FAU Looking to Repeat as Sun Belt Champ

UNDATED (AP) - Here's a capsule look at the Sun Belt football teams in predicted order of finish:

FLORIDA ATLANTIC - Key Players: QB Rusty Smith, Jr.; WR Cortez Gent, Jr.; RB Charles Pierre, Sr.; LB Frantz Joseph, Sr. Returning starters: 10 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who has long known how to recruit in talent-rich south Florida, has created an enticing option for players who want to stay close to home but have little chance of starting right away at Miami. The coach thinks it's only a matter of time before FAU becomes a contender for a BCS bowl.

TROY - Key Players: OT Dion Small, Sr.; LB Boris Lee, Jr.; DE Kenny Mainor, Sr.; S Sherrod Martin, Sr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: The Trojans have a lot of returning starters on their offensive and defensive lines, but they will have new faces at numerous key positions. Departed top performers include QB Omar Haugabook, RB Kenny Cattouse and WR Gary Banks, as well as cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Elbert Mack.

LOUISIANA-MONROE - Key Players: QB Kinsmon Lancaster, Sr.; RB Frank Goodin, So.; TE Zeek Zacharie, Sr.; LB Cardia Jackson, Sr. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: ULM's upset over Alabama highlighted a strong finish in which the Warhawks won five of their last six games after a lousy start. With 15 starters coming back, including his QB, coach Charlie Weatherbie has reason to believe his program enters 2008 headed in the right direction.

ARKANSAS STATE - Key Players: QB Corey Leonard, Jr.; RB Reggie Arnold, Jr.; WR Brandon Thompkins, Jr.; LB Ben Owens, Sr. Returning Starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Arnold gives the Red Wolves (formerly called the Indians) a running back with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Now if Leonard can throw fewer than the 15 interceptions he had last season and cut down on sacks, ASU could be a winning team.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE - Key players: QB Dwight Dasher, So.; RB Desmond Gee, Jr.; WR Patrick Honeycutt, Jr.; LB Danny Carmichael, Jr. Returning starters: 4 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: Dasher is expected to start the next three seasons at quarterback, but first he'll have to beat out senior Joe Craddock. Coach Rick Stockstill has to figure out how to shore up a run defense that twice allowed more than 300 yards in a game late last season.

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE - Key players: RB Tyrell Fenroy, Sr.; QB Michael Desormeaux, Sr.; WR Jason Chery, Sr.; LB Antwyne Zanders,
Sr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Fenroy seeks his fourth 1,000-yard season. Desormeaux was always a threat to run as well last season, but coach Rickey Bustle hopes he'll become a better passer. Meanwhile, the pressure's on Bustle, now in his sixth season, after only three victories in 2007.

NORTH TEXAS - Key players: WR Casey Fitzgerald, Sr.; RB Micah Mosley, So.; LB Craig Robertson, So. Returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: Expect competition for the starting quarterback job between sophomore Giovanni Vizza and freshman Riley Dodge, the son of coach Todd Dodge. Whoever wins it can look forward to throwing
to Fitzgerald, who had 1,322 yards receiving and 12 TDs last season.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL - Key Players: RB A'mod Ned, Sr.; LB Scott Bryant, Jr.; S Jeremiah Weatherspoon, Sr.; QB Paul McCall, Jr. Returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: After going 1-11 last season, coach Mario Cristobal will need to improve fast. FIU scored 15 points per game last season. If McCall can't produce, sophomore QB Wayne Younger is likely to get a shot.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)