- Eric Crawford
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The checks have all been deposited and the wounds have all been licked. A typical Sun Belt Conference pre-conference season has come and gone and little has changed in the league.
North Texas is still the class of the crop. But the Mean Green haven't looked quite as mean as in years past, at least on defense, where they've allowed double-digit scoring games from each opponent this season. That doesn't change the fact that they're the team to beat in the Sun Belt, however.
Much of that is due to struggles around the rest of the league. New Mexico State, seen in the preseason as a championship contender and voted as the preseason runner-up by league coaches, already has lost twice in conference play.
Middle Tennessee, which expected to continue progress made in the past two seasons, opened with a heartbreaking loss to Division I-AA Florida Atlantic on the game's final play, then suffered even more heartbreak, losing 41-40 in overtime at then-No. 23 Missouri, that after playing tough in a 29-10 loss at Georgia. After those games, however, the Blue Raiders appear ready to mount perhaps the strongest challenge to North Texas.
There's little margin for error, though. History shows that anything more than one loss is too many if you want the Sun Belt title, and only North Texas, Middle Tennessee and Utah State remain unbeaten.
Louisiana-Monroe's win at Louisiana-Lafayette. Monroe was picked to finish last in the Sun Belt. Now Lafayette, picked fifth in the preseason, occupies the basement after an 0-3 Sun Belt start.
New Mexico State. The Aggies figured to be gearing up for a run at North Texas, but instead have opened conference play with losses at home against Idaho and at Middle Tennessee, all but ending their title hopes.
North Texas defensive lineman Brandon Kennedy. NFL scouts come to watch the sub-6-footer and say he's too short. Then they see him play and say, "He's not so short." Kennedy occupies two offensive linemen at all times and still ranks second in the Sun Belt with eight tackles for loss this season.
Midseason Coach of the Year
Who else? North Texas coach Darrell Dickey just keeps winning. And this season, he has juiced up the Mean Green's offense to go with its traditional strong defense.
If North Texas isn't representing the Sun Belt in the Dec. 16 New Orleans Bowl, it'll be a shock.
North Texas is still the class of the conference, but that doesn't mean others aren't in the race.