Q: Can the Cajuns win the league outright?
The league’s coaches and the major preseason magazines were unanimous that UL-Lafayette is the class of the league.
The Cajuns have their main offensive weapons returning in quarterback Terrance Broadway and running backs Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire. The defense was improved last season and enters a second year under coordinator James Willis.
The schedule helps, too: The Cajuns host the teams perceived as their top challengers: Arkansas State and South Alabama.
Q: If the Cajuns don’t win it, who will?
Don’t count out Arkansas State, which won outright titles two straight years before sharing with UL-Lafayette last season despite having different coaches each year. The Red Wolves will be on their third quarterback in three years, but QB Fredi Knighten was recruited to run a fast-paced offense.
South Alabama was a late-season surprise last year, winning three in a row to reach bowl eligibility. That included a 30-8 thumping of UL-Lafayette in the season finale, but the Cajuns didn’t have Broadway for that one.
Q: Will the new teams be a factor in the league race?
Georgia Southern and Appalachian State had a reputation for upsetting FBS members during their run in the Southern Conference. GSU stunned Florida 26-20 last season while going 7-4, but the Eagles lost to 4-8 App State. Neither was picked to finish in the Sun Belt’s top six this season by the coaches.
The other new teams — not totally new since New Mexico State and Idaho were members from 2001-04 — combined for a 3-21 record last season and don’t figure to be much better.
Q: Will anyone recognize Arkansas State’s coach?
Blake Anderson, hired in December, is the fifth Arkansas State coach in less than 38 months — following Steve Roberts and one-year wonders Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin. Freeze moved to Ole Miss, Malzahn returned to Auburn and Harsin went home to Boise State before Arkansas State’s GoDaddy Bowl win over Kent State.
A-State officials are determined to end this one-and-done stretch: Anderson’s contract has a $3 million buyout in its first two years.
Q: What’s at the end of the season?
Barring an unbeaten Sun Belt team somehow getting into the College Football Playoff conversation, the championship likely won’t be decided until the final week of the season.
After eight years of just one bowl tie-in with the New Orleans Bowl, the Sun Belt tied in with the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, in 2009. This year, the league adds a third affiliation with the inaugural Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, and will have a tie-in with the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida, starting in 2015.