Sun Belt Conference Football news and notes

From the Sun Belt Conference

Upcoming Games

September 1

* North Texas at FIU - 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

(1) Kentucky at Western Kentucky - 8:15 p.m. (ESPNU)

September 3

Middle Tennessee at Purdue - 11:00 a.m. (Big Ten Network)

Arkansas State at Illinois - 2:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)

Louisiana-Monroe at Florida State - 2:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Troy at Clemson - 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Florida Atlantic at Florida - 6 p.m. (ESPNU)

Louisiana-Lafayette at Oklahoma State - 6 p.m. (Fox Sports)

September 9

FIU at Louisville - 6 p.m. (ESPN)

September 10

Florida Atlantic at Michigan State - 11 a.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)

Houston at North Texas - 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

Georgia Tech at Middle Tennessee - 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

Navy at Western Kentucky - 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

Grambling State at Louisiana-Monroe - 6 p.m.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Kent State - 6 p.m.

Memphis at Arkansas State - 6 p.m.

All times Central (CT) and subject to change

* denotes Sun Belt Conference game

TV carrier in parenthesis

(1) denotes game to be played at LP Field - Nashville, Tenn.

Sun Belt News and Notes

Around the Sun Belt

Toss out all the preseason chatter and predictions, it's time to play football.

The season starts Thursday night with two games as FIU faces North Texas in an early season conference affair and WKU faces instate rival Kentucky in Nashville. In total, there are 15 games scheduled for Thursday night.

Thursday's matchup between the Mean Green and Panthers will feature, arguably, the two best and most feared offensive players in the Sun Belt in FIU's T.Y. Hilton and North Texas' Lance Dunbar, the 2011 SBC Co-Preseason Offensive Players of the Year. The game is set to be broadcast on and will also be the debut of new North Texas head coach Dan McCarney.

Also laying claim to being one of the best offensive players in the Sun Belt is WKU's Bobby Rainey who will be featured in the Thursday night ESPNU broadcast against the Wildcats. The contest will be held at LP Field in Nashville.

A full slate of non-conference action is scheduled for Saturday with each game being broadcast for home viewers to enjoy. Arkansas State's Hugh Freeze and Louisiana-Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth will mark their first games as head coaches of their respective programs.

Sun Belt in the BCS

The Sun Belt Conference is a BCS Conference. In fact, the Sun Belt Conference is one of just 11 BCS Conferences. The Sun Belt Conference champion will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if that team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings or if that team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and its ranking is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the of BCS bowls. In the first 10 years of the BCS arrangement, more than $100 million was distributed to conferences that do not have an annual automatic berth to one of the BCS bowls. Nine percent of the net revenues from the BCS arrangement is guaranteed in aggregate to Conference USA, the Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and Western Athletic Conferences for their participation in the BCS arrangement. When a team from one of those five conferences plays in BCS bowl game, those conferences receive an additional nine percent of net revenues. When more than one team from those conferences play in a BCS bowl game, those conferences will receive an additional $4.5 million for each additional team.

Sun Belt Football Membership

The Sun Belt Conference is currently comprised of nine football playing members – Arkansas State (founding football member in 2001), Florida Atlantic (joined league as football member in 2005), FIU (joined league as football member in 2005), Louisiana-Lafayette (founding football member in 2001), Louisiana-Monroe (founding football member in 2001), Middle Tennessee (founding football member in 2001), North Texas (founding football member in 2001), Troy (joined league as football member in 2004) and Western Kentucky University (joined league as football member in 2009). The league will expand to 10 football playing members when South Alabama enters in 2012.

Sun Belt Conference Bowl Partners

The Sun Belt Conference is currently in the second year of four year partnerships with the Bowl and the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Sun Belt teams will represent the league in the games following the 2011, 2012 and 2013 regular seasons.

