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February 10, 2011

Sun Belt spring primer: Freeze frame

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Three new coaches take over in the Sun Belt, but changes likely will be minor for one of those programs.

Arkansas State promoted offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze to coach, and the Red Wolves are coming off one of the best offensive seasons in school history. But Freeze has to rebuild his offensive line, so there's work to be done.

Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas are the other programs with new coaches, and both have head men who were assistants in the SEC -- UNT's Dan McCarney was defensive line coach at Florida and ULL's Mark Hudspeth had been Mississippi State's wide receivers coach.

FIU and Troy tied for the Sun Belt title last season, but each has specific areas of concern this spring.

Here's a look at the start and end dates for spring drills, as well as a quick look at what each team hopes to accomplish.

ARKANSAS STATE
Practice begins: March 9
Spring game: April 9
The buzz: New coach Hugh Freeze was the Red Wolves' offensive coordinator last season. His first order of business is overseeing the complete rebuilding of the offensive line, which lost all five starters. That could make revving up the rushing attack a no-win situation. Arkansas State needs to replace two starting defensive backs, and coaches need to find out if they have anyone who can adequately replace DT Bryan Hall.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Practice begins: March 30
Spring game: April 23
The buzz: The passing attack bears watching because the Owls will have a new starting quarterback and a rebuilt receiving corps. The biggest issue defensively is at linebacker.
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
Practice begins: March 3
Spring game: April 1
The buzz: The Golden Panthers are coming off the best season in school history and coaches are looking for a carryover effect. The biggest concern is along the offensive line, as the two best linemen were seniors. FIU also needs a No. 2 receiver to step to the fore. Defensively, the secondary lost two starters, including star CB Anthony Gaitor. But FIU has a lot of speed on that side of the ball.
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Practice begins: March 3
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: New coach Mark Hudspeth arrives from Mississippi State, where he had been receivers coach; before that, he was coach at perennial Division II power North Alabama. He and his staff have to find a feature back and also replace two starting linemen. Rebuilding the linebacker corps is the top priority on defense.
LOUISIANA-MONROE
Practice begins: March 10
Spring game: April 9
The buzz: ULM needs to find a starting tailback, but at least the new guy will get to run behind a line that returns intact. The defense could be one of the best in the league, as long as the Warhawks can develop some depth at linebacker.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Practice begins: March 16
Spring game: April 9
The buzz: Finding a quarterback who can play consistent football is a must this spring for a remade coaching staff. Developing depth at tailback also is going to be important. But the real work is going to come on defense. The defensive line is going to be all new, while three-fourths of the starting secondary has to be replaced. Coaches desperately need some guys to step up and be playmakers on that side of the ball.
NORTH TEXAS
Practice begins: March 23
Spring game: April 15
The buzz: New coach Dan McCarney arrives from Florida, where he had been defensive line coach. He has to rebuild UNT's linebacker corps and develop some playmaking linemen. McCarney also needs to instill some toughness, as UNT has been too passive for too long on defense. Offensively, coaches need to decide on a starting quarterback and revamp the offensive line.
TROY
Practice begins: Feb. 23
Spring game: March 26
The buzz: QB Corey Robinson is coming off a solid season, but the receiving corps and the offensive line have to be rebuilt. Troy has become a bit too pass-happy the past two seasons, and a renewed emphasis on the run wouldn't hurt. The secondary had issues last season, and competition for starting jobs should be fierce among the defensive backs.
WESTERN KENTUCKY
Practice begins: March 21
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: Western Kentucky made some strides last season, its first under coach Willie Taggart, and that growth must continue this spring. The passing attack was pitiful, and coaches have to do something to upgrade that aspect of the offense. Defensively, all three starting linebackers have to be replaced. In addition, Western needs to ramp up its pass rush after coming up with just 11 last season.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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