NEW ORLEANS – On Wednesday the Sun Belt Conference Media Days highlighted the West Division and its newly added teams.
Coordinator of Football Officials, John McDaid began the day by giving a statistical recap of the 2021 season. Followed by him presenting the new rules for the upcoming season to the audience. The most significant rule change was the new “Blocking Below the Waist Rule”.
“If you have any chance, any ability to legally block below the waist you need to be stationary in the tackle box at the snap. If you’re not stationary or your stationary outside of the tackle box, you can no longer under any circumstance legally block below the waist,” said McDaid.
Additionally, Tight Ends, Receivers, and anyone in motion are no longer allowed to block below the waist under any circumstances. This new rule mainly affects Offensive Linemen and the way they can block certain defensive players inside and outside the “Tackle Box”.
McDaid was followed by the newly acquired West team, the Troy Trojans. Troy is led by first-year head coach, Jon Sumrall who previously served as the co-defensive coordinator at Kentucky.
Troy was recently moved from the East Division to the West due to the addition of the new schools James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss. When asked about the switch from the East to the West, Sumrall stated “I think you get a lot of talk about the east and the east teams have had a lot of success, but I think you look at it as a whole across the west and I have a great deal of respect for every coach at every program on our side and really look forward to watching those guys grow their programs.”
Despite finishing 5-7 overall last season, Sumrall is going into his first season with full intent to bring back a winning culture to the program. Fortunately for him, he’ll be returning 19 starters that include two All-Americans, Carlton Martial (LB) and Javon Solomon (DL).
The Trojans will open the season with a tough game at Ole Miss on Sept. 3rd at 3 p.m.
Texas State head coach Jake Spavital walked up to the podium with George Strait’s “Take me to Texas” playing in the background. It seemed very fitting for the former Bobcat to have his own song played by his alma mater as their walk-up song. It could have also been a representation of Spavital’s recruiting technique that he uses for all his transfer players, including former Arkansas State duo Layne Hatcher (QB) and Lincoln Pare (RB).
“Hatcher and Pare have brought an unbelievable work ethic you know; I think it’s very difficult for kids to transfer in and just know they have a lot to deal with. They have to fill out a new scenario and situation that they’re currently in and those two have handled themselves with great poise and with great character too,” said Spavital.
Spavital has taken advantage of the transfer portal since arriving at Texas State in 2019. Since then, he has claimed 46 transfers while receiving 32 high school prospects as well. Despite all the backlash fans have given him, Spavital remains a consistent user of the transfer portal. Only time will tell if his “transfer first” technique will work.
The Bobcat’s season opener will be at Nevada on Sept. 3rd at 4:30 p.m.
The Bobcats weren’t the only ones who took advantage of the transfer portal this past offseason. Arkansas State second-year head coach, Butch Jones shared to the audience of 14 transfers that he acquired over the offseason. However, Jones had a stricter requirement to reach for his transfers if they wanted to play at his school.
Jones said, “Not only bringing a level of competition and depth in our program we also needed leadership and so one of the big criteria in the transfer portal is what could they bring to the table in terms of leadership and overall locker room growth and development, and we’ve added some powerful individuals that have helped change a culture and develop the mindset with our principles and our values.”
The Red Wolves quarterback, James Blackman was one of coach Jones’ first transfer pickups in 2021. Blackman was previously at Florida State before transferring to the Red Wolves in the spring of 2021. During his first season at Arkansas State, Blackman played in 6 games before injuring his shoulder in a game against Coastal Carolina and missing the remainder of the season. Blackman spoke about the impact that his injury had on him throughout the rest of the season and into the offseason.
“Honestly missing a portion of last season helped me a lot. I became more obsessed with the game of football. More obsessed with being around the game of football, being around my teammates and just understanding that when you’re hurt you still mean a lot to the team, bring value to the team just encouraging guys getting them in the great spirits and having them ready to play. So, I feel like the recovery was great. It gave me time to sit back and understand the next steps I needed to take as a leader and I’m more hungry than ever to get back on the field with my team.”
With Layne Hatcher transferring to Texas State, Blackman is the likely starter heading into this coming season.
He and his teammates will open the season with a home game against Grambling State on Sept. 3rd at 6 p.m.
Last season’s conference champion walked up to the podium with full confidence in being the champions again this season. Over the offseason, the Ragin Cajuns lost not only their head coach Billy Napier to the Florida Gators, but also their star quarterback, Levi Lewis to the NFL. The Cajuns quickly responded by promoting their former quarterback (2005-2008) and last season’s assistant coach, Michael Desormeaux to the head coach position.
“A lot of people spend their whole careers trying to get back home and for me I’ve been so fortunate to be able to do it at my hometown university, my alma mater and in a place where you know the last going on seven years now, I’ve been able to be a part of building it, so it means everything to me,” said Desormeaux.
For the players, a coaching change takes a lot of getting used to. Especially for a consistently great team like Louisiana. However, despite the head coaching change and having easy access to the transfer portal, both Andre Jones (LB) and Chris Smith (RB) decided to stay through it all. When asked why they wanted to stay they both answered, “because of the community”.
“It’s bigger than football, they gave me an opportunity and they changed my life since I’ve been here. I’ve met some of the greatest people, like the networking and like the loyalty with these people, I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to come back and help them win another championship. I wanted to be a part of the community and everything because they changed my life. I wouldn’t be in any of the places I thought I would ever be in without football, they’re just some of the most loyal people ever,” said Jones.
