Notes: Details on Sun Belt bowl games, young SBC coaches earning respect

Cole Claybourn

The Sun Belt Conference is in the second year of a four-year contracts with two separate Bowl Championship Series bowl games – the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and the Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters and several bowl executives discussed the details about the two bowl games during Tuesday’s session of the two-day Sun Belt football media days.

The New Orleans Bowl will be played at 8 p.m. CT Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Louisiana Superdome and will be broadcast on ESPN, New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante said.

The Sun Belt has won the New Orleans Bowl four out of the past five years, with Troy winning last year’s game 48-21 over Ohio.

This year’s game will feature a team from the Sun Belt – likely the conference winner – against a team from Conference USA.

“The coaches feel like the bowl is good for the conference and we feel like the conference is good for the bowl,” Ferrante said.

The Bowl will be played at 8 p.m. CT Sunday, Jan. 8, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, and will also be broadcast on ESPN, Bowl president Jerry Silverstein said.

That’s the only college football game scheduled for that night and comes a night before the BCS National Championship Game, two factors that Silverstein said he hopes will create more interest in the game.

The game pits the champion of the Mid-American Conference against the second place team from the Sun Belt. Miami (Ohio) defeated Middle Tennessee 48-21 in last season’s game.

Since 2005, the Sun Belt is 6-5 in bowl games, which ranks fifth among all conferences in bowl game winning percentage.

Young Sun Belt coaches earning respect from other conference coaches

Several coaches spoke about the rise of younger coaches in the Sun Belt and all had pretty much the same thought, which was that the younger coaches have as much capability to succeed as any other coach in the conference.

Florida Atlantic Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who’s entering his 11th season with the team, said there’s always turnover in college football so he’s not surprised by the recent surge of coaches in their first or second year.

“All of these guys are equally prepared to start the development of their team,” he said. “A lot of good things have to happen, though, and a lot of good coaching and recruiting has to happen.”

He spoke specifically about Florida International and Head Coach Mario Cristobal, as well as WKU and Head Coach Willie Taggart.

Both coaches inherited teams with lengthy losing streaks and saw vast improvements last season, including a win in the Little Caesar’s Bowl for FIU.

Schnellenberger said with the recent improvements of both schools, the conference as a whole “has gotten much stronger.”

Louisiana-Lafayette Head Coach Mark Hudspeth is entering his first year as head coach and said there’s “no question” that he or any other young coach could take their team to a bowl game.

“The Sun Belt Conference is one of the most underrated conferences in the nation,” he said. “There’s a lot parity in it.”

Troy Head Coach Larry Blakeney had a similar notion that every coach is capable of winning because each of the new coaches are high quality, experienced coaches.

“We don’t feel like there’s any place (in the conference) that has a weak link as far as coaching goes,” he said. “This league is continuing to improve, upgrade, and pay a little more money for coaches salaries. It’s good for college football and our conference.”

Waters expressed the same sentiment about the conference as a whole. He said the league is no longer “survival mode” as they were seven or eight years ago, and are now in “enhancement mode.”

WKU opens fall camp for the 2011 season on Aug. 6.