Three Sentence College Football Previews: Sun Belt
The Sun Belt was projected to go an unflattering 1-5 in bowl games in 2016. The SBC didn’t get the message, though, and instead went 4-2, the best winning percentage in the Group of Five. The Sun Belt is a conference on the rise. Quick Three Sentence Previews gives you what you absolutely need to know about every Sun Belt team going into the 2017 season.
When last we left the Sun Belt:
- Arkansas State and Appalachian State ended the regular season at SBC co-champions at 7-1
- Troy briefly tasted the sweet nectar of the AP Top 25, a Sun Belt first
- South Alabama produced upset wins over #19 San Diego State and Mississippi State
- The Sun Belt went 4-2 in Bowl Play, with A-State defeating UCF, Appalachian State besting Toledo, the Vandals upsetting Colorado State and Troy dispatching Ohio
Take my hand, ye steadfast fans of the Sun Belt, and let us review the fate and fortune of each Sun Belt team – in alphabetical order.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
– Haters are gonna hate Apps’ conference schedule – which bypasses both Troy and Arkansas State – but that’s not the Mountaineers’ fault; you still gotta win the games, and Scott Satterfield’s squad has plenty of firepower to do it.
– App chiseled more names onto the Sun Belt Preseason All Sun Belt List (12) than any program in the conference, with dynamite RB Jalin Moore (1,402, 10 TDs) named Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
– The Mountaineers have everything necessary to outright run the Sun Belt table, bringing back a monster offensive line, all-conference playmakers on both ends of the ball, and a proven, top tier Sun Belt quarter back in Taylor Lamb (2,281 yds, 15 TDs).
Arkansas State Red Wolves
– The biggest roster questions plaguing the Red Wolves are being asked on the offensive line and at defensive back, but head coach Blake Anderson and his staff have recruited well, especially on the O-Line, by replacing outgoing seniors with enormous transfers and JUCOs.
– Justice Hansen (2,719 yds, 19 TDs) appears to have the starting QB position locked down, but he’s receiving healthy competition from redshirt freshman Logan Bonner, who is also having a terrific Fall camp.
– The unit with the fewest question marks (zero) is the defensive line, which the staff says is “very deep” and is anchored by the 2016 Sun Belt Player of the Year and 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, DE Ja’Von Rolland-Jones.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
– The Chants enter its first dip into FBS competition without their wonderfully strange head coach, Joe Moglia, who is sidelined for the season due to illness, leaving offensive coordinator Jamey Chadwell to lead Coastal Carolina in 2017.
– Running back De’Angelo Henderson was drafted in the 6th round by the Denver Broncos, leaving RBs Osharmar Abercrombie (396 yds, 5 TDs) and Boston College transfer Marcus Outlow to do all the heavy toting for the Chanticleer backfield in 2017 (and losing three starters on the O-Line won’t help matters).
– It’s difficult to predict what to expect from the Chants in 2017, who are without a head coach and are breaking in a new quarterback – projected to be Syracuse transfer Austin Williams, though Austin Bradley and Tyler Keane are pushing for the gig.
Georgia Southern Eagles
– Tyson Summers enters his second season as Eagles’ head coach, coming off a disappointing 5-7 season that featured an offense that seemed to have lost its “triple-option” mojo; new OC Bryan Cook is expected to restore The Option back to its glory in Statesboro.
– The Eagles lost a ton of talent this off season (including frightening RB Matt Brieda, all-world kicker Younghoe Koo, OL leader Andy Kwon, dual QB tandem Fabian Upshaw and Kevin Ellison), and (amazingly) not a single Eagle was selected to the preseason All Sun Belt teams.
– According to 24/7 composite scoring, the Eagles have the Sun Belt’s 5th best recruiting class on campus in Statesboro, which sounds great for the Eagles’ future – but 2017 may be a reset year.
Georgia State Panthers
– The Panthers saunter into 2017 with a brand new house (Georgia State Stadium) and a new head coach Shawn Elliott, who is tasked to take a very intriguing roster to the next level.
– QB Conner Manning threw the conference’s second-most INTs last year (13), but WR Todd Boyd (352 yds, 1 TD) the return of freshman phenom WR Penny Hart (back from a season-long injury) will give Manning talented targets.
– With a stagnate running game and inconsistency at QB, the capable Panthers defense was asked to keep Georgia State in too many contests last year; a wiser Manning plus the return of injured running back Taz Bateman may keep The D on the sideline a little longer in 2017.
– It’s the last glorious year of FBS football for Paul Petrino and the Vandals, who drop back down to the FCS next season.
