Sunday, November 11, 2012

House of the Rising Sun Belt

     Normally when you think of a "BCS Buster", you think of a school from the Western Athletic Conference (Hawaii or Boise State) or from the Mountain West Conference (Utah or TCU). But who would've thought that the Sun Belt Conference would be giving college football's BCS conferences, more notably the SEC, a good scare?
     It all started in the opening weeks of the college football season when Louisiana-Monroe upset #8 Arkansas on the road in overtime 34-31 on September 8th. Quarterback Kolton Browning was the catalyst for the upset, throwing for 412 yards and three touchdowns while running for one touchdown. The next two weeks, the Warhawks played Auburn and Baylor close, losing both games by a combined eight points. But Louisiana-Monroe isn't the only Sun Belt team that's giving the big boys a big scare.
     It took a blocked punt return for a touchdown with two seconds left to play for #6 Florida to avoid being upset at home by the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette. Middle Tennessee, who's 6-3 this year and is second in the Sun Belt, beat Georgia Tech on the road on September 29 by a score of 49-28. Blue Raiders running back Benny Cunningham ran for 217 yards on 27 carries and five touchdowns in that game. A week before, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers narrowly beat Kentucky, an SEC team, on the road by a score of 32-31. The Hilltoppers won on a trick play in which quarterback Kawaun Jakes threw a lateral to running back Antonio Andrews, who threw it back to Jakes to successfully convert a two-point conversion in overtime. The Troy Trojans nearly upended Mississippi State the week before, losing at home 30-24. The Trojans also took Tennessee to the wire on November 3rd, losing on the road in a shootout 55-48.
     Even the lower rung of the Sun Belt has gotten in on the action. On September 22, Florida International almost pulled off an upset on No. 20 Louisville at home. They lost 28-21, losing the game on a call of roughing the kicker in the fourth quarter when they tried to block a Louisville punt. Louisville quarterback and Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater had a rough game, completing 19 of 36 passes and throwing for 194 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
     Once the laughingstock conference of college football, the Sun Belt conference is quietly becoming a force to be reckoned with. They only have two tie-ins to bowl games: The New Orleans Bowl and the Bowl. But don't be surprised if the Sun Belt gets more bowl bids in the future.

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