Predictions for the Sun Belt Conference

August 20, 2009 10:30 AM

Posted by's Graham Watson

1. Offensive player of the year: Rusty Smith, QB, FAU -- Smith had a tough go last year, but said he's healthy and free of distractions this season. He has several weapons that could make the Owls one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.

2. Co-defensive players of the year: Brandon Lang, DE, Troy and Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State -- These players put up similar numbers as juniors last season and are in line to have similar success for their senior campaigns. Look for both players to be at the top of the conference in sacks and tackles for loss.

3. Newcomer of the year: Dudley LaPorte, TE, FIU -- It took awhile for LaPorte, a transfer from Santa Barbra City College, to find an FBS team, but he'll definitely help out an FIU offense that's looking for more playmakers. LaPorte was the nation's top junior college tight end last season.

4. Comeback player of the year: Jason Harmon, TE, Florida Atlantic -- Harmon was a first team all-conference selection in 2007 after amassing 63 catches for 825 yards and five touchdowns. But he suffered a knee injury during 2008 spring practice and missed all of last season.

5. Freshman of the year Josh Jarboe, WR, Troy -- Jarboe is still working his way up the depth chart, but teammates say he's putting in the work, coming along and should be a factor in the offense. If Jarboe lives up to the hype, he could be one of the most dangerous players in the league.

6. Most exciting player: T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU -- Hilton opened eyes last year as a freshman with the first 1,000-yard receiving season in FIU history. He also was one of the top kick returners in the country.

7. Coach of the year: Larry Blakeney, Troy -- The Trojans could make Sun Belt history by winning their fourth consecutive conference title. Only North Texas can claim a similar feat. The Trojans return several of their key playmakers on both offense and defense.

8. Game of the year: Florida Atlantic at Troy, Nov. 21 --
This game should decide the Sun Belt title since both teams are poised to be tops in the conference. In the past two seasons, the winner has gone on to win the conference title.

9. Surprise team of the year: North Texas -- Coach Todd Dodge has yet to live up to the reputation he made in the high school ranks, but with his son Riley leading the team at quarterback, the Mean Green might be poised for a big season. All the team needs is some defense.

10. Team that will disappoint: Arkansas State -- Quarterback Corey Leonard has accomplished a lot during his time with the Red Wolves, but he's the lone heralded senior quarterback without a conference title. The Red Wolves have the players to vie for a conference championship, but they'll fall short against FAU and Troy.