Instead, FIU finished as league co-champ and is going to the first bowl in program history. That's why the Panthers' Mario Cristobal is Rivals.com's Sun Belt coach of the year. FIU tied Troy for the league crown, but the Panthers ripped the Trojans in their head-to-head matchup.
Defense was FIU's calling card, and Panthers defensive coordinator Geoff Collins gets the nod as out league coordinator of the year. Collins is in his first season on the job and was hired off UCF's staff; UCF is known for its physical defense, and Collins oversaw a FIU unit that was aggressive and physical.
Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey, the league's leading rusher and No. 3 in the nation, is our league MVP and offensive player of the year. Rainey's production (137.4 yards per game) is all the more amazing because Western's passing attack is abysmal (143.5 ypg). Thus, despite opposing defenses loading up to stop the run, Rainey still was successful.
Rainey had nine 100-yard games and had seven multiple-TD games. In Western's four non-conference games against Big Six foes (Nebraska, USF, Indiana and Kentucky, three of whom are going bowling), Rainey averaged 102.0 yards and rushed for five touchdowns; he ran for 155 yards against Nebraska. He led the nation with 340 carries, 38 more than UConn's Jordan Todman, the only other back with more than 300 attempts.
North Texas linebacker Craig Robertson is our defensive player of the year. He averaged 11.1 tackles per game to rank eighth nationally and finished with 133 tackles. He also had 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, four pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception. He had eight games with double-digit tackles, including a season-high 16 against Kansas State.