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July 19, 2014
Sun Belt preseason poll released
Ahead of the start of the Sun Belt Conference Media Day kicking off on Tuesday, the release of the pre-season poll sees Louisiana-Lafayette the unanimous selection by the league's coaches as the front runner for the 2014 season.
The Ragin Cajuns enter the season after earning their third straight bowl victory and claiming a share of the 2013 title. Terrance Broadway is just one of three quarterbacks to return in the league that were consistent starters, and the running back duo of Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire give a duel threat on the offensive side of the ball.
The other team to claim a share of the title, Arkansas State, is picked second. For the third straight season, the Red Wolves will have a new coach at the helm of the program, with Bryan Harsin departing for Boise State. Blake Anderson though inherits a team that has made three straight bowl appearances, claiming outright or shared titles during that stretch.
South Alabama, a team that finished their third FBS season at 6-6 claimed third. Reigning conference coach of the year Joey Jones will be on the look out for a new quarterback, but has at pair of Alabama transfers at his disposal to help ease the new QB into action.
Troy looks to return atop the standings in the league, but losing several key players from last year will make it tough. Defense will need to be improved for the Trojans to make any noise in the conference. Last season, they ranked last by surrendering 483.2 yards per contest.
ULM has all-time career passer Kolton Browning to replace, and enters the fall with the question lingering just who will replace him. NC State transfer Pete Thomas is the likely candidate, but three year veteran in the Warhawk program Brayle Brown shouldn't be counted out, or Chazz Carrington, who recently returned to the program after returning to Houston for a family issue in 2013.
Texas State was another bowl eligible team for the Sun Belt in 2013, but only Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State made the post season. Dennis Franchione has a solid defense, anchored by linebackers Michael Orakpo and David Mayo. The league's top returning rusher, Robert Lowe, is back after tallying 945 yards last season.
A trio of conference newcomers fill spots seven through nine. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will be in their first season of FBS competition, but both had big 2013 seasons to end their time in FCS. Idaho returns to the league they helped to found in 2001. A heavy JUCO class should help the Vandals to improve from their 1-11 record last season.
Georgia State is winless in their FBS time, however 2014 looks to be the year that streak ends. A stronger and faster club has a solid offensive line that will give Ronnie Bell a chance to work on his consistency.
Like Idaho, New Mexico State returns to the Sun Belt for 2014. The Aggies are looking to snap their bowl streak that dates back to 1960. A JUCO heavy team should improve on their 2-10 record from last year, but with few strengths on the team, second year Head Coach Doug Martin will have his work cut out for him.