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2003 a #039;practice#039; season for TSU

NEW ORLEANS, La. - The future of the Sun Belt was on display Wednesday on the final day of the conference's football media days convention.

Troy State, despite not participating in the conference until the 2004 season, took part in the conference media days Wednesday. Troy State was the final team to make an appearance.

Despite all the losses the Trojans felt during the off season, TSU head coach Larry Blakeney said he thought the upcoming season could be

a good one.

"I feel good about

our team," Blakeney said. "We have a good starting quarterback in Hansell Bearden, who has improved a lot in the spring, and two junior college quarterbacks

in Franco Johnson and Aaron Leak who can come in in spot duty."

But Troy State's 2003 season is not nearly as important for the Sun Belt Conference as the 2004 season will be. Though Troy State will have the potential to be a factor in the conference championship, three of the four games against conference opponents count as conference games for those members, this season will be more of a test for Troy State than for the conference.

Troy State closes its season with four straight games against future conference foes. Two-time defending conference champion North Texas will be the first such foe Oct. 30. The Trojans defeated North Texas in 2001, 18-16 to send the Mean Green to the New Orleans Bowl with a losing record.

The next week Troy State will go to Middle Tennessee State, and the following week the Trojans will face Utah State. The Trojans close the season at home against Louisiana-Monroe Nov. 22.

"This is a practice season for us," Blakeney said. "We will try to keep our team healthy through the first part of the season, and of course we'll try to win the games early, but we want to put a lot of focus on those last four games."

Blakeney's idea for a seasonal outlook is similar to the ones other coaches in the Sun Belt espoused.

Idaho's Tom Cable said the reason North Texas has won the first two Sun Belt Conference championships because head coach Darrell Dickey has been able to keep his team focused during the "money games."

"Whoever can keep his kids smiling during the early season stands a good chance to win the championship," Cable said. "That's what Darrell has been able to do the last two years."

Conference games do not begin until Sept. 27 (except for designated games, which are a different story entirely), and the teams play games for money the first few weeks. Sun Belt schools face such opponents in the first few weeks of the season as Texas A&M, Washington State, South Carolina, LSU, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Auburn.

Troy State's schedule includes heavyweights

Kansas State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia.