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ARod Offline
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ESPN.com: NCF Preview 04
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Sunday, August 22, 2004
Sun Belt gives players a chance

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By Doug Carlson
Special to ESPN.com

Growing up in Tecumseh, Okla., just east of Norman, Patrick Cobbs had a choice to make: OU or Okie State?

"It's hard to be in Oklahoma and not be a fan of either one, but my family was OU all the way, so I was against them. I always liked the underdog," Cobbs said.

"And they were all Dallas fans, so whoever Dallas was playing -- that's who I was for. That's kind of how I was, the odd kid in the family."

Naturally, Cobbs' choice of colleges didn't follow the normal path -- or the path to Norman.

Playing at the University of North Texas, in the Sun Belt Conference, deep in the shadows of Longhorns and the Big 12, may not sound like college football nirvana.

For Cobbs, and other top players in the league, it fits like a new pair of socks. They're the ones who didn't get offers from larger schools coming out of high school, but now have distinguished themselves as worthy at any level.

"I don't spend time wondering what it would be like playing in a bigger conference or for a bigger school," said Cobbs, who led the nation in rushing with 1,570 yards and 17 touchdowns last year as a Mean Green junior. "North Texas is the right spot for me. I'm happy I'm here."

Away from college football's beaten path, the Sun Belt provides an alternative to grander stages, and equal access to the NFL.

"We're not battling the University of Texas and LSU for recruits. We're working with a different athlete from that standpoint," said Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle, who helped build Virginia Tech into a BCS power, then opted to downsize two years ago for a head coaching opportunity.

"A lot of the kids we bring in flourish here," Bustle said. "There are recruiting success stories everywhere, but one thing we offer is that they're going to have a chance to play earlier, that type of athlete."

In recent years, Louisiana-Lafayette has sent its share of players to the NFL, including Charles Tillman (Bears), Ike Taylor (Steelers), Brad Franklin (Seahawks) and Brandon Stokely (Colts).

Bustle is as likely to mention former Ragin' Cajun Jake Delhomme during recruiting pitches as Michael Vick, whom Bustle coached at Virginia Tech.

Often, it's a matter of getting recruits to take a closer look at what Lafayette and the Sun Belt offer. And sometimes it's not just the recruits.

Bustle had to convince his 14-year-old son, Brad, not to have a closed mind about life in Louisiana. Now Brad's a thriving, and happy, senior at Lafayette High, his dad reports.

"When you get into recruiting, everybody has that dream of playing for this school and that," Bustle said. "You have to wade through that. But it was that way at Virginia Tech, too, when I first went there. The kids all realize they can get to the NFL from here."

Bustle's decision to leave the then-Big East-member Hokies wasn't about stepping out of the spotlight, but about pulling up well-established family roots.

He remembers, and often recites to recruits, the far-from-glamorous building process that took place in the early Frank Beamer days at Virginia Tech when the Hokies trained in far-from-glamorous buildings.

"We had pictures that were turning yellow," he said, recalling photographic images of antiquated facilities in Blacksburg that coaches showed to recruits.

For sure, Louisiana-Lafayette and other league members get their day in the sun.

Bustle's team plays at Kansas State and has a conference showdown with North Texas scheduled for a prime time broadcast on ESPN2 on Friday, Nov. 5.

Middle Tennessee-Florida, Louisiana Monroe-Auburn, New Mexico State-Arkansas, Utah State-Alabama and North Texas-Colorado are some of the other opportunities against BCS-affiliated conferences.

On occasion, the BCS schools will do the traveling (Missouri at Troy, Thursday, Sept. 9 on ESPN2).

"I watch those big games like Oklahoma-Texas and I always feel like I can compete with anybody else out there," Cobbs said. "But I don't say, 'I wish I was there playing with that team.'"

There are other advantages to playing in Denton, instead of Austin, like not having to be bothered by Heisman Trophy hype.

"Coming from a smaller school, you'd just wreck your brain thinking about stuff like that," Cobbs said of the Heisman.

On Sept. 4, North Texas opens its season at Texas. It's a chance for Cobbs and his teammates to prove something -- that they belong.

Of course, he said it's the biggest game on the schedule. Why? "Because it's our first game," Cobbs said. "We'll play hard and then we'll go on to the next game. When you're in this situation, you're always gonna have to prove yourself.

