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Expanded Sun Belt headlined by La.-Lafayette

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 7, 2014 at 12:31 pm •  Published: August 7, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Sun Belt Conference has lost a member and gained four new ones since last season.

Unchanged are the expectations for defending champion Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns are favored to take the title again in 2014.

In all three seasons the Cajuns have been coached by Mark Hudspeth, they've won no fewer than nine games and finished with a New Orleans Bowl victory.

"We know now, being the favorite, we're going to get everybody's best shot every week, so we better come to play to match that intensity and hopefully surpass it," Hudspeth said. "It's going to be quite a challenge, but I really believe with the veteran team we have we're up to that challenge."

Those veterans include senior dual-threat quarterback Terrance Broadway, the league preseason offensive player of the year, who also made the Davey O'Brien Award watch list.

Also returning on offense is running back Alonzo Harris, a Doak Walker watch list candidate.

"We're looking to translate that on the field," Broadway said.

The league now consists of 11 teams after losing Western Kentucky and gaining Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho and New Mexico State.

Here are 10 things to watch in the new-look Sun Belt Conference in 2014:

MOMENTUM: South Alabama was in only its first season of bowl eligibility last season and went 6-6 after closing 2013 on a three-game winning streak, including a 30-8 demolition of Louisiana-Lafayette. Now the Jaguars are among the favorites to challenge ULL for the league title.

FAMOUS NAME: The Sun Belt lost one Petrino after last season but gained another. Bobby Petrino was with Western Kentucky in 2013 before heading back to Louisville as the Hilltoppers left the league. But Idaho's arrival as a full Sun Belt member brings Petrino's brother, Paul. The Vandals, picked ninth in the preseason coaches' poll, are banned from postseason play because of past academic performance.

ON THE RUN: In addition to ULL's Harris, the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list includes three other Sun Belt running backs: Appalachian State's Marcus Cox, Arkansas State's Michael Gordon and Texas State's Robert Lowe.

MOVING UP: Two of the Sun Belt's newest members, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, have moved up after decades as dominant forces at the Football Championship Subdivision level. Georgia Southern won six national titles, while Appalachian State won three.

COACHING CAROUSEL: Arkansas State, which tied ULL for the conference title last season, has its fourth new coach in four years. Former North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson takes over for Bryan Harsin, who left for Boise State. The Red Wolves were coached by Mississippi's Hugh Freeze in 2011 and Auburn's Gus Malzahn in 2012.

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