LAFAYETTE — In a departure from a recent trend, there won’t be much major discernible change at Monday’s Sun Belt Conference Media Day.
The conference features the same 11 teams as last year, marking the first time since the 2011 season that the SBC brought back the same teams it had the year before.
Last season, the SBC introduced two new teams and two teams that had previously been in the conference, giving it a sharply different look than it had when 2013 ended.
Only one new coach will be introduced at this year’s media day: Troy’s Neal Brown, who takes over the Trojans after Larry Blakeney’s 25-year reign. Even Arkansas State is bringing the same coach this year after four consecutive years of cycling through a new head man, meaning the Sun Belt must be operating at peak levels of stability.
That stability figures to carry over into the standings, based on how both coaches and media have ranked the SBC’s football members heading into the 2015 season.
The same six teams that finished at or near the top of the SBC standings last season — Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Texas State and South Alabama — have mostly filled those same six spots in varying orders in preseason predictions. The same teams that struggled to a combined four wins last season — Idaho, New Mexico State and Georgia State — figure to bring up the rear of the conference again.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, though, are trying to buck that stability trend.
There’s nothing wrong with the four straight 9-4 seasons that ended with New Orleans Bowl championships and, if 2015 marked season No. 5 of that run, it certainly wouldn’t be looked at as a failure.
But the Cajuns’ goals go beyond nine wins and another New Orleans Bowl championship. They’re chasing a Top 25 ranking and an outright conference championship, objectives that have eluded coach Mark Hudspeth and his Cajuns.
To break that trend of stability for the better, the Cajuns will have to overcome their own instability. They’re replacing starters at several major positions. Just on offense, the Cajuns are replacing starters at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, center and right guard, as well as a running back, Alonzo Harris, who ran for 44 career touchdowns.
How well they do replicating the lost production and experience at those positions should go a long way toward determining the Cajuns’ success this season.
But the Cajuns aren’t the only contenders facing some roster turnover.
Last year’s champion, Georgia Southern, is replacing nine starters — including 80 percent of last year’s starting offensive line. Arkansas State is replacing its best defensive player, linebacker Qushaun Lee, as well as three-quarters of its starting secondary.
Those teams will get their first crack at answering those questions at Monday’s Media Day, and Hudspeth, at 10 a.m., will be the first coach to step onto the podium.