– The Vandals lost all-universe kicker Austin Rehkow (now drilling field goals for the Buffalo Bills), but QB Matt Linehan (3,184 yds, 19 TDs) might be the most draft-able signal caller in the Sun Belt this year, and DE Aikeem Coleman (Sun Belt 2016 Newcomer of the Year) will make the Sun Belt pay for sacking Idaho.
– The Vandals entertaining win over Colorado State at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl proved that Paul Petrino and his Vandals may be headed to the FCS, but the skill and talent in Moscow is clearly FBS-level; if the defense improves, look for Petrino to deliver one hell of an FU season.
– Since that magic 2012 season that saw the Warhawks upset Arkansas (and nearly upend Baylor), ULM has endured year-after-year of heartbreak, a condition second-year head coach Matt Viator is asked to remedy in Monroe.
– QB Garett Smith, who had 1,200 yards and 9 TDs before receiving a season-ending injury in Week 6 against Texas State, is back, healthy and expected to start with some challenge from Caleb Evans, who won two games for the Warhawks last season.
– Studly offensive lineman Frank Sutton Jr. is the only Warhawk on the All Sun Belt Preseason Teams, but he leads a unit that may be the conference’s meatiest and among the best in the Sun Belt.
Louisiana Rajin Cajuns
– After years of regular New Orleans Bowl appearances, the Cajuns have stumbled the last couple seasons, but Coach Mark Hudspeth and Louisiana continue to shape the Sun Belt (as evidenced by its chaos-causing win over Arkansas State last year).
– Louisiana has a Sun Belt-elite defensive line with Joe Dillon and Taboris Lee creating havoc, but what the Cajuns really need is a stable QB to make the most out of WR Keenan Barnes (418 yards, 6 TDs).
– The Ragin Cajuns are beneath the radar this year, quietly recalibrating while coping with the departure of longtime playmaker, RB Elijah McGuire; but if Louisiana can receive solid QB play Jordan Davis, look to see the Cajuns back in the championship mix.
New Mexico State Aggies
– Like Idaho, the Aggies are playing their farewell season in the Sun Belt, but unlike the Vandals, New Mexico State is sticking around the ranks of the FBS, plying its talents as an Independent program.
– Larry Rose II (3,624 career yards) was injured for much of the season in 2016, but this season, the dangerous running back has a chance to eclipse the Sun Belt all-time rushing record set by the immortal Tyrell Fenroy of Louisiana (4,646 yds, 2005-08).
– The Aggies’ soft defense surrendered more than 50 points four times last year; with The D still a question mark, sharpshooting QB Tyler Rogers (2,589 yds, 16 TDs) will have to play a full, injury-free season to keep the Aggies in contention.
South Alabama Jaguars
– The last two seasons, the Jaguars are either spectacularly good (as when it plays San Diego State or Mississippi State) or puzzlingly bad (like when it plays the Sun Belt), leaving many people around the conference wondering, “Who are the real Jags?”
– If the Jaguars are finally going to compete in the Sun Belt, they’ll need two of their offensive stars to meet their potential – starting QB Dallas Davis (2,706 yds, 112 TDs, 12 INTs) and multi-purpose running back Xavier Johnson, whose yards per carry dropped from 6.6 yards in 2015 to 5.5 in 2016.
– Everybody knows that South Bama is not without skill and talent, and that it’s only a matter of time before head coach Joey Jones cracks the code and leads the Jaguars to the Sun Belts’ upper echelon.
Texas State Bobcats
– The Bobcats finished dead last in the Sun Belt last year, and it doesn’t appear that Everett Withers’ team is any closer to competing in 2017.
– Texas State may be one of the youngest teams in the universe, featuring no less than FORTY SIX freshmen on the roster, giving the Bobcats’ 11 heroic seniors plenty of teaching opportunities over the course of the season.
– The Bobcats picked the wrong time to be young and inexperienced considering the pure juiciness of their OOC schedule: Texas State plays Colorado, UTSA and Wyoming (an entertaining gauntlet for a more seasoned team).
– Troy’s 10-3 campaign of 2016 signaled the return of the Old Sun Belt Sheriff, who had gone stagnate under the great Larry Blakeney and become reborn by Coach Neal Brown’s supernatural energy.
– Nearly everyone who contributed to Troy’s offensive resurgence is back in 2017, including starting QB Brandon Silvers (3,180, 23 TDs), RB Jordan Chunn (1,288 yds, 16 TDs), OL Steven Rowzee (1st Team All Sun Belt) and superstar receiving tandem Emmanuel Thompson and Deondre Douglas.
– Troy was among the Sun Belt’s finer defensive teams in the conference in 2016, ranking 35th nationally for Total D; defensive lineman Baron Poole and S Kris Weatherspoon, Sr. lead a pack that won’t see a drop-off in production this season.