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TU94
10-13-2004, 10:11 PM
Post from the Mean Green board.

By Kevin Acee
Special to ESPN.com

Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters doesn't need a computer. He has his own rankings system, simple yet efficient, and it tells him his conference is getting better. Waters developed his system in 2001, when the Sun Belt started playing football (and started getting beat up big time by the big boys). If a Sun Belt team plays a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference and wins, Waters awards his conference four points. If the Sun Belt team loses, he deducts nothing. If a Sun Belt team beats a team from another non-BCS conference, he gives the conference two points. A loss means a two-point deduction. A victory over a I-AA school is worth nothing. A loss means four points are taken away. This year, for the first time, the Sun Belt has stayed in positive numbers. Middle Tennessee won at Akron (two points). Troy beat Marshall (two points) and stunned then-No.17 Missouri (first-ever Sun Belt victory over a top-25 team and a four pointer). Idaho beat Eastern Michigan (two). Utah State beat UNLV (two). "We're starting to win some of those games against people that are like us," Waters said. "I think that's important."

Biggest surprise
Troy was expected to do well in its first season as a Sun Belt member, but the Trojans established themselves early by opening with victories at Marshall and at home against Missouri.

Biggest disappointment
Middle Tennessee finally showed it can score in the middle of the game. Had the Blue Raiders figured it out sooner, they might be atop the standings. They outscored Arkansas State 31-3 in the middle two quarters this past Saturday and stopped a three-game losing streak. In that streak, they lost by seven twice and by nine once and were outscored 59-21 in the second and third quarters.

Midseason MVP
True freshman Jamario Thomas set a conference record with 256 rushing yards this past Saturday. He ran for 247 yards against Colorado on Sept. 18, the third-highest rushing total in Sun Belt history. He ran for 179 two weeks ago against Middle Tennessee. He has started just four times. Pretty good for a guy just filling in. Thomas is even playing this year because Patrick Cobbs hurt his knee and is out for the season.

Midseason coach of the year
Larry Blakeney has Troy at 3-2, the conference's only winning record. But New Mexico State coach Tony Samuelson gets the nod. Samuelson has kept his squad together through injuries and back-to-back horrible losses against rivals New Mexico and Texas-El Paso (combined scores: 83-3). The Aggies are 2-1 in conference, including a victory over Troy. Their only conference loss was to non-conference foe UTEP, designated a conference game because the Sun Belt has been unable to get its scheduling together.

Bowl bound
There can be no tougher conference in which to gauge who is headed to a bowl. Parity has found the Sun Belt, and there is only one bowl berth available. Until someone in this league figures out how to beat North Texas (20-game conference win streak), the Mean Green has to be considered the favorite to go to New Orleans for a fourth straight year. Others with a chance: New Mexico State, if it can win at North Texas on Oct. 23; and Troy, which does not have to play North Texas and would likely get the invite over the Mean Green if they both finish 6-1.

Kevin Acee covers college football for the San Diego Union Tribune.