NEW ORLEANS -- This is the last season the Sun Belt Conference will be scattered across the country.

The four-year old football conference is on its way to be becoming more regionalized, with the loss of three Western schools to the Western Athletic Conference next year and the addition of three Southeastern schools over the next two years.

"We're finally going to actually be a sun belt conference now," commissioner Wright Waters said. "We always planned for the league to be made up of southeastern teams. It's going to be more regional, which makes for better rivalries."



A capsule look at the teams in their predicted order of finish:

  • NORTH TEXAS: The Mean Green have an 18-game winning streak against Sun Belt opponents. ... QB Andrew Smith, who was expected to compete for the starting job, was killed in a car accident Aug. 7. ... Cobbs averaged more yards per game last season than any back in the nation and ran for a conference record 1,680 yards. ... DE Adrian Awasom and DB Jonas Buckles anchor the defense.

  • TROY: The Trojans are entering their fourth season in Division I-A football and giving up life as an independent for membership in the Sun Belt. ... RB DeWhitt Betterson rushed for 1,161 yards last season. ... Seventeen starters return. ... The error-prone receivers should be better.

  • NEW MEXICO STATE: The Aggies lost four conference games last season by less than a touchdown. ... There are 10 starters returning on a defense that ranked second in the conference. ... There will be eight new starters on offense. New Mexico State runs a power-I with RB Tony Joseph stepping in.

  • LOUISIANA: The Ragin' Cajuns started off 0-7 last year then won four of the last six, including the final two. ... QB Jerry Babb contributed to last year's rally by completing 63 percent of his passes and accounting for 10 touchdowns in the four victories. ... All four defensive line starters are gone and Cajuns have installed a 4-3 alignment.

  • MIDDLE TENNESSEE: Last season, the Blue Raiders (4-8) lost to Florida Atlantic by one point, lost at Missouri by one point in overtime, and dropped three other games by less than a touchdown. ... Had the Sun Belt's highest scoring offense. ... WR Kerry Wright set a single-season Sun Belt Conference record with 1,280 yards receiving on 73 receptions.

  • UTAH STATE: Solid defense with six starters returning. Aggies ranked 45th in nation in total defense last season, 25th against the pass. ... QB Travis Cox threw 18 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. Offense must cut down on penalties. ... Utah State plays seven road games including Alabama and Clemson.

  • ARKANSAS STATE: QB Elliot Jacobs, who started the last 24 games left the team to concentrate on baseball. ... Nick Noce and Brian Hicks, who backed up Jacobs last season, JUCO transfer Devin Hollins and freshman Travis Hewitt are competing for the job. ... Defense has only three returning starters.

  • ULM: Four coaches fired after 1-10 finish last year. Former Army coach Todd Berry will try to improve an offense that averaged less than 20 points. ... QB Steven Jyles, a deep group of receivers and a pair of big running backs should help. ... The Indians travel to Laramie to play the University of Wyoming on Oct. 2.

  • IDAHO: After winning only 11 games in past four seasons, six in last three, Idaho has a new coach. Nick Holt hopes to spread the offense. ... QB Michael Harrington is the younger brother of Detroit Lions QB Joey Harrington. ... Vandals play four of first five games on road.

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    By MARY FOSTER
    AP sports writer