Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
return of Rusty Smith: The FAU
senior quarterback came into last season
with a slew of hype, but he was injured
early, struggled and the offense
struggled right along with him. He said
he's healthy and has gotten rid of
outside distractions. Also, the
experience and wisdom of quarterback
coach Jeff Brohm should help restore
Smith to his 2007 self.
2. Bowling for bids:
The conference's teams were put on
notice last year that winning the bare
minimum six games for bowl eligibility
was not going to help the conference's
cause when it comes to at-large bids.
The conference has to suffer with just
one guaranteed bowl for one more season,
but teams have to show that they're good
enough to make at-large bowls on merit.
3. Beware the Panthers:
Florida International was the sleeper
team last season and came away with five
wins, three in conference play. This
year, teams will be more aware of FIU,
but the Golden Panthers are also putting
a better product on the field, which
should make for an exciting season for
both the league and FIU fans.
Green giant: Could North Texas
be a sleeping giant? That's what folks
in Denton, Texas, are hoping for this
year behind first-year starting
quarterback Riley Dodge. The big
question is the defense and whether the
Mean Green have improved in that area.
If they have, UNT could be the team that
sneaks up on the rest of the conference.
Quarterbacking conference: The
Sun Belt has always had a slew of
quarterbacking talent, but this year
offers a lot of upper-tier talent,
including Smith, Arkansas State's Corey
Leonard and Troy's Levi Brown. Brown is
relatively new to the scene, starting
the final eight games of last season,
but he did win a conference title. Of
the three, only Leonard doesn't have a
conference championship and he'll be
gunning for that this year.