Coaches pick UL-Lafayette to win Sun Belt _lowres

Associated Press file photo by BILL HABER -- Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth holds the championship trophy after the Ragin' Cajuns beat Tulane 24-21 on Dec. 21 to win the New Orleans Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It’s pretty clear which team the Sun Belt Conference’s coaches expect to be on top this fall.

Louisiana-Lafayette claimed all 11 first-place votes in the preseason football coaches poll, announced Saturday. The Ragin’ Cajuns tied for the league title last year with Arkansas State, but the Cajuns (121 voting points) easily outdistanced the Red Wolves in the coaches’ eyes.

Arkansas State (102 points) will look to grab a share of its fourth straight Sun Belt title. South Alabama was tabbed for third place with 98 points after concluding last season with three straight wins to earn bowl eligibility in only its second year as a Sun Belt member.

Five-time Sun Belt champion Troy was fourth with 84 points. The league’s coaches predicted a fifth-place finish for UL-Monroe (78), edging Texas State (70).

Football Bowl Subdivision newcomers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern took seventh and eighth. The schools begin their first season as Sun Belt members after ranking first and third in Football Championship Subdivision titles with nine between them.

The poll is rounded out by Idaho, Georgia State and New Mexico State. Idaho and New Mexico State are returning to the SBC as football-only members, having last played in the league during the 2004 season.

Last season, seven of the eight Sun Belt teams reached six wins and bowl eligibility, and the conference was undefeated in bowl games. UL-Lafayette beat Tulane 24-21 for its third straight New Orleans Bowl title.

Preseason Sun Belt Conference coaches poll

First-place votes in parentheses

1. UL-Lafayette 121 (11)

2. Arkansas State 102

3. South Alabama 98

4. Troy 84

5. UL-Monroe 78

6. Texas State 70

7. Appalachian State 47

8. Georgia Southern 44

9. Idaho 29

10. Georgia State 27

11. New Mexico State 26