Louisiana Lafayette returns 17 starters — most in the Sun Belt — from a team that won nine games. The Ragin' Cajuns will have an opportunity to flex their might in back-to-back September road games against Mississippi and Boise State. Texas State and Arkansas State could be troublesome in October, but the rest of the schedule looks relatively easy.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois' do-everything quarterback, is gone, and don't expect the Huskies to make another run at a marquee bowl game. But the team remains quite formidable and will have a say in who wins the Mid-American Conference.
Mississippi State built up momentum down the stretch in 2013, closing with three victories that included a 44-7 pounding of Rice in the Liberty Bowl. That's four bowl games in a row for Dan Mullen's Bulldogs, who broke out four posters in anticipation of a big 2014.
Middle Tennessee State successfully made the transition from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA in 2013, winning eight games and earning a bowl bid for the first time since 2010. But the Blue Raiders likely will be pushed to get eight wins in 2014. Nonetheless, look to see the team in the postseason for the second year in a row.