Since the 2005 football season – the first season following major college football realignment – the Sun Belt Conference ranks fifth out of the 11 FBS conferences in postseason bowl game winning percentage. In fact, the Sun Belt Conference ranks ahead of noted "Big Six" leagues – the Big 12, ACC and the Big Ten. Furthermore, the Sun Belt Conference outpaces its non-automatic qualifying BCS partners in the WAC, Conference USA and the MAC.

Sun Belt Conference Bowl Apperances Since 2005 (6-5 Record)

2005 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Southern Miss 31, Arkansas State 19

2006 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Troy 41, Rice 17

2006 Motor City Bowl – Central Michigan 31, Middle Tennessee 14

2007 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Florida Atlantic 44, Memphis 17

2008 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Southern Miss 30, Troy 27 (OT)

2008 Motor City Bowl – Florida Atlantic 24, Central Michigan 21

2009 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Middle Tennessee 42, Southern Miss 32

2009 GMAC Bowl - Central Michigan 44, Troy 41 (OT)

2010 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl - Troy 48, Ohio 21

2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl - FIU 34, Toledo 32

2011 Bowl - Miami (Ohio) 35, Middle Tennesee 21

Dunbar, Rainey Featured in USA Today

The Sun Belt Conference's two most noted running backs, who also happened to be among the national rushing leaders in 2010, were featured in USA Today during the 2011 offseason. Will comparing the two running backs in his August 16 article, Greg Rosentien wrote "Dunbar and Rainey both believe they are primed for big senior seasons. But no matter how the two running backs fare this year, one thing is certain: It'll be fun to watch."

Schnellenberger to Retire at Seasons End

Florida Atlantic University's Head Football Coach Howard Schnellenberger announced Thursday, August 11 that he will retire after the 2011 football season.

Schnellenberger, the only head coach in the FAU football program's existence, welcomed the idea of bringing football to FAU in 1998 and has been the driving force behind the Owls. Since 2001, the Owls have had eight All-Americans, three National Player of the Week honorees, two bowl victories, two bowl MVPs, one defensive MVP, one Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, one preseason Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year and one Sun Belt Conference title. An average of 18.7 football players have earned a 3.0+ each semester, and more than 20 players have signed professional contracts, while two were drafted by the NFL.

Schnellenberger's career has been highly chronicled throughout the years, from winning the first National Championship as coach at the University of Miami in 1983 to ushering the University of Louisville from near obscurity to a top-20 national ranking. The legendary program-builder has been at the helm for six bowl games and has a perfect 6-0 bowl game record, the most bowl victories for a coach with a perfect record.

Schnellenberger is also among the top-10 active coaches in total victories, and one of 10 active coaches who have captured a national title. Schnellenberger has one national title as a head coach and three national titles while an assistant at the University of Alabama under Head Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Schnellenberger also was the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins and was a part of the staff that earned a perfect 17-0 season, the only team in the NFL's history to finish the season undefeated and move on to win a Super Bowl championship.

North Texas, Florida Atlantic Debut New Stadiums

North Texas will open its brand new, state-of-the-art art football stadium on September 10th against Houston. Among the features of the new stadium will be bowl seating close to the field with maximum sight lines, 21 luxury suites tailor-made for comfort and entertainment and a club level with food and beverage service and chair-back seating.

Due to open on October 15, FAU Stadium is the final phase of the university's Innovation Village, a multi-purpose project which will include four additional apartment-style residence halls and 130,000 square feet of retail shopping space. Two buildings from the Innovation Village, the FAU Alumni Center and the new Recreation and Wellness Center, have recently opened.

Blakeney, Schnellenberger in Active Coaches Top Ten

Troy's Larry Blakeney and Florida Atlantic's Howard Schnellenberger find themselves in elite company as both rank in the top ten for active career wins by head coaches. The Sun Belt Conference is the only conference with two coaches in the top ten.

Sun Belt Conference Debuts Three New Coaches in 2011

Arkansas State, North Texas and Louisiana-Lafayette all brought in new head coaches during the 2011 offseason. The league has never brought in more than two new coaches in a single season while brining in two new coaches in three seasons (2009, 2002, 2001), one new head coach on four occasions (2006, 2005, 2004, 2003) and twice going through an offseason of no head coaching changes (2008, 2007).

