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Sun Belt coaches pick FIU No. 1 (again); coaches & media pick Williams as Defensive POY

COMMIT: Chandler Burkett, defensive end from Panama City Bozeman, committed to FIU Monday afternoon.

Back to Sun Belt Media Day...

The Sun Belt preseason football poll of coaches picked FIU to win the conference title by a narrow margin over defending Sun Belt champion Arkansas State. Half the 10 coaches gave FIU first place votes with No. 1 votes also going to Arkansas State (two), Louisiana-Lafayette (two) and Western Kentucky. FIU was the preseason co-pick last year along with Troy.

Asked about keeping his players minds right when so much points to them rolling through The Belt, FIU coach Mario Cristobal said, "I think you said it best right there -- "again." Human nature is what it is, but in this case, human nature might serve us well. We kind of have seen this picture before. Had a great start, stumbled a little bit, then got back on track. I think that's going to serve as a great example and great experience as well."

The vote for Western came from Western coach Willie Taggart, who drew snickers last year when he voted his team No. 1 as they came off a two-win season. He looked like an Old Testament prophet when they came in 7-1 in the Sun Belt.

"I can't pick anybody else but us," Taggart said Monday. "I don't know those other teams. I'm not around those teams. I don't know what they did in the offseason."

The All-Sun Belt team, selected by the coaches and some media folks (including me), included seven FIU players.

FIU got three on one side of the ball (junior running back Kedrick Rhodes, senior offensive linemen Rupert Bryan and Caylin Hauptmann) and four on the other (defensive tackle Isame Faciane, defensive end Tourek Williams, linebacker Winston Fraser and safety Jonathan Cyprien). Williams pick as preseason Defensive Player of the Year signifies how dominant FIU's defense is expected to be this season, especially in Sun Belt play. That's FIU's anticipated edge over Arkansas State (great offense, young defense), Lafayette (great offense, young and iffy defense), Western (questionable no-Bobby-Rainey offense, good defense). So far, just asking general questions about defenses and defensive players in the shoot-'em-up Sun Belt, the players and coaches have brought up FIU instantly.

Surprisingly, kicker Jack Griffin got outvoted by Lafayette's Brett Baer, whose punting and kicking was responsible for Lafayette upsetting FIU last year at The Cage. I voted for Baer as a punter, a position that went to North Texas' Will Atterberry.

Akansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin, last year's Sun Belt Player of the Year, was the preseason Offensive Player of the Year. The rest of the offense: running backs Rhodes and Lou-La's Alonzo Harris; wide receivers Ark State's Josh Jarboe, Troy's Eric Thomas and Lou-La's Javone Lawson; tight end Western's Jack Doyle; offensive line Bryan, Hauptmann, Ark State's Zack McKnight, Lou-La's Leonardo Bates, North Texas' Cyril Lemon.

The defense aside from the aforementioned FIU players: defensive linemen Troy's Tony Davis, Western Quanterus Smith; linebackers Troy's Kanorris Davis and Western's Andrew Jackson; defensive backs Ark State's Don Jones, Lou-La's Melvin White and Troy's Brynden Trawick. Western's John Evans was the return specialist.

We're at Sun Belt Media Day and will have more from it throughout the day (we hope).


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