“You don’t want to leave what everybody has given you. Lafayette is more than football, it’s a family. They’re going to feed you, they’re going to take care of you, if you need something they’re going to give it to you. It’s not like doing community service, it’s just football. Giving back to the community because they gave you a chance and you take advantage of it; you’ve been great to them so why would you leave something that’s been great to you,” said Smith.
The Ragin Cajuns open the season as the favorites to win the Sun Belt Conference Championship for the second year in a row, and you can bet that every Lafayette resident is going to be at every home game this season. Including their first matchup against Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 3rd at 6 p.m.
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles are coming into this season as one of the four new teams that the Sun Belt acquired on July 1st. They were previously a member of Conference USA (C-USA) where they won five conference championships in the 25 years they were in the conference. Unfortunately for the Eagles, bad news came early this summer when standout linebacker, Hayes Maples suffered an injury during one of their summer workouts.
“Bad things happen, and a lot of the times bad things happen to really good people, and this is one of those situations. We’ve used this as a teachable moment with our players. You know the silver lining in it I guess if there is one, is that’s the one position on our team that we’ve got a lot of depth,” said head coach Will Hall.
On the other side of the ball, the offense is looking to have a new quarterback at the helm this upcoming season. After ending their last two games of the season with a running back playing as their quarterback, Hall knew he had to get someone to come in and take over under center.
“We’ve got a young man that started three games and played in four that was a highly recruited kid. One of the greatest high school careers in Mississippi history was in Ty Keyes. Ty was fully healthy for spring ball, he’s had a great spring, he’s had a great summer. He’ll be our starter going into fall camp. A really talented young man that we think has that ‘it’ factor. We think there’s a lot of reasons to have a lot of high hopes for him,” said Hall.
The pressure is now on coach Hall to prove that he is the answer for Southern Mississippi. Last season was a tough first season for him and his team as they went 3-9 overall. This year won’t be any easier for them as they start off the season with a home game against Liberty University on Sept. 3rd at 6:00 p.m.
Veteran head coach, Terry Bowden opened Louisiana Monroe’s time at the podium to talk about how he expects his team to make a bowl game this season. A task that the Warhawks haven’t been able to accomplish in 28 years. Luckily for ULM, Bowden has made six total bowl games over his coaching career. However, it’s going to take the Warhawks to have a winning season in order to do just that. Something they were unable to do for Bowden’s first season as they went 4-8 overall.
“We expect to have a winning season and we expect to go to a bowl. We expect to. You don’t always get what you want, you don’t always get what you need, but you almost always get what you expect. So, I’ve told them let’s start expecting that to happen and it has only happened once in 28 years, but we expect that to happen. We’ve got to win close ball games, we’ve got to get better, and we’ve got to perform,” said Bowden.
In Bowden’s first season with the Warhawks, he took a 0-10 team to 4-8. Despite the small improvement by the team, star senior, Boogie Knight (WR) isn’t satisfied with their recent success.
“I think the biggest thing this year that coach mentioned, it’s just about finishing. I mean I think we’re five to seven plays away from being a 7-5, 8-4 team when it comes down to making those big plays in the big situations. I mean, you think about it we make a couple of fourth and ones at LSU in that game, that could be a win in our books. Or the weeks where we’re at Arkansas State where we’re a field goal away or Texas State where we’re one point away until 30 seconds left in the game. It just comes down to finishing plays in the big moments… I think the amount of work we put in this offseason is going to show this year and now it’s getting to that point where we’ve got players and we’ve got confidence that we know we can make those plays when it comes down to it,” said Knight.
It’s noticeable that the Warhawks are tired of losing, they’re tired of being the laughingstock in the SBC. They’re ready to win and go to a bowl game. However, it’s not going to be as easy as it sounds, especially for the first four weeks of their season. Week one they’ll square off against Texas, followed by Nicholls, then Alabama, and finally Louisiana. Despite this juggernaut of a schedule, Bowden still has confidence in his guys and expects them to make a bowl game. They’ll prove that in week one as they take on Texas on Sept. 3rd at 7:00 p.m.
Second-year head coach, Kane Wommack opened South Alabama’s presser by talking about how his team has changed drastically from year one to year two. In Wommack’s first season with the Jaguars, he finished with a 5-7 record overall while just falling short of a bowl game. The goal for this next season is not only to make a bowl game but to attain consistency within his program to compete at a high-level week after week.
“Our job as a program is to become so consistent and so relentless in the details of accomplishing our vision for what we want to be offensively, defensively, special teams, culture, weight room. That we are just narrowing the margin of error; and if we can narrow that margin of error well enough, we will have the success on the field because of the consistency that we operate with the program,” said Wommack.
To help build the consistency that coach Wommack wants, the Jaguars brought in 17 power five transfers this past offseason; three of the 17 were running backs. Wommack made it clear that he wants to establish a more efficient run game to help take the pressure off the quarterback. It was evident that the Jaguars struggled last year with their rushing offense as they only averaged 3.0 yards per carry and 111.4 yards per game.
They’ll have a chance to show what their new rushing offense can do against their first matchup, Nicholls, on Sept. 3rd at 4 p.m.
Image Credit: Sun Belt Conference
Written by: ktsw899
todaySeptember 18, 2023 33 1