2011 Sun Belt Conference Preseason Awards Candidates

The Maxwell Award – College Player of the Year: Bobby Rainey, WKU, Sr., RB; The Bednarik Award – Nation's Top Defensive Player: Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy, Jr., DE; The John Mackey Award – Nation's Top Tight End:

Jack Doyle, WKU, Sr., TE and Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr., TE; Fred Biletnikoff Award – Nation's Top Wide Receiver: Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr., TE and Dwayne Frampton, Arkansas State, Sr., WR and T.Y. Hilton, FIU, Sr., WR; Lou Groza Award – Nation's Best Placekicker: Jack Griffin, FIU, Jr., K; Bronko Nagurski Award – Nation's Top Defensive Player: Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy, Jr., DE; Outland Trophy – Nation's Best Interior Lineman: James Brown – Troy, Sr., OT; Rimington Trophy – Nation's Best Center: Tom Castilaw – Arkansas State, Sr., C and Colin Boss – Middle Tennessee, Sr., C; Walter Camp – College Player of the Year: Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy, Jr., DE; Davey O' Brien Award – Nation's Best Quarterback: Corey Robinson - Troy, So., QB; Lombardi Award – Nation's Lineman of the Year: Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy, Jr., DE; Doak Walker Award – Nation's Best Running Back: Lance Dunbar, North Texas, Sr., RB and Alfred Morris, Florida Atlantic, Sr., RB and Bobby Rainey, WKU, Sr., RB; Manning Award – Nation's Best Quarterback: Corey Robinson - Troy, So., QB.

Sun Belt Conference Setting Records for Television Broadcasts

Over the last five years the Sun Belt Conference has seen its television appearances double. In fact, the Sun Belt set a new record for single season telecasts during the 2010-11 season with a total of 72 Sun Belt controlled broadcasts. ESPN has helped with the rise in television numbers as the league saw a record 21 football games feature Sun Belt teams during the 2010 season. That record number of 21 games has already been broken for the 2011 season as 22 games have already been selected to hit the ESPN airwaves - and even more games could be selected for this season.

MT's Gendreau on Lowe's Senior Class Award list

Middle Tennessee placekicker Alan Gendreau is one of 30 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) student-athletes who excel both on and off the field selected as a candidate today for the 2011 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I FBS senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition. The complete list of candidates follows this release. Gendreau is a two-time First Team All-SBC pick and currently ranks third all-time in field goals made and extra points. The Apopka, Fla., native is the most accurate kicker in school history at 79.1 percent (38-48) which includes a career long 55-yard boot in a win at ULL in 2010. Gendreau is a music major who participates in the Schola Cantorum which is designed for upper division voice majors.

Arkansas State News and Notes

After enjoying successful stints as both a head and assistant coach at the NCAA FBS, NAIA and high school levels over the last 18 years, Hugh Freeze was named Arkansas State's 27th head football coach on Dec. 2, 2010.

Arkansas State will kick off off its 97th season of football on Sept. 3 at Illinois. ASU holds a 406-451-37 record since the inaugural 1911 season and has played in seven bowl games.

Five Arkansas State football players were tabbed Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference, including senior wide receiver Dwayne Frampton, senior center Tom Castilaw, senior defensive lineman Dorvus Woods, senior linebacker Demario Davis and senior safety Kelcie McCray.

Senior center Tom Castilaw is on the 2011 Rimington Award Watch List issued annually to the nation's top center, making him the second ASU player to ever earn the preseason recognition. Senior linebacker Demario Davis is the fifth player in school to be named to the Lombardi Award Watch List, issued to the top college lineman at the end of the season. Senior wide receiver Dwayne Frampton is the first player in school history to ever be named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List for the nation's top receiver.

The Red Wolves return their leading passer, top five rushers and three of their four most productive receivers from last year's team that finished second in the Sun Belt Conference in total offense and broke nine school records.

