Sun Belt Sizzle Week Seven: Caution! Contents are hot!
The