The Sun Belt Conference remained pretty much unscathed this season with the swinging doors that affected some other Division 1A football conferences this offseason in terms of realignment.
South Alabama is new to Sun Belt to 2012, which raises the total number of programs in the conference to 10.
The following is a look at a few of the top contenders to win the Sun Belt title this season along with their current odds as provided by 5Dimes.
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The Florida International Golden Panthers have been quietly building a rock-solid football program over the past few seasons, but this is the year it could all come together as +240 favorites to with the conference title.
Last season, they went 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the Sun Belt after posting a 7-6 record in 2010 and a 3-9 record in 2009. Head coach Mario Cristobal has done an excellent job at tapping into all that home-grown talent that never had FIU on their radar before. One of the stars has been running back Kedrick Rhodes, who led the team in rushing last season with 1,149 yards on 234 carries.
Jake Medlock is expected to take over the quarterbacking duties for the departed Wesley Carroll and wide receiver Wayne Times should become the No.1 target in the passing game after finishing second in receptions in 2011 to the departed Ty Hilton with 54.
Gus Malzahn takes over as head coach for the Arkansas State Red Wolves and steps into excellent situation with a number of starters back from last year’s squad that won the Sun Belt title with a perfect 8-0 record in conference play and a 10-3 record overall.
Back is Ryan Aplin, who established himself as a duel-threat at quarterback in 2011 with 3,588 yards passing and another 802 yards on the ground. The Red Wolves have been opened as +350 second favorites to repeat this season and if their defense can continue to keep teams out of the end zone like it did last season; there is some tremendous value in those odds.
The Troy Trojans were Sun Belt favorites in 2011 and are coming off a rough 2011 campaign after going 8-5 overall and 6-2 in the conference in 2010. They will look to rebound from last season’s 3-9 downturn that saw them win just two conference games all year long. 5Dimes must like their chances after opening them as +450 third-favorites to win the Sun Belt this year. Quarterback Cory Robinson threw for 3,411 yards and 21 touchdowns, but he did get picked-off 15 times.
The Trojans will need to do a much better job at getting opposing offenses off the field in 2012 after getting torched for an average of 33.7 points a game last year.
The fourth-favorite at +500 to win the conference title this season is the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. They went 9-4 overall last season and a very respectable 6-2 in conference games, which turned out to be a huge surprise for a team that had never qualified for bowl game before.
Head coach Mark Hudspeth’s team is not going to sneak-up on anyone this year, but fortunately it returns just about all its key starters in the skill spots on offense. Defense could be another issue altogether after finishing the season ranked 84th in the nation in points allowed.
The odds to win the conference for the rest of the teams in the Sun Belt are Louisiana-Monroe +850, Western Kentucky +900, North Texas and Middle Tennessee at +1600, Florida Atlantic +300, and newcomer South Alabama at +8000.