Can Sun Belt Conference Football Produce a Big-Bowl Contender?

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It’s been 10 years since Sun Belt Conference leadership highlighted that no “mid-major” conference team had been to a BCS bowl game. That has changed in the past decade, but not  for a Conference USA or Sun Belt Conference football team. They remain the only two conferences without past representation in a BCS game. Will the Sun Belt Conference produce a contender in the future? Take the poll below.

Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Wright Waters [who was commissioner in 2003] expressed concern about lack of access to the four Bowl Championship Series games. As it stands, the only way teams from the Sun Belt, Conference USA, WAC, MWC and MAC can make a BCS bowl is getting ranked in the top six of the BCS standings. That hasn’t happened yet.

“We have access [to the BCS] on paper,” Waters said. “Nobody has risen to the level to crack that access.”

Tulane President Scott Cowen has been vocal in favor of eliminating the BCS for a college football playoff system inclusive to all 117 NCAA Division I-A schools. “I don’t think anybody denies that they want a playoff,” Waters said. “The problem is, can you get a playoff and keep all the constituencies happy? And that’s where it all breaks down, is finding a formula that works.” [July 24, 2003; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]

sun belt conference football

It became easier for the “mid-majors” to break into BCS bowls after rules for access were softened in the mid 2000s. Since 2005,the Mountain West Conference, Western Athletic Conference and Mid American Conference have sent teams to BCS bowls.

The Sun Belt, along with Conference USA, are the only mid-majors not to have a team play in a BCS bowl game. No team from these conferences has been good enough against non-conference, major-conference foes to secure the season-ending Top 16 national ranking required to have a shot at a BCS bowl game.

Still, the tide is changing, as Matt Barbour of Dixie Fried Sports writes.

In 2007 the league posted an overall record of 9-31(.223 win pct) in out of conference games, 5 years later that record improved to 12-24(.333 win pct). The SBC has seen its schools defeat BCS Conference teams like Alabama, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Louisville, and Minnesota. The SBC has a 6-5 bowl record since 2007. While no one is saying this conference is better than the SEC or even ACC, it has been able to catch up to the MAC and appears to have outlasted the WAC.

The BCS system is going away in 2014, but the bowls involved in the new playoff system will keep their lofty status. Moreover, the highest-rated champion among the mid-major conferences, including the Sun Belt, will get a spot in one of the six elite-level bowls.

Will the Sun Belt take advantage? How good will the conference’s best team be during the next five years?

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25 Years Ago:

It looks less and less likely a Little Rock network television affiliate will pick up the hour-long show featuring Arkansas football coach Ken Hatfield this fall. KATV had carried the shows featuring the Hogs’ basketball and football coaches for years but its general manager Dale Nicholson said the shows’ poor ratings have made it more difficult to get sponsors.

KATV dropped out of the running last week when Midwestern Media of Fayetteville signed a three-year deal to produce the program. Little Rock’s other two network affiliates, KTHV (CBS) and KARK (NBC), have cited scheduling problems for the show. The only conceivable time slot for KTHV, for instance, would be Sundays at 10:30 p.m., said Bob Brown, president and general manager of KTHV. But “at that time of night, you can’t command very much of an advertising rate. Coaches’ shows simply do not sell. There’s not that much a demand any more.”

A similar problem beset Hatfield’s weekly radio show, which was dropped earlier this summer. Representatives of its producer, the Arkansas Radio Network, also cited financial losses. In response, the UA’s athletic director Frank Broyles floated an idea in which the university would take over marketing of all radio and TV shows with Razorback coaches. [July 27, 1988 and July 7, 1988; Associated Press]

In theory, there should be much higher demand for TV coaches’ shows nowadays given college football’s exploding popularity. At the same time, it seems people have shorter attention spans than ever, especially in a news environment increasingly centered on soundbites. Do you think the one-hour or 30-minute coach’s television show is here to stay, or will soon be replaced by another – perhaps more interactive – production?

(Some fans, for instance, may prefer the idea of a Twitter or Facebook chat with Bret Bielema to watching him on TV. Please give us your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.)

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Hillman Robbins III and Dave Jordan shot a 67 in the third and final round to win the King Cotton Classic, one of the oldest and most prestigious golf tournaments in the state. The duo trailed John Robinson, Sr. and John Robinson, Jr. – a member of Blytheville High School’s only state championship golf team – by a shot after the second round.

Robbins and Jordan combined for a final total score of 199, three shots ahead of the Robinsons. A total of 216 golfers competed in the 28-year-old Blytheville tournament. [July 25, 1988; Blytheville Courier-News]

50 Years Ago:

Arkansas native sonny liston vs patterson poster

Heavyweight boxer Sonny Liston, a native of St. Francis County, successfully defended his championship belt by knocking outFloyd Patterson in two minutes, 10 seconds. The Las Vegas bout was a sequel to a 1962 match Liston won in two minutes, five seconds – the fastest knockout in heavyweight history.

The 216-pound Liston looks “terrifying,” an Associated Press writer opined after the second Patterson pummeling. “He uses his big fists like clubs. Right now there doesn’t appear to be anyone around who could even test him.”

The first to get that chance likely will an undefeated 20-year-old named Cassius Clay, whose love of loquacity and smack talk has also won him a moniker: “Bard of Boxing.” Liston, age 30, and Clay have already started verbally sparring. After Liston-Patterson II, Clay shouldered his way through the crowd and approached Liston as he sat celebrating with friends. “You’re just a sucker,” he told the champ. “My brother could have beaten Floyd Patterson.”

Liston responded: “Come over here and sit on my knee and finish your orange juice.”

Clay and Liston will likely fight on September 30. [July 23, 1963; Associated Press]

100 Years Ago:

Fort Smith - The best bantamweight boxing contest in Arkansas history went down last night when Ollie Kirk of St. Louis and Tommy Dixon of Kansas City went 10 lightning-quick rounds to finish on a non-decision.

Dixon, 128 pounds of flash, dash and most certainly smash, did his thing from the beginning, “dancing around the ring, turning a sudden acrobatic turn or trick and then wading in with his mitts flying like a pair of sledgehammers.”

On defense, Kirk was magnificent, ducking hard blows while using his guard. His masterpiece of maneuvering came in the sixth round when a clinch put him on the ropes. Dixon held Kirk there with one hand, then straightened out and swung a terrific blow at his head. Dixon, also 128 pounds, eluded the missile with a deft duck.

Coming into the match, neither boxer gave a pound to the other. In the end neither gave an inch, either. [July 26, 1913; Arkansas Gazette]

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There’s nothing particularly orange juice-y about Evin’s Twitter account, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink it in all the same.

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  • Drew F.

    “Can they?” is a different question from “Will they?”

    Boise St. (and to lesser extent, Utah) did it by actually beating the big-name teams it faced. Say what you will about the rest of their schedule, but they showed up to play when it came to highly-ranked teams on their schedule. This wasn’t 6-6 Alabama, 4-8 Texas A&M, or 1-11 Minnesota they were beating.

    On the other hand, with the right schedule and enough activist media attention, any non-AQ team can theoretically amass the 11-1 or 12-0 record needed to be in the conversation (see Kent St. and NIU last season). Now that the BCS has successfully been abolished, it’ll be interested to see if the media is still as eager to manufacture a “BCS-buster”-type team.