ASU returns seven starters on defense, including four of its top six tacklers, seven players that accounted for 17.5 of its 27 sacks and five more that recorded eight of its 11 interceptions.

Florida Atlantic News and Notes

Florida Atlantic University's football program is coming off an eventful summer. The on-campus football stadium, a $70 million dollar project, is nearly complete with the royal palms decorating the inside of the stadium being installed last week. The view of the Atlantic Ocean from the top-three floors is sure to impress anyone. The stadium is scheduled to open October 15 when the Owls play host to Western Kentucky.

Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger also announced during the first week of camp that the 2011 season will be his final campaign. The legendary coach is the only head coach FAU football has known. Schnellenberger came to FAU in 1998 with the mission of exploring the south Florida community on adding another football program. Schnellenberger was named head coach a year later, the team took to the field in 2001, played in the NCAA I-AA play-offs in 2003 and captured bowl victories in 2007 and 2008. He will lead the Owls into the on-campus stadium October 15, 2001.

On the field the Owls have completed camps minus major injuries and will head into the season with several strong weeks of practice. Juniors Graham Wilbert and David Kooi have battled for the start with Wilbert being named the 2011 opening day starter after last Tuesday's practice, August 23. FAU's defense captured the preseason scrimmages pushing the offense to take care of the ball and to limit their mistakes.

FAU will open the 2011 season at Florida, September 3, and will face three top-25 teams in the first three weeks of the season in Florida (0-1), Michigan State (0-2) and Auburn (0-0). The Owls will be led offensively by Alfred Morris who will use the 2011 campaign to become the program's all-time back. Like Morris, Marcus Bartels returns for his senior campaign and needs just 23 tackles to become the program's all-time tackle leader for defensive backs. Mickey Groody also returns to special teams after posting top-20 numbers as the team's punter.

FIU News and Notes

With the start of the 2011 football season, the Panthers embark on their journey towards another Sun Belt Conference championship as they host a Sun Belt rival, the North Texas Mean Green on Thursday, September 1.

Thursday's matchup will feature, arguably, the two best and most feared offensive players in the Sun Belt in FIU's T.Y. Hilton and North Texas' Lance Dunbar, the 2011 SBC Co-Preseason Offensive Players of the Year.

FIU has won the last four meetings against North Texas, including a 34-10 victory in Denton last year.

The Panthers and Mean Green have a history together, as they can both stake claim to being the last two college football teams to play in Miami's historic Orange Bowl. On December 1, 2007 FIU closed out the legendary stadium by beating North Texas 38-19 to snap a 23 game losing streak.

Thursday's game is being broadcast on, and along with 14 other contests, it is kicking off the football season as tonight marks the first night of college football in 2011.

For the first time since the program's inaugural season of 2002, and the first time as an FBS (Division I-A) program, FIU will open the 2011 season at home when they host the Mean Green. Back in '02, FIU began its season with a 27-3 victory over St. Peter's College. The Panthers will also play six home games in 2011, marking the first time FIU plays more than five games in "The Cage."

Louisiana-Lafayette News and Notes

The Cajuns must have a new football coach since the season opens at No. 9 Oklahoma State as three of the last four football coaches at ULL have started their career with a game versus the Cowboys. Nelson Stokley's debut began on Sept. 6, 1986 with a tough 21-20 defeat vs. OSU. Jerry Baldwin replaced Stokley and his first game saw a 24-7 loss at OSU on Sept. 4, 1999. Rickey Bustle's first game occurred at Texas A&M, but new head coach Mark Hudspeth gets his feet wet with OSU. These are the only three times the teams have met in a seasonopener. Although ULL has never defeated OSU, the Cajuns led last season's game 21-17 at the half and led 3-0 after the first quarter in the prior meeting in 2003. ULL trailed 7-0 at the half in 1999.

