A conference in transition, the Sun Belt welcomes four new programs this season. FCS powerhouses Georgia Southern and Appalachian State as well as NCAA independants Idaho and New Mexico State join the scrappy new-look conference. No doubt about it, though, this conference still belongs to Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State, which provide a bunch of fantasy punch with two of the nation's most efficient offenses.
TOP-5 FANTASY STARS
1. Terrance Broadway, QB, UL-Lafayette
Broadway was a dual-threat weapon in 2013 with 19 touchdowns through the air and eight via the ground. The conference's preseason player of the year should have similar success this season as the team returns most of the starting offense, including a stout offensive line. The Ragin' Cajuns also have the conference's best coach in Mark Hudspeth, which should mean positive results for Broadway's senior season. Broadway has all the tools to lead Lafayette to another conference championship.
2. Jamal Robinson, WR, UL-Lafayette
Robinson was the team's top receiver last season with 54 catches, 862 yards and eight touchdowns. Fellow wideouts Darryl Surgent and James Butler combined for 57 catches and six touchdowns last season with Surgent graduating. With the team wanting to get back to a more balanced attack (rushed 40 percent of the time on passing downs in 2013), Robinson should be quarterback Terrance Broadway's favorite target once again.
3. Michael Gordon, RB, Arkansas State
Gordon returns for his junior season at the top of the depth chart with the departures of teammates David Oku (142 rushes) and Sirgregory Thornton (63 rushes). Gordon had an impressive year in 2013 with a team-high 754 yards and 10 touchdowns. Most of his production came later in the season when the Red Wolves started featuring Gordon instead of Oku. With limited depth behind him at running back, this is the year Gordon should break out and move in on at least 200 carries.
4. Wes Saxton, TE, South Alabama
Saxton is the conference's top tight end and arguably one of the nation's best players at the position. He caught 50 passes on 69 targets last year, but didn't sniff the end zone. But the Jaguars figure to improve after being one of the worst teams in the red-zone last year. At 6-foot-4 with dependable hands, Saxton's just too big a target to avoid this year.
5. Marcus Cox, RB, Appalachian State
Cox was a pleasant surprise as a freshman last season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry on his way to a 1,250 yard season with 15 touchdowns. While the Mountaineers are transitioning from FCS competition, they do return six offensive lineman with at least 11 games of experience. Cox underwent minor knee surgery in the offseason and may have to miss a game or two. However, when the sophomore does return he will be one of the nation's most productive backs.
Rashon Ceaser, WR, UL-Monroe
Ceaser was the Warkhawks' best receiver by a longshot in 2013. His 65 catches, 964 yards and five touchdowns was better than senior Tavarese Maye (graduated) and junior Tony Cook's production combined (57 catches and 551 yards). Ceaser will have to build chemistry with the team's new quarterback, N.C. State transfer Pete Thomas, but if all goes well, he should be one of the top receivers in the conference.
Elijah McGuire, RB, UL-Lafayette
The Ragin' Cajuns leaned heavily on the run last season, and McGuire was a big reason why. The freshman had a stretch of six games in which he rushed 58 times for 547 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 9.4 yards per carry. Senior running back Alonzo Harris should be begin the season as the starter, but watch for McGuire to take over the starting role soon enough.
J.D. McKissic, WR, Arkansas State
McKissic saw time split out and in the backfield last year with 82 catches and 19 rushing attempts. His knack to bounce off defenders makes him dangerous after the catch and in the running game. McKissic is the only returner from Arkansas State's top four receivers last year and should have the No. 1-target role to himself.
Kevin Ellison, QB, Georgia Southern
Ellison played behind Jerick McKinnon in 2013, but the dual-threat quarterback will like the option offense that new coach Willie Fritz brings from Sam Houston State. The sophomore will have the opportunity to run a lot and eclipse the 886 yards and eight rushing touchdowns he racked up during his freshman campaign.
Brandon Bridge, QB, South Alabama
Bridge backed up senior Ross Metheny last season and had mixed results in limited playing time. He played rather well in extended action versus Troy while completing 11-of-20 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown with 54 rushing yards on 11 carries. The biggest reason Bridge could have a breakout year is because the Jaguars return a high-caliber tight end in Wes Saxton and three of their four leading receivers from a year ago.
Alonzo Harris, RB, UL-Lafayette
Harris has been a workhorse the last three years with 382 carries for 2,523 yards and 32 touchdowns. He'll certainly continue to get carries this season, but he could have a problem fending off sophomore running back Elijah McGuire. It also doesn't help that quarterback Terrance Broadway will command his share of carries as well.
Fredi Knighten, QB, Arkansas State
We know Knighten can run -- he has 70 attempts for 559 yards and five touchdowns in limited playing time the last two seasons. The question is whether he can throw. While filling in for an injured Adam Kennedy in 2013, Knight completed 34-of-48 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown. Most of his passes were of the short variety, and it's uncertain whether Knighten can throw the deep ball. Moreover, the Red Wolves have their fifth head coach in five years.
Ronnie Bell, QB, Georgia State
Despite leading an 0-12 football team, Bell improved as last season went on, completing 188-of-376 passes for 2,573 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. This season won't get any easier, though, as the junior signal-caller lost his top playmaker in Albert Wilson as well as his third and fourth options at wide receiver. Robert Davis is the only returning receiver with significant game experience.
Robert Lowe, RB, Texas State
Lowe led a three-headed rushing attack that ranked 65th in the nation in rushing yards per game. His 945 yards on 164 carries and nine touchdowns were team highs. The Bobcats' problem last year was in the passing game where quarterback Tyler Jones was highly ineffective. With that in mind, opponents are sure to gameplan against the run, making Lowe's job a lot harder in 2014.
Jordan Chunn, RB, Troy
Chunn had an amazing freshman season with 14 rushing touchdowns and 649 yards on 139 carries. He scored at least one touchdown in 10 of the team's 12 games. Chunn will most likely see a more significant role in the running game, but the Trojan's offense won't be nearly as good. It will be a tough task for Troy to replace quarterback Corey Robinson who led the 13th-ranked passing offense in the nation. Don't expect Chunn to experience near as much success this year.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
Overall position ranking in parenthesis.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
RB Marcus Cox (21)
Arkansas State Red Wolves
QB Fredi Knighten (25), RB Michael Gordon (16, WR J.D. McKissic (36)
Georgia Southern Eagles
Georgia State Panthers
WR Robert Davis (37)
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
QB Terrance Broadway (29), RB Elijah McGuire (39), WR Jamal Robinson (32)
New Mexico State Aggies
South Alabama Jaguars
QB Brandon Bridge (24), TE Wes Saxton (13)
Texas State Bobcats