 2007, 2010, 2011).
Senior Brent Leonard moved within one reception of Mack Vincent's career mark of 203 receptions as he caught 13 passes for 98 yards at FIU... Leonard's final catch of the night came in overtime and his 15-yard TD reception gave ULM a 23-17 win... Vincent and Leonard are the only two Warhawks to ever tally 200 or more receptions in a career.
Leonard pushed his season reception total to 97 with his 13 grabs at FIU and is now third in the Sun Belt Conference record books (single-season).
At FIU, Kolton Browning finished 31-of-38 for 218 yards with one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown... Browning's first quarter TD run was the 16th of his career and it gave ULM an early 7-0 lead... His 15-yard TD pass to Leonard in overtime was the 27th TD pass of the season for the junior and 58th of his career.
With 27 TD passes on the season, Browning is just two-shy of tying the single-season ULM record... Robert Cobb holds the record after tossing 29 TD passes durring the 1993 season.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee ended the regular season with a mark of 8-4 and 6-2 in Sun Belt play. It marks the second time the Raiders have won at least eight games under Rick Stockstill and the third time in the FBS era.
Following a 2-10 season, Middle Tennessee has bounced back with vengeance and owns the nation's best turnaround. The Raiders' +6 win total from 2011 joins Ohio State and Kent State for the biggest win increase in the country.
Middle Tennessee received 2 votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll for Nov. 5 and Nov. 12, then 3 votes Nov. 18. MT had 7 votes in the Nov. 25 poll.
MT is +10 in turnover margin this season in conference play.
MT has 18 plays this year of 45 or more yards.
The game against Arkansas State marked the first time Middle Tennessee has been held scoreless in a SBC game.
North Texas Mean Green
North Texas finished with its second straight winning season at Apogee Stadium. It is the first time since 2003 and 2004 that the Mean Green has had back-to-back winning seasons at home.
North Texas has more wins in the last two seasons than the previous four seasons combined. The Mean Green defense allowed the fewest points a game since the 2006 season.
North Texas hit the 2,000 yard rushing mark for the season. It was only the 18th time in school history that North Texas has rushed for 2,000 yards a team.
The Mean Green defense held four opponents to 14 points or less this season, the most in a single season since 2003.
For the season, North Texas finished with 4,731 yards of total offense, which is the fourth most in school history. It is the sixth straight season that North Texas has had 4,000 yards of total offense, which is a school record.
Quarterback Derek Thompson finished with 2,649 passing yards on the year, which is the fourth most yards in a single season.
North Texas allowed just six sacks the entire season and in nine of the 12 games the Mean Green offensive line did not allow a single sack
South Alabama Jaguars
With nine stops in his final collegiate appearance at Hawai'i Saturday, ILB Jake Johnson ended 2012 with 131 tackles - that ties the fourth-highest season total in Sun Belt Conference history. That included a sack in the second-half sack, as he was credited with at least on stop behind the line of scrimmage in every contest this fall. ? In his final collegiate game, B.J. Scott posted a career-high 12 tackles - all unassisted - to lead all players at Hawai'i, and he also intercepted a pass in the third quarter. It was the fourth time this season that he recorded a double-digit tackle total, including the second occasion in the last three weeks, as well as the first game this year that he paced the squad in stops. ? T.J. Glover recorded a season-best 169 all-purpose yards against the Warriors, which included a season-high 115 yards - one shy of matching his career high in the category - on five kick returns. The sophomore's totals of 1,181 all-purpose yards and 642 kickoff return yards both set USA season records. ? The Jaguars avoided being shut out for the first time in program history when C.J. Bennett - making his first appearance since the Troy game on Sept. 29 - led the offense 80 yards in 11 plays before finding Wes Saxton for a three-yard touchdown pass wit just over six minutes remaining in the contest. ? Maleki Harris became the first USA player to recover two fumbles in the same game at Hawai'i. That accounted for half the defense's four takeaways, which was one shy of equaling the most recorded by the unit this fall; it did match the number of turnovers the Jags forced in the previous six outings combined. ? Tyrell Pearson also had a hand in two takeaways, forcing the first fumble Harris recovered in the second quarter while also ending the Warriors' opening possession of the second half with his team-leading fourth interception of the season. The junior also broke up another pass, as he led the squad with 11 breaks up this fall as well. ? Sophomore DL Jesse Kelley recorded a career-best six stops in the UH game, as did fellow lineman Andy Dalgleish. ? Gabe Loper led the team with four receptions for 32 yards on Saturday, the first time he has accomplished the feat since catching four balls in a win over Florida Atlantic on Oct. 20. ? PK Michel Chapuseaux did not attempt a field goal against the Warriors, as he ended his senior campaign tied for second on the SBC season record list with 20. ? The Jaguars were limited to a program-low 18 yards rushing by the UH defense, while the Warriors' 229 yards on the ground matched the most ever allowed by USA in a game.