Mackey and Biletnikoff Award candidate Ladarius Green was named a Top 5 draft-eligible tight end by Insider Mel Kiper, Jr. Green was honored by several major publications as a 2011 Pre-Season All-American following All-American accolades in 2010 by (2nd Team) and Phil Steele (4th Team).

Since the start of the 2008 season, the Cajuns are 13-3 when allowing 30 points or less. ULL is 2-18 when allowing 31 points.

The Cajuns saw three different quarterbacks pass for over 250 yards in a game during the 2010 season (Chris Masson – three times; Brad McGuire – 384 at Ohio; Blaine Gautier – 254 at FAU).

True freshman running back Aaron Spikes led the Cajuns in scoring during the 2010 season. He scored eight touchdowns – six receiving and two rushing.

The Cajuns posted 14 picks, giving them 30 INTs over the last two seasons.

Louisiana-Monroe News and Notes

Twenty-one freshmen and sophomores are listed on ULM's offensive and defensive two-deep heading into the opener at Florida State. Ten of them are listed as starters; last season ULM also started 10 freshmen and sophomores

ULM has the second best winning percentage in the state of Louisiana among FBS schools over the past five seasons

The Warhawks have forced at least one turnover in 21-of-24 games under defensive coordinator Troy Reffett -- ULM has forced 42 turnovers in those 21 games

Sports Illustrated picked the Warhawks to finish 8-4 overall and 7-1 in the Sun Belt Conference; SI prognosticated a three-way tie for the Belt crown with ULM, FIU and Troy

ULM has won 14 of its last 19 home games dating back to the 2007 season

Kolton Browning had two of the top six total offense totals in ULM's Sun Belt era last season-- 350 at Arkansas State (6th) and 409 at FIU (3rd)

Linebacker R.J. Young graduated from the University of Arizona in just three years before transferring to ULM this summer

Luther Ambrose finished third in the 100m dash at the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships; he needs two touchdown receptions, two catches and 497 receiving yards to move into the top 10 in ULM history in each category.

Middle Tennessee News and Notes

Saturday's game will mark the first-ever meeting on the gridiron between Middle Tennessee and Purdue. It marks the second straight year the Blue Raiders have opened the season against a Big Ten opponent.

Middle Tennessee has an overall mark of 57-37-2 in season-opening games, including a 1-4 mark under Rick Stockstill, and has won 18 of its last 30. The Blue Raiders have won their opening game just three times since elevating to the FBS level in 1999. MT defeated SEC member Vanderbilt in 2001 on the road and then upset Akron on the road in 2004. The Blue Raiders also won the 2006 opener at home against Florida International.

It's tough to win in college football and even tougher to win games away from home. Under Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders have performed well on the road by compiling a mark of 16-21 despite having 15 of the 37 games against the SEC (4), ACC (4), Big East (3), Big 12, and C-USA (3). The Blue Raiders have a mark of 8-6 over their last 14 away games and have won five of their last six road SBC games.

Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill needs one more win to tie Andy McCollum for fourth place on the all-time wins list at Middle Tennessee. Stockstill owns 33 victories and is tied with Frank Faulkinberry for fifth but needs just three wins this year to move past Alfred Miles for third. Charles Murphy (1947-68) is the all-time winningest coach at Middle Tennessee with a mark of 155-63-8.

Middle Tennessee has an overall mark of 43-28 in Sun Belt action all-time, including a 25-11 record at home and an 18-17 mark on the road. Middle Tennessee is 25-12 in league games under Rick Stockstill and 12-7 on the road. The 43 league wins rank as the most victories in Sun Belt history with Troy second at 40.

North Texas News and Notes

North Texas will begin its 96th season of football when it kicks off the 2011 season at FIU on September 1. Since the inaugural season in 1913, North Texas has accumulated a record of 470-451-33, amassed 25 conference championships and played in seven bowl games.

The co-preseason Offensive Players of the Year in the Sun Belt Conference will face off in the first week of the season with Mean Green running back Lance Dunbar and FIU wide receiver T.Y. Hilton doing battle. Hilton is the returning Player of the Year in the conference while Dunbar was a first team all-conference selection in 2010.

