Sun Belt Sizzle Week Eight: Fire and Brimstone
The Sun Belt takes a brief (but penetrating) dip back into the OOC pool in Week 8. Meanwhile the conference race begins to heat up.
Week 7 taught us a few things about the Sun Belt. 1) Idaho is incapable of holding a substantial 4th quarter lead, 2) Troy cannot be counted on, 3) the Mountaineers are toying with us, 4) Texas State may want to take the remainder of the season off, 5) South Alabama and ULM have QB commitment issues, and 6) you can be embarrassed at home by an FCS tune-up game and still have a share of the conference lead.
The last point, made by the Georgia State Panthers after its extra-pointy 47-37 win against ULM, is especially Sun Belt-y. Away from the conference, the Panthers looked horribly inept, with an anemic running game and starting QB Conner Manning struggling mightily. But jump into Sun Belt play and voilà, Georgia State is 2-0 scoring 37 per game, and Manning is fireballing five TD passes.
The Sun Belt is a different universe, my friends. Master its weird laws of physics, and you too can compete for a conference title.
Louisiana Ragin Cajuns (3-3) @ Arkansas State Red Wolves (3-2)
Thursday, October 19th, 6:30PM on ESPNU
It seems that Louisiana and Arkansas State meet midweek nearly every season now, and it doesn’t always make for great TV (RE: 2013). This year, however, should be a zesty affair between two programs who genuinely dislike one another. The Cajuns have rediscovered the value of defense while inserting new leadership behind center, Andre Nunez. The junior isn’t destroying scoreboards (4 TDs), but he’s accurate, completing 65% of his passes while only tossing a single pick.
The Red Wolves, predictably, have rolled through its first two conference games, averaging 42 points per game behind QB Justice Hansen (19 TDs) and what might be the most talented group of pass catchers ever assembled at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves (who may be without starting RB Warren Wand) will want some payback after the Cajuns handed A-State its only conference loss in 2016. This one looks to be a titanic battle between Trey Ragas and the Cajun ground game against Hansen and the Red Wolves air attack.
Gut: 42-35, Arkansas State
Idaho Vandals (2-4) @ Missouri Tigers (1-5)
Saturday, October 21st, 11AM on SEC NEtwork
Wow, the Missouri Tigers are quietly having a truly awful season, with a victory over FCS Missouri State as its only debit. Two losses have come to ranked opponents, Auburn and Georgia, and the other two to South Carolina and Purdue. I guess that’s not horribly horrible. What is horribly horrible is a defense that gives up a 127th ranked 42 points a contest.
Offense is, supposedly, a Paul Petrino speciality, and if the Vandals have any inkling for leaving the FBS with a measure of dignity, a triumph over the SEC would do the program well. If the inconsistent Matt Linehan (9 TDs, 4 INTs) can establish even a little danger with the passing game, RB Aaron Duckworth could find continued success against the Tigers gelatin rush defense. Don’t raise your hopes if Idaho leads late in the game. The Vandals defense has already provided two epic 4th-quarter collapses on the season.
Gut: 27-17, Missouri
Troy Trojans (4-2) @ Georgia State Panthers (3-2)
Saturday, October 21st, 1PM on ESPN3
Troy laid on turd on national television against South Alabama, but that didn’t stop USA TODAY from making the Trojans its highest ranked Sun Belt program – by a lot. I don’t mean to tell you your business, USA TODAY, but Troy’s starting QB has two passing touchdowns was just destroyed at home by the program you ranked 105th in the nation. Listen, I wanted to believe in Troy too, okay? But you have the Trojans six spots ahead of Appalachian State and nineteen ahead of Arkansas State.
Georgia State, ranked 114th by USA TODAY, is suddenly rolling with two conference wins and some renewed faith in QB Conner Manning, who abruptly realized that throwing to WR Penny Hart results in TDs. Are the Panthers better than 114th? The defense is still surrendering nearly 400 yards per game and ranks near the bottom of the Sun Belt for pressuring the quarterback. But even after the debacle against Tennessee State and the crushing from Penn State, Georgia State’s defense is preceded by its reputation.
Gut: 24-17, Troy
Georgia Southern (0-5) @ UMASS Minutemen (0-6)
Saturday, October 21st, 2:30PM on ESPN3
What’s more stinging than being winless at the season’s halfway mark? Being a 7 point dog to a team who is also winless. Yet, Georgia Southern is slowly, sort of getting it together, recently playing the Arkansas State Red Wolves strong in Jonesboro, and then falling late to New Mexico State’s high-powered offense.
Challenging the Eagles’ better-than-good pass defense (7 picks) is UMASS’ better-than-good quarterback Andrew Ford (12 TDs, 64% completions). Ford is red hot at the moment, throwing 5 TDs and 390 yards in a 58-50 loss to Ohio. The Minutemen have hovered over victory all season. At times, so has Georgia Southern. If the steadily improving Shai Werts can generate enough confusion, and if the Eagles can pick a few Ford passes, look for Georgia Southern to bring the W back to Statesboro.
Gut: 38-27, Georgia Southern
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (1-5) @ Appalachian State Mountaineers (4-2)
Saturday, October 21st, 2:30PM on ESPN3
Speaking of UMASS, Coastal Carolina’s lone win on the season came at the Minutemen’s expense. Since then, 5 straight losses, including three to new conference foes ULM, Georgia State and Arkansas State. The Chanticleers outlook continues to dim versus Appalachian State, who have most recently dumped both New Mexico State and Idaho in dramatic, fourth quarter fashion.
Tyler Lamb isn’t having a stat-tastic season (1,197 yards, 11 TDs), but his leadership has been critical in executing two road comebacks in as many weeks. With Lamb and Jalin Moore still mostly struggling (49 yards versus Idaho), the Mountaineers 35th ranked defense continues to carry the load for Scott Satterfield, leading the conference in sacks (19) and forcing 11 turnovers. The not-quite-ready for primetime Chanticleers have managed to largely keep themselves in games, starting QB Tyler Keane was lifted due to injury in Jonesboro, and the defense just isn’t deep enough to overcome the Mountaineers in Boone.
Gut: 42-10, Appalachian State
ULM Warhawks (3-3) @ South Alabama (2-4)
Saturday, October 21st, 4PM on ESPN3
The Warhawks made Georgia State their homecoming opponent, and the Panthers responded with a 47-37 upset. During the game, Garret Smith replaced Caleb Evans and threw three TD passes in relief. Matt Viator has stated that Evans is still his guy, but the Warhawks’ inability to lean on a single signal caller is troubling for a team seeking the stability to remain in the conference race.
Meanwhile, South Bama is coming off its biggest win of the season, a 19-8 road win over Troy. The Jags have their own commitment issues with quarterbacks, once again reinstating Dallas Davis after Cole Garvin failed to find purchase against a strong Trojan D. Davis was 7/10 with a touchdown against Troy, but will he be the starter on Saturday? Only Joey Jones knows, who says he’ll name a starter at the end of the week.
Gut: 35-21, ULM
Sitting out: New Mexico State and Texas State
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.