The Sun Belt conference is one of the most overlooked and often miss characterized conferences in the FBS. Few fans know all the teams but their fans are devout and their teams have produced NFL talent year after year and 2012 will be no different. While everybody knows the QB’s like Ryan Aplin (Arkansas State), Blaine Gauthier (UL-Monroe), and Corey Robinson (Troy) allow us to show you two other QB’s you probably don’t know but who could be better than three listed above. We had a number of SEC transfers who have made their way into the Sun Belt on our list as well. Now is the time to get excited for some Sun Belt football!
RB Kendrick Rhodes*-5’11, 190 lbs.
After rushing for over 200 yards and averaging 7.3 yards as a true freshman the pressure was on Rhodes last year to give the Golden Panthers some kind of a rushing attack to go along with their aerial attack. Not only did Rhodes deliver but he exceeded all conceivable expectations by exceeding 1100 yards and scoring eight TD’s. Rhodes should emerge from the shadow that now departed Sun Belt star RB’s Bobby Rainer (WKU) and Lance Dunbar (North Texas) cast. The biggest difference between both of those former stars and Rhodes is his size and speed.
OT Caylin Hauptmann-6’4, 314 lbs.
In his first year as a starter for the Golden Panthers Hauptmann was the best lineman for FIU. He made 2nd team All-Sun Belt conference and really gave now departed QB Wesley Carroll a lot of confidence. Now with the young Jake Medlock likely taking over behind center there is even more pressure on Hauptmann to get better. With ideal length, width, and athletic ability Hauptmann should be an OT who ranks higher than most currently have him.
WR Eric Thomas*-6’1, 209
Thomas will return to Troy as their top Wide Reciever this season and there is not a whole lot of help expected this year for Thomas. Thomas who has good speed, but only average size does a good job looking the ball into his hands and does a good job attacking the ball while in the air and catching it out away from his body. He has developed a good relationship with top QB prospect Corey Robinson and the two should be able to hook up for over 1,000 yards and double digit touchdowns.
DT Xavier Melton*-6’4, 305 lbs.
The former Purdue Boilermaker will make his return to the FBS after a JUCO stint the past two years. Melton is a very athletic DT prospect who was a three start recruit coming out of HS. He didn’t have a high profile JUCO career but his blend of size and speed is hard to overlook. He’ll play the NT position in the Trojans 34 defense and will be asked to press the pocket.
TE Ian Thompson*-6’4, 234 lbs.
With the graduation of Ladarius Green the job of filling that massive void will fall to Thompson. Thompson who is a similar build and athletic mold to Green should be able to slide in quickly and pick up a big chunk of what Green is leaving behind. Thompson would do very well for himself if he could add a bit of weight and become a more physical TE in a conference that lacks elite physical LB’s.
DT Cordian Hagans-6’5, 310 lbs.
This ULL defensive line will feature three former SEC players on the line. Jalen Fields (DT, UGA) and Delvin Jones (DE/LB, Ole Miss) will join former LSU Tiger Hagans in Lafayette this season. Adding that caliber of talent to compliment Hagans should only make the big man better in 2012. Hagans who is in his second year at ULL will be counted on to take a large leap forward and take this talented DL from a group of untapped potential to a dominant and cohesive unit.
QB Kawaun Jakes-6’3, 198 lbs.
It’s a make or break year for Kawaun Jakes who many people have already written off as far as being a legitimate NFL QB prospect. Jakes has the size and the arm strength to make the NFL throws, but he needs to show more crisp ability. His throwing motion at times appears to be in slow motion and he often drops down to a ¾ release. In addition to that you often see Jakes float passes over the middle as opposed to drilling them in there. He needs to become more of a complete QB in 2012 if he hopes to stay there beyond.
LB Andrew Jackson*-6’1, 262 lbs.
The big bopper in the middle of this Hilltopper defense almost nobody is able to get by Jackson. If Jackson played in the SEC he’d be a household name but he plays in the Sun Belt so he’s routinely overlooked and passed by. Jackson is an aggressive and downhill LB who shoots gaps in the OL with ease and made 13.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year. He’s one of the best LB’s in the country that you may not know because all he knows how to do is make plays.
LB Nathan Herrold-6’3, 235
The senior leader of this Red Wolves defense , Herrold is the leading returning tackler and will be counted on to make big plays from his WLB position. He’s an athletic linebacker who can play all three downs and does a good job v. both the pass and the run. He played more under control in 2011 and was able to make more plays and force even more plays to change direction or alter their design. Herrold isn’t a top notch prospect but he’s a productive and heady player who is in the right position when you need him to be.
WR Taylor Stockemer-6’4, 210 lbs.
While more of the buzz coming in 2012 is about Josh Jarboe and what he could become this season it’s important to remember that its Stockemer and not Jarboe who has a better connection with QB Ryan Aplin. Why is Stockemer so overlooked? We don’t know he averaged plenty of big plays last year picking up an average of 15.8 yards per catch and his seven TD’s led all receivers. While Jarboe may be the name everybody knows now, it will be Stockemer who is the one to watch.
Check out which former LSU RB is expected to explode onto the scene in 2012 for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on the next page!