North Texas will be opening the season on a Thursday night television game for the second time in three years. In 2009, the Mean Green traveled to Ball State to open the year on a Thursday night game on ESPNU and came away with a surprise 20-10 victory. This year's opener will be on ESPN3 at FIU, where North Texas is again a decided underdog against the Sun Belt Conference preseason favorite. Ironically, the defensive coordinator for Ball State in that 2009 game was Doug Graber, who is also the analyst for this week's game vs. FIU on ESPN3.

For the first time since 1952, North Texas will not be playing its home football games at Fouts Field. The Mean Green is beginning a new era with the opening of its brand-new 30,850-seat Apogee Stadium on Sept. 10, against Houston. Apogee Stadium is the centerpiece of the recently-developed Mean Green Village, which encompasses nearly all of the academic, training and competition facilities for the nearly 400 student-athletes on campus. The stadium was built at a cost of $78 million under the design and construction of award-winning companies HKS and Manhattan Construction. It features 21 luxury suites, 750 club seats, banquet space and a team spirit store. The stadium will feature renewable energy, and is on target to become the first LEED Platinum certified football stadium in the world.

Troy News and Notes

The Trojans and Tigers have never met in football, although the Trojans have faced fi ve other members of the ACC. Coach Blakeney has faced Florida State (2006), Georgia Tech (2006), Virginia (2003) Maryland (2001) and Miami (2001) since leading the Trojans into the FBS. Troy has played four other schools from South Carolina, compiling a 6-10-1 all-time record in games against Charleston Southern (3-0), Newberry (1-5-1), Presbyterian (2-2) and USC (0-3).

The Trojans enter the 2011 season picked to fi nish second in the Sun Belt Conference. The Trojans earned a share of their fi fth straight league crown in 2010. Troy shared the league title with FIU last year. The Panthers are the preseason pick to win the title this year.

Troy has an all-time record of 49-35-6 in 90 season openers. That record includes a 21-23-4 record in road season openers. Coach Larry Blakeney has posted an overall record of 14-6 in season openers, including a 9-6 mark in road season openers.

Troy is 3-2 all-time in games played on Sept. 3. The Trojans lost at Bowling Green 31-14 (2009) in their last game on this date.

Coach Larry Blakeney has posted an 46-29 record during his career in games played in September and he is 68-67 overall in his career in home games.

WKU News and Notes

WKU is 54-32-5 (62.1%) all time on opening day — no score is available for the first game of 1916. The Hilltoppers last opened the season on a Thursday night back in 2005, picking up a 63-3 home victory over West Virginia Tech. In fact, since 2000 WKU has played three Thursday night season openers, going 2-1 in those contests.

With September 1 marking the official opening night of the 2011 college football season, the matchup between WKU and Kentucky is one of just 15 games on the slate involving football bowl subdivision teams.

Hilltopper junior tight end Ryan Wallace knows both sides of the WKU-UK rivalry, as last season he was wearing the blue and white of the Wildcats when the two teams met in Lexington. A Bowling Green native, Wallace transferred home to WKU prior to 2011 spring practice, and received a waiver from the NCAA making him eligible to compete this season.

Thanks to a phenomenal end to the 2010 season, senior Bobby Rainey has a chance to make history early in the year. Rainey rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last five games last season — tying him with Lerron Moore for the second-longest streak of consecutive 100-yard efforts in WKU history. Antwan Floyd holds the school record with eight straight 100-yard rushing efforts stretched over the 1994 and 1995 campaigns.

With a number of underclassmen stepping to the forefront in 2010, the Hilltoppers return nearly all of their offensive numbers from a year ago. In fact, WKU racked up 3,818 yards of total offense a year ago, and the players that accounted for 3,806 of those yards are still on the roster this season. Breaking it down, the Toppers return 99.8 percent of their rushing from last season, 90.1 percent of their receiving yards and 100 percent of their passing yards.