A look around the Sun Belt
Updated: September 1, 2004, 11:16 AM ETBy Kevin Acee | Special to ESPN.com
They throw out platitudes. "It's a real opportunity and a real treat for our players," said Utah State coach Mick Dennehy. "We have our work cut out for us," said Arkansas State coach Steve Robertson. "It will be a tremendous challenge. We'll go into every one of these games preparing to win." "We've got to try to make them earn it," said Middle Tennessee coach Andy McCollum. "It helps to be able to play an opponent of that magnitude," said Louisiana-Monroe coach Charlie Weatherbie. Perhaps the one head coach in the whole conference who can speak entirely unfettered this week is Rickey Bustle. "It gives us a chance to go out and compete, whereas some of the other teams in the conference are opening up with some tough games," the Louisiana-Lafayette coach said of his team's game against I-AA opponent Northwestern State. "We can start out and be competitive. We're not taking Northwestern lightly, but it's better than going into some of these other places with the odds stacked so high against you, where you have to play a perfect game to win." Bustle's Ragin' Cajuns are the only Sun Belt Conference team at home this week and the only Sun Belt team not playing an opponent that received at least some votes in one of the two major polls. Arkansas State plays at Missouri, ranked 17th in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 coaches' poll. North Texas is at No. 8 Texas. Middle Tennessee plays at No. 10 Florida. Utah State plays at Alabama. Louisiana-Monroe is at Auburn. New Mexico State is at Arkansas. Idaho is at Boise State. Troy is at Marshall. Before September ends, New Mexico State is at No. 15 Cal, Arkansas State travels to No. 3 LSU, North Texas plays at Colorado, Louisiana-Lafayette is at No. 13 Kansas State and Idaho plays at No. 25 Oregon. The fact is, this is the portion of the schedule Sun Belt programs use to balance the books. McCollum had to laugh at that reality. "Somebody is getting balanced out of it," he said. "I don't know about my books. But hopefully somebody is getting something."