The Sun Belt is making noise and four of its teams were rewarded with bowl berths for the 2012 season.
Sun Belt champion Arkansas State (9-3 7-1) will represent the belt when they take on #25 Kent State (11-2 8-0) in the Go Daddy.com bowl on Sunday January 6th at 8PM on ESPN.
The Red Wolves will face a Kent State team that ranks 17th nationally running the football. The Flashes have ran for a shade under 3,000 yards as a team and 35 touchdowns.
Kent State too will have problems with dual threat quarterback Ryan Aplin and the Wolves 21st ranked rush offense. Not to shabby in the air either the Wolves are ranked 41st throwing the football with a 265/ypg average.
Tied for 2nd place in the Sun Belt are the ULM Warhawks (8-4 6-2) who accepted an invitation to the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl on Friday December 28th at 1PM on ESPN. ULM will take on the Ohio Bobcats(8-4 4-4) out of the MAC conference.
The Bobcats have an excellent run game that averages 202 yards per contest, good for 28th in the nation. They will also throw the football showing balance with a 233/ypg average good for 62nd nationally.
ULM will bring a high flying offense to the table that averages right at 300 yards in the air (297) good for 26th in the nation. The Warhawks lost both starting tailbacks but still managed 146/ypg on the ground for the season. Look for star quarterback Kolton Browning to put it in the air early and often.
Playing to the Warhawks advantage is their run defense that is only giving up 135/ypg on the ground. That number ranks 30th in the nation despite playing SEC opponents Arkansas and Auburn as well as Baylor.
The ULL Ragin Cajuns (8-4 6-2) brought a huge and rowdy crowd to the New Orleans bowl in 2011 and were quickly invited back to this years 2012 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl to take on the East Carolina Pirates (8-4 7-1) from C-USA on Saturday December 22nd at 11AM on ESPN.
ULL finished tied for second in the belt while ECU just missed playing for a C-USA title losing on a tie-breaker to UCF.
The Cajuns will mix it up well on offense with quarterback Terrance Broadway selling the run/pass spread option. ULL averages 443 yards of offense per game, 256 in the air, and 187 on the ground.
The Pirates will look to primarily put the ball in the air as they have the nations 35th rank passing attack at 273/ypg. Keep an eye on sophomore wide out Justin Hardy(83rec - 1,046yds - 10td) as he will try and get loose on the Superdome turf.
After being snubbed by the bowl selections committee's in 2011, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-4 4-4) used that as motivation and accepted an invitation to the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl to face the Chippewas of Central Michigan (6-6 4-4) on Wednesday December 26th, at 6:30PM on ESPN.
CMU is led by Senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff(6'3 215). Radcliff has thrown for 2,905 yards and 20 touchdowns but is a pocket passer and not a threat to run.
The Chippewas like to mix it up on offense with a slight lean to the passing game(243/ypg) compared to the rush(151/ypg).
Antonio Andrews - that's the name to circle in this one. Andrews is an all purpose 6'0 215 pound running back that rushed for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. Watch him out of the backfield too, he hauled in 34 passes and scored 3 more through the air.
The key in this game could come down to CMU's rush defense that is giving up almost 200 yards a game to opposing teams(98th nationally). Andrews is already licking his chops.
It was a banner year for the Sun Belt as they look to continue this seasons success and hopefully ride into the 2013 season with some bowl victory momentum.
Missing out on the bowl festivities was Middle Tennessee(8-4 6-2) who finished tied for second in the conference, one game ahead of WKU, a team they defeated 34-29. The Blue Raiders also defeated Georgia Tech soundly 49-28, a team that represented the ACC in the conference championship.
An embarrassing 45-0 blowout though to Arkansas State this past Saturday didn't help their cause, as both teams were 6-1 and playing for the outright conference title.
31,243 howling Red Wolve fans gave the Raiders a nice parting gift as they played their last game as a member of the Sun Belt conference. It's the gift that keeps on giving forever.