The Sun Belt loses FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee and North Texas to Conference USA. It gains Texas State from the WAC, which dropped college football after the 2012 season, and former FCS member Georgia State.
The realignment issue is far from over, too. Western Kentucky is scheduled to bolt to Conference USA next year while the conference adds FCS powerhouses Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, along with two refugees from the defunct WAC - Idaho and New Mexico State.
The conference also enters 2013 with new head coaches at Arkansas State and Western Kentucky. And to make things tougher for Georgia State, even the Panthers will led by a new man at the top.
This marks the third straight season that Arkansas State will kick off a campaign with a new head coach. It's worked pretty well for the Red Wolves the past two years with Hugh Freeze (2011) and Gus Malzahn (2012). Freeze's lone season produced the school's first outright Sun Belt title and first 10-win (10-2) campaign since 1986. Malzahn's only Red Wolves team earned a second straight outright Sun Belt title while going 9-3 overall and 7-1 in league play.
Now it's Bryan Harsin's turn. The former Texas offensive coordinator spent 10 seasons with Boise State before heading to the Longhorns for the last two years.
Defensive coordinator John Thompson served as the Red Wolves' interim head football coach for the GoDaddy.com Bowl where Arkansas State defeated Kent State (11-3) 17-13.
The Congrove Computer Rankings have the Red Wolves back in the mix to win another Sun Belt tile, though they are expected to finish behind Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe. They host the Ragin' Cajuns as 4.04-point underdogs and visit the Warhawks as 11.46-point dogs. The only other forecasted loss is at Missouri by 6.28.
UL-L is projected to go undefeated in conference play and only fall by 5.33 at Kansas State. UL-L will host UL-M won November 30 with the conference title presumably going to the victor, and the computer favors the Ragin' Cajuns by a mere 1.58 points.
The top three teams in this year's forecast shared the title in 2005.
Western Kentucky gets the computer's nod for 4th-place, despite losing head coach Willie Taggart to South Florida. Disgraced Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bobby Petrino gets an opportunity to redeem himself as the new head coach of the Hilltoppers. Petrino, you will remember, was fired from his former post after an April Fool's Day motorcycle accident and subsequent investigation uncovered an affair with a 25-year-old former Arkansas volleyball player whom Petrino hired to work in the football office. Indeed, Petrino comes with baggage, but he also brings name recognition and a solid career record of 75-26.
The conference's other new head coach is Trent Miles at Georgia State. Bill Curry launched the Panther program in 2008 and retired at the end of the 2102 season at the age of 70. His teams produced a 3-year mark of 10-23 that included a 1-10 record in 2012 in its lone season as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), one of the toughest leagues at the FCS level.
Miles was head coach at Indiana State since 2008 where he was 20-36 in 5 seasons. However, the Sycamores were 1-32 in the 3 years prior to his arrival and Miles' posted winning campaigns in each of his last three seasons. Miles is a Tyrone Willingham disciple who served with him at Stanford, Notre Dame, and Washington as wide receivers and running backs coach.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the computer's Sun Belt projections is its expectation of Texas State hitting the .500 mark (6-6, 3-4). An opening day road win at Southern Miss and a season-ending victory at Troy would be great bookends for the Dennis Franchione-led Bobcats. A serious group of lightweights would make up the other four victories - FCS member Prairie View A&M and Sun Belt foes Georgia State and South Alabama (all at home), in addition to a road trip to Idaho.
Overall, conference realignment has moved the Sun Belt ever-so-slightly ahead of Conference USA in average power rating, 60.95 to 60.88.