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This Week in the Sun Belt – From the Bird’s Nest

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images Sport

Besides the Cajuns and WKU, there are four other games that have a bearing on the league race.  This is one of the rare weeks when everyone is playing a conference game.

FIU (2-8, 1-5) .at FLORIDA ATLANTIC (3-7, 2-4)

FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, FL

Tonight, 7pm, ESPNU

When they lost to South Alabama earlier in the year, one writer suggested Florida Atlantic had reached the low point of its entire program.  Since then, the Owls have beaten Troy at home and WKU on the road.  Carl Pellini has done an awfully good job making this team respectable after a terrible start.  Now here comes FIU.  The Panthers finally broke their long losing streak two weeks ago, but have been in most games they’ve played.  The two teams aren’t scheduled to play in the future, with FIU headed to Conference USA.  The Owls have dominated the series (8-2) and even have made a commemorative tee shirt illustrating the domination.  It reads, “We’d say we’re going to miss you….but we would be lying.”  The FAU defense could be the key in this game.  FIU was the early favorite, but the pendulum has swung during the week.

ARKANSAS STATE (7-3, 5-1) AT TROY (5-5, 3-3)

Veterans Memorial Stadium/Larry Blakeney Field

Saturday 2:30/ESPN3

This one is big for both teams.  The Red Wolves control their own destiny in the Sun Belt and win the league outright if they win their final two games.  They had better not overlook the Trojans, however.  Troy got a big win last week against Navy, but still needs one more win in order to be bowl eligible (they are at Middle Tennessee next week.)  The Red Wolves have been playing well for the better part of the past month, but they can’t afford a glitch against two teams who still have a lot in front of them.  ASU is a slight road favorite in this game.  There could be a lot of points scored in this one.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (6-3, 4-1) AT SOUTH ALABAMA (1-5, 2-8)

Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL

Saturday, 3pm

While the Jaguars haven’t been rewarded, they’ve become a better team the last few weeks.  They’ve been competitive in every game since their win over FAU.  They’re a little more than a touchdown underdog this week against a Middle Tennessee team that is hoping to play its best football over the next three weeks.  The Blue Raiders had better be careful in this one, which amounts to a trap game.  With Troy coming up next week (Rick Stockstill has never beaten the Trojans) and a trip to Jonesboro in the final week, looking ahead and stubbing your toe would be fatal to the Raiders’ title hopes.  Middle Tennessee, like Arkansas State, controls its own destiny in the league race.

NORTH TEXAS (4-6, 3-3) AT LOUISIANA-MONROE (6-4, 4-2)

Malone Stadium, Monroe, LA

Saturday, 3pm

Louisiana-Monroe lost its last game on a Thursday night to Arkansas State, but don’t blame their quarterback situation.  Cody Wells, filling in for the injured Kolton Browning, performed admirably, but the ASU offense was just too much as they pulled away in the second half.  North Texas needs wins in its last two games to get bowl eligible.  It’s a tall order with a trip to WKU in their regular season finale next week.  Browning is listed as the backup quarterback this week.  Whether or not he can play remains to be seen.  My guess is ULM will use him the way UL will use Blaine Gautier this week:  only if they have to.  North Texas is a pretty decent defensive team and they’ll be physical against the Warhawks.  But can they move the football well enough to get the upset?  A win gives the Warhawks their first winning season since joining the FBS in 1994.

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