Sun Belt Autopsy Week 4: It’s A Massacre, Y’all
Sun Belt fans are enduring a very horrible, very bad, not so good four weeks of football.
In Troy, Alabama, with 5:37 left in the football game, the Akron Zips rumbled into the end zone to take a 17-16 lead over the Trojans. Neal Brown’s squad scrambled for a 22-17 win, but most of their Sun Belt brethren wasn’t so lucky.
Over in Conway, South Carolina, FCS program Western Illinois scored its final touchdown on Coastal Carolina – it’s 42nd unanswered point of the game. Coastal falls 52-10.
In Dallas, Texas, midway through the second quarter, a Red Wolves fumble at the end zone gives SMU the ball and the momentum. Arkansas State never recovers and falls 44-21.
In Boone, Wake Forest’s Scotty Washington blocks Appalachian State’s game winning field goal, giving the Demon Deacon’s a 20-19 win. The Mountaineers’ blocked PAT in the first quarter is especially haunting.
Just another horrible week in the Sun Belt, you guys, where UTSA shuts out Texas State in the 2nd half, coming away with a 44-14 crushing. Just another terrible week in the Sun Belt, where Indiana put 21 on Georgia Southern in the first quarter and cruised to a 52-17 win. Just another miserable week in the Sun Belt, where the conference’s most exciting team, New Mexico State, destroyed UTEP 41-14, and will be rewarded with a boot in the ass once the season ends.
Fans aren’t amused.
Teams aren’t very happy, either. Reportedly, Tyson Summers is in the hot seat, and South Alabama decided to make a change on the offensive side of the ball.
After 4 weeks, the Sun Belt has already fallen thrice to FCS program – three times more than in all of 2016. So far, the conference has FBS wins over Massachusetts (Coastal), Akron (Troy), Charlotte (Georgia State), New Mexico and UTEP (New Mexico State) which isn’t exactly a set for the mantlepiece. Opportunities were missed by a score against Nebraska (Arkansas State) and Wake Forest (Appalachian State), but most dust-ups against P5 competition have been woefully one sided.
Even the in-conference games are raising alarms. In Week 2, the Sun Belt preseason favorite, Appalachian State, struggled to put Texas State away in Week 3. Troy, also favored this year, had similar difficulties with defenseless New Mexicos State, escaping with a 27-24 victory. On Saturday, Louisiana allowed a whopping 56 points to in-state rival ULM, who were averaging only 23 points per game this season. There distance between the Sun Belt elite and the Sun Belt cellar is unnervingly short.
Where are the storylines, Sun Belt?
Normally, we recap the week’s games here, but at this point, what’s the point? The conference is simply not living up to any of its storylines. The “Big 3” of Appalachian State, Troy and Arkansas State have yet to record a significant victory. Georgia State opened a gleaming new stadium by losing to an FCS opponent (while, apparently, installing a faulty fire safety sprinkler system). A good performance against SMU might have helped Arkansas State rebounded from losing Miami to Hurricane Irma, but the Red Wolves laid a fried egg in Dallas. Texas State bombed at the HEB I-35 Showdown. Troy failed to take advantage of Boise State’s struggles. There are no stories.
The most frustrating angle to this whole debacle is that the only exciting team in the conference, New Mexico State, was unceremoniously bounced out of the Sun Belt in 2015.
How does the Sun Belt correct its course?
After going 4-2 during last year’s Bowl season, the arrow for the Sun Belt was clearly pointed up. But the conference has take a huge leap backwards in 2017. The Sun Belt needs programs like Georgia Southern and its rabid fan base to perform. It needs its elite programs to collect high-profile wins. It needs Louisiana and South Alabama to turn the corner.
And it needs fresh thinking from the Super Dome in New Orleans. Karl Benson is in Year 5 of his tenure, and good things (and not so good things) have happened in time. It’s not time for Benson to go. But it is time to evaluate the future of the conference. If anything should alarm Benson about the direction of the Sun Belt, it’s this graphic from Reddit:
Yep. That’s the Sun Belt lumped in with a big pile of FCS conferences. When the SBC bounced Idaho from the conference, the Vandals opted to drop back down to FCS.
At this point, it’s a lateral move.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.