Corey Robinson became the first Troy quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in his first three seasons, as well as one of three active quarterbacks in the country to throw for over 3,000 yards in their first three seasons as a starter; joining Georgia' s Aaron Murray and Oklahoma's Landry Jones.
For the first time in school history, the Trojans had a 3,000 yard passer (Corey Robinson), a 1,000-yard rusher (Shawn Southward) and a 1,000 yard receiver (Chip Reeves) in a single season.
Deon Anthony became the 16th Troy player to catch a pass this season with a 12-yard reception from Corey Robinson.
Anthony recorded his eighth rushing touchdown of the year with a six-yard run in the fourth quarter
Corey Robinson's touchdown pass to Eric Thomas, was the 63rd touchdown in the junior's career, passing former Troy quarterback Mike Turk (1984-87) for second place in school history for touchdowns responsible for.
Junior Jarod Lee picked up first career touchdown with a 4-yard reception from Deon Anthony in the third quarter to give the Trojans a 14-13 lead.
Shawn Southward picked up fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season against Middle Tennessee and became the first Trojan since DeWhitt Betterson in 2004 to accomplish that feat; Southward finishes his Troy career third in school history in rushing attempts (545) and rushing yards (2,773) and second in career rushing touchdowns (33).
Wide receiver Chip Reeves finished his career with seventh all-time in career receptions (121) and in receiving yards (1,968).
The Trojans held Middle Tennessee scoreless on it's opening drive; marking the eighth time in 12 games the Trojans did not allow an opponent to score on its first possession.
WKU scored 15 unanswered fourth-quarter points to come back for a 25-24 victory over North Texas on Senior Day at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
The Hilltoppers finished the regular season with a 7-5 record for the second straight year. That guarantees WKU of back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2006 and 2007.
Running back Antonio Andrews finished with 230 rushing yards on 25 carries - his second straight game with over 200 yards on the ground, and third such performance this season. With 1,609 yards on the year, Andrews now ranks fourth on WKU's single-season rushing list and is just the fifth player in Hilltopper history to post a 1,500-yard season. In fact, it is the third straight year WKU has produced a 1,500-yard rusher as Bobby Rainey finished with 1,649 yards in 2010 and a school record 1,695 yards in 2011. Andrews also finished with 323 all-purpose yards in the contest (230 rushing, 12 receiving, 68 KO return, 13 punt return). He has now gone over 300 all-purpose yards in four straight games, racking up 1,397 yards over that stretch. With 2,977 all-purpose yards this season, he ranks third on the NCAA single-season list behind Pacific's Ryan Benjamin (2,995 yards in 1991) and Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders (3,250 yards in 1988). Andrews is just 274 yards away from breaking Sanders' single-season record set during his Heisman-Trophy winning campaign.
WKU becomes the 5th program in NCAA history to have a 1,500-yard rusher in three consecutive seasons, joining Oregon (2009-11), Northern Illinois (2002-06), Marshall (1993-95) and USC (1978-81).
Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes threw a first-quarter touchdown to Jack Doyle, marking his 50th career TD pass. That ties the school record set by Justin Haddix from 2003-06.
Andrew Jackson finished with a game-high 15 tackles to lead the Hilltopper defense. It was the sixth time in the last eight games that Jackson has posted double-digit stops, and gave him a new career high with 116 tackles on the season.