"If I get to the NFL, it's going to be the same way. There will be people saying, "Well, he played in the Sun Belt.'"

Doug Carlson covers college football for the Tampa Tribune.

<a href='http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/preview04/news/story?id=1864998' target='_blank'>ESPN Sun Belt Conference Preview LINK (Aug. 22nd)</a>
08-22-2004 03:38 PM
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ARod Offline
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<a href='http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/preview04/columns/story?id=1864420' target='_blank'>ESPN Sun Belt Breakdown LINK (Very Interesting)</a>

ESPN.com: NCF Preview 04

Saturday, August 21, 2004
Updated: August 22, 1:07 PM ET
Mean Green, Trojans should dominate

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By Jim Donnan
Special to ESPN.com

ESPN.com analyst Jim Donnan predicts the Sun Belt conference champion, award winners and more:
[Image: a_cobbs_i.jpg]
Quote:Patrick Cobbs led the nation in total rushing yards in 2003.

And the winner is ...
North Texas

Patrick Cobbs led the nation in total rushing yards in 2003.
The Mean Green will be champs as usual, but with a different style. Instead of relying on the defense as in recent years, look for North Texas quarterback Scott Hall and running back Patrick Cobbs to lead their teammates to another berth in the New Orleans Bowl.


But I wouldn't be surprised ...
If Troy State won
Don't be surprised if the new conference member makes some big waves in its first full season of Sun Belt play. Coach Larry Blakeney's squad has made a swift transition to Division I-A football and with a new stadium and facilities to lure recruits, watch out for Troy State this year and beyond.


Most Valuable Player ...
Patrick Cobbs, RB, North Texas
Cobbs is a premier running back that any team in the country would love to have toting the mail. He led the nation with 1,680 yards last season and also scored 19 touchdowns.


Most Important Player ...
Adrian Awasom, DE, North Texas
The two-time all-conference selection will have to pick up the slack along the line after the graduation of two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year Brandon Kennedy, who was a force up front. Awasom is on the Lombardi Award watch list but has his work cut out for him.


Coach of the Year ...
Darrell Dickey, North Texas
Dickey has turned his mid-major into a powerhouse despite playing brutal non-conference schedules. Look for him to be hotly pursued by some larger schools after another Sun Belt championship.


Assistant You Should Know ...
Vic Koenning, defensive coordinator, Troy State
A former head coach at Wyoming, Koenning has some tremendous athletes and very good schemes.


Player I'd pay to watch ...
Demarcus Ware, DE, Troy State
Ware is a tremendous athlete who can both play the run and rush the passer, although he may not be as successful statistically this year because of all the double-team blocks he will face.


Toughest Place to play ...
Movie Gallery Stadium, Troy State
This new, 30,000-seat beauty is in a class by itself in the Sun Belt. Rabid fans from the state of Alabama come out to support the Trojans and the new luxury boxes are first-class.


Game of the Year ...
New Mexico State at North Texas, Oct. 23
These two always duke it out and this year's game will be no different. Two great QBs in Scott Hall of North Texas and Buck Pierce of NMSU will lead their squads in a battle that may decide the league championship. The Mean Green does not play Troy State this year so New Mexico State must win this one.

ESPN.com college football analyst Jim Donnan takes part in chats and makes observations on Saturdays as part of College GameDay Live.
08-22-2004 03:42 PM
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<span style='font-family:Times'><span style='font-size:12pt;line-height:100%'><span style='color:blue'>Ah, yes. I'm glad everyone thinks that North Texas and Troy University are the only two teams in the Sun Belt. Well, there are others and those schools will find out just who those "others" are.</span></span></span>
08-23-2004 09:20 AM
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BlueRaiderPride Wrote:<span style='font-family:Times'><span style='font-size:12pt;line-height:100%'><span style='color:blue'>Ah, yes. I'm glad everyone thinks that North Texas and Troy University are the only two teams in the Sun Belt. Well, there are others and those schools will find out just who those "others" are.</span></span></span>
I agree. I don't quite understand the respect that Troy is getting. Yes, they are pretty good, I think, but to immediately become a MAJOR contender is surprising too me. I'm afraid of NMSU this season as well as MTSU. Who knows what's going to happen. I just hope North Texas comes out on top again this year!!!!!
08-23-2004 08:20 PM
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