A chance for a fresh start as Sun Belt Conference play gets cranked up _lowres

Louisiana-Monroe's Pete Thomas (14) fakes a handoff to Tyler Cain, left, during an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Monroe, La. (AP Photo/The News-Star, Dacia Idom)

Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth is hoping the combination of last week’s open date and the start of the Sun Belt Conference schedule will provide a fresh start for his Ragin’ Cajuns.

He’s not alone in the Sun Belt, a league that is a combined 4-23 against the other nine Football Bowl Subdivision conferences this season. Even more distressing is the league’s record against its “Group of Five” peers: The Sun Belt was 8-1 against Conference USA, the Mid-American and the Mountain West last year but is 2-9 against those leagues this season.

No wonder Hudspeth is looking forward to Saturday’s 6 p.m. home contest against Georgia State, which kicks off eight straight Sun Belt games to end the Cajuns’ season.

“We’re fortunate to have not played any conference games at this point,” Hudspeth said Monday of his 1-3 squad. “In many ways it’s a new season for us entering at 0-0 with eight conference games left.”

The Cajuns are one of three league teams that haven’t played a Sun Belt game. Arkansas State and Texas State also begin league play Saturday; all three were picked to finish in the top six in the 11-team preseason poll. The Cajuns and Arkansas State shared the league title last year.

A look at the teams after one month, in current order of league standing:

UL-Monroe (3-1, 2-0)

The Warhawks boast the league’s best record and a 17-10 win over Wake Forest of the ACC. But the conference wins came over Idaho and Troy, who are a combined 0-9, and ULM had to score late in each. ULM gets a big test at Arkansas State on Saturday. Worth remembering: ULM has two home games and six road games left.

Georgia Southern (3-2, 2-0)

The Eagles are the league’s biggest surprise and have the easiest schedule the rest of the way. GSU would be unbeaten had it not blown last-minute leads against ACC teams N.C. State and Georgia Tech, and the Eagles don’t play UL-Lafayette or Arkansas State. The Eagles could run the table and do no worse than share the title in their first league season.

New Mexico State (2-3, 1-0)

NMSU has equaled its win total of 2013 and won a thriller at Georgia State on Sept. 6. But the Aggies defense was exposed at LSU on Saturday (a 63-7 loss) and has given up 174 points in the past four games. The Aggies host Georgia Southern on Saturday, play two straight on the road and then face a strong November schedule.

South Alabama (2-2, 1-1)

The popular dark-horse pick for league honors didn’t play like a contender early, especially in a three-touchdown home loss to Georgia Southern. The Jaguars did to go Idaho and win 34-10 last weekend — after scoring only nine combined points in their two previous games. USA goes to Appalachian State on Saturday and has home games against Georgia State and Troy before a Nov. 1 date at UL-Lafayette.

Arkansas State (2-2, 0-0)

As expected, the Red Wolves beat Montana State and Utah State at home and lost at Tennessee and Miami, making ASU 2-2 for the fourth straight year. The Wolves, who have at least a share of the past three league crowns, had an open date last week in preparation for ULM’s visit Saturday.

Texas State (2-2, 0-0)

The Bobcats survived a 37-34 triple-overtime game at Tulsa on Saturday in the first matchup of the Sun Belt and American this season. TSU should be 3-1 but let a win at Illinois slip away in the final seconds. It opens Sun Belt play with back-to-back home games against Idaho and a Tuesday night affair with UL-Lafayette.

UL-Lafayette (1-3, 0-0)

The Ragin’ Cajuns have underachieved since an opening walk-over against Southern, having been outscored 138-44 against Louisiana Tech, at Ole Miss and at Boise State. The biggest difference from the past three 9-4 squads is turnovers: UL-Lafayette has one in four games — worst in the nation. Expect lots of points from both sides when the Cajuns host Georgia State on Saturday.

Appalachian State (1-3, 0-1)

The Mountaineers’ season may be made or broken Saturday when they host South Alabama. A road loss at Georgia Southern — a team ASU had beaten eight of the previous 11 years when they were Southern Conference members — on Thursday didn’t help against a schedule that includes the top five teams in the Sun Belt preseason poll.

Georgia State (1-3, 0-1)

The Panthers pulled out a last-minute, 38-37 win over Abilene Christian to open the season but have allowed 164 points in four games, including the conference opener at home against New Mexico State. GSU faces the top three teams in the Sun Belt preseason poll — UL-Lafayette, Arkansas State and South Alabama — the next three Saturdays.

Troy (0-5, 0-1)

It has been tough for Troy faithful to watch so far: a five-touchdown loss to rival UAB to open the season, a home loss to Abilene Christian (the league’s only loss to an FCS school) and a 22-20 loss at UL-Monroe on Saturday that could have righted the ship. The Trojans are off this weekend before hosting New Mexico State on Oct. 11.

Idaho (0-4, 0-2)

The Vandals didn’t allow a point when they opened their season at Florida ... but they played only 10 seconds before the game was canceled by weather. Idaho played three opponents close before losing 34-10 at home to South Alabama last weekend and now faces long trips to Texas State and Georgia Southern the next two weeks.