Sun Belt Conference making gridiron strides

Published 5:49 pm Friday, July 28, 2006

Even though it might be pretty easy for local fans of college football to overlook the Sun Belt Conference, there may be a reason or two to pay attention to the underrated league as well.

First off, in proximity, it has the closest conference office to South Mississippi in the nation, with its headquarters located in this Crescent City.

Plus, no matter if you are a fand of one of Mississippi’s Big Three, Ole Miss, Mississippi State or USM, or even LSU or Tulane, it is more than likely your favroite team has competed against a team from the SBC on the gridiron recently.

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The fledgling football league, in its sixth year of gridiron play, held its annual football media days earlier this week at the league offices.

Southern Mississippi has played in the past two New Orleans Bowls against the SBC champ, beating both North texas in 2004 and then Arkansas State in a game moved to Lafayette, La., because of Hurricane Katrina, last year.

Ole Miss has played either Arkansas State or Louisiana-Monroe in each of the past four years, while MSU has faced Troy State twice in the past three years.

Also, LSU opens this season in just over a month by hosting Louisiana-Layafette, and Tulane has played both Lafayette and Monore over the past few seasons.

And, Louisiana-Lafayette was narrowly picked to finish first in the SBC’s annual preseason coaches poll, released Monday, which the first of two conference Football Media Days.

Louisiana-Lafayette ended the 2005 season with five consecutive wins and a share of the conference title. Quarterback Jerry Babb is returning to guide the offense and eight starters are returning on defense.

ASU was picked by the coaches to finish second, and Troy garnered first place votes from two conference head coaches and was only two points shy of ASU in the preseason poll. North Texas was chosen fourth and Louisiana-Monroe, which lost last season’s Sun Belt MVP Steven Jyles at quarterback, placed fifth. Middle Tennessee was sixth in the preseason poll. Florida Atlantic and Florida International were chosen to finish seventh and eighth respectively.