This is the first in a series of articles ranking the Sun Belt Conference teams unit-by-unit.
Six of the nine Sun Belt Conference teams use some derivative of a spread offense. The essential ingredient in the spread is a dynamic, intelligent quarterback. Unfortunately, the conference lost two of its best signal-callers, Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith and Troy's Levi Brown, to the NFL.
So, who's the best of who's left?
1. Dwight Dasher, Middle Tennessee State (5'10", 202 lbs, Senior)
Dasher's pass efficiency rating of 125.6 placed him fifth among last season's SBC qualifiers. His 14 interceptions were second-most among the conference's starters, and he completed just under 55 percent of his passes.
So, why's he number one?
He finished second in the league in passing yards and total offense, while tying for the SBC lead with 23 touchdown passes. The only man to equal or best him in those categories was the departed Levi Brown.
However, Brown didn't also finish fourth in the conference in rushing yards per game and tie for second in rushing touchdowns.
MTSU coach Rick Stockstill is hoping to reduce the running burden on Dasher this season, but Dasher needs to do his part and improve his decision-making if the Raiders are to realize a widely predicted conference championship.
2. Jeff Van Camp, Florida Atlantic (6'5", 222 lbs, Senior)
The shoulder sprain that ended Rusty Smith's season in November may have turned into a blessing in disguise.
In starting the final five games of the season, Van Camp was able to pitch 12 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Both of those picks came in his starting debut, a 56-29 drubbing at the hands of UAB.
The biggest difficulty facing Van Camp this season may be in finding time to make the good throws. His offensive line, nothing special last season, must break in five new starters this year. If Van Camp isn't forced to run for his life every time he drops back, FAU's offense could be just as prolific as last season.
3. Trey Revell, Louisiana-Monroe (6'5", 221 lbs, Senior)
Revell is a bit of a paradox. He joined Dwight Dasher on the watch list for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. This, however, came on the heels of a season which ended in nightmarish fashion and an equally tense offseason.
Revell could manage only two touchdowns against six interceptions in the final three games of 2009, and was pulled in the season-ending loss to Middle Tennessee.
Overall, Revell finished third in the SBC in passing efficiency, but his 12 touchdowns weren't enough to offset his 12 interceptions. First-year coach Todd Berry may be prepared to anoint redshirt freshman Kolton Browning as his starting quarterback, which would make this ranking look somewhat silly.
4. Jamie Hampton, Troy (6'1", 212 lbs, Junior)
Hampton started for the Trojans in 2008, but was forced to redshirt last season recovering from a knee injury.
Hampton wasn't truly dominant when he was the starter two seasons ago, but he's the most experienced hand in camp. He had a dominant spring game, completing 18-of-22 for 204 yards and two touchdowns. That result may show the Troy coaching staff that Hampton's knee is sound enough for him to be trusted over freshman Corey Robinson.
Whoever gets the start will have a talented crew lined up around them, including a pair of talented running backs and the Sun Belt's most dangerous wide receiver, Jerrel Jernigan.
5. Chris Masson, Louisiana-Lafayette (6'2", 211 lbs, Junior)
Masson was one of only four Sun Belt quarterbacks to average over 200 passing yards per game last season. That's the upside.
The downside is that Masson could only manage 10 touchdown passes last season, as the Ragin' Cajun quarterbacks were often forced to move the ball with their legs. Masson ran for six touchdowns, designated running QB Brad McGuire (now officially listed as a running back) rushed for seven, and three Cajun running backs combined for five.
The offensive line is rebuilding, which may lead to the Cajuns allowing a few more than the 13 sacks they surrendered last season. It also doesn't bode all that well for the running game. If Masson can stay upright, he may still get the opportunity to fill the air with footballs (or scramble for pay dirt) this fall.
6. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (6'1", 213 lbs, Sophomore)
Aplin is another Sun Belt quarterback who may not even return to his previously held position. After replacing four-year starter Corey Leonard late last season, Aplin managed to guide the Red Wolves to wins in their final two games, accounting for half of their 2009 victories.
However, offseason shoulder surgery gave touted redshirt freshman Phillip Butterfield an opportunity to run the team during spring practice. Coach Steve Roberts' offense was near the bottom of the conference in nearly all categories, so a change may be seen as a positive.
Aplin is another broken-play threat, as he proved in the November victory over North Texas. While he threw three picks and no scores, he did run for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts. It remains to be seen if that athleticism will keep Aplin starting, as Butterfield is known as a considerable athlete himself.
7. Wesley Carroll, Florida International (6'1", 202 lbs, Junior)
FIU coach Mario Cristobal may be waiting to name a starter until shortly before the September 11 opener against Rutgers. Carroll is competing with former Golden Panther starter Wayne Younger.
The difference lies in how each man has performed in their past starting endeavors, and the level of competition they faced. In Younger's freshman season, he could only complete about 45 percent of his passes, throwing 17 interceptions against nine scoring passes.
Carroll also started as a freshman, completing about 52 percent with nine touchdowns and seven picks. Carroll, however, was playing in the SEC with Mississippi State, not struggling merely to survive in the Sun Belt.
Junior receiver T.Y. Hilton, who has 98 catches in two seasons at FIU, will be trying to do his best to make either man look good.
8. Nathan Tune, North Texas (6'4", 206 lbs, Senior)
Tune's got a stiff fight on his hands from sophomore Derek Thompson for the Mean Green's starting job. Said job was vacated when coach Todd Dodge moved his son Riley from QB to receiver after chronic arm injuries.
Tune does have the edge in experience, even if Thompson is closer to the dual-threat style that Dodge usually favors in his quarterbacks. Tune started last year at Bryant-Denny Stadium, throwing a touchdown pass and no picks in a 53-7 pounding by Alabama.
Tune also went 22-of-33 against Troy, accounting for 267 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He's yet to lead the Mean Green to a win, however, but the same can be said for Thompson.
9. Matt Pelesasa, Western Kentucky (6'1", 236 lbs, Junior)
WKU's post-spring depth chart shows Pelesasa as the starter, with junior Tyler Bruce behind him. There's no sign of sophomore Kawaun Jakes, who accounted for 170 yards of total offense per game last season and 14 combined touchdowns.
Pelesasa accounted for 242 total yards and three touchdowns in WKU's spring game, and new coach (and ex-Hilltopper QB) Willie Taggart had no qualms about anointing him the starter.
Spring game MVP Willie McNeal and shifty runner Bobby Rainey will give Pelesasa some dangerous weapons as he tries to end Western's nation-high 20-game losing streak.
With the styles of offense utilized in the Sun Belt, good quarterback play is essential for offenses to move the sticks and light the scoreboards. When we rank the quarterbacks at season's end, it's likely that those standings will closely match the win-loss standings to decide the Sun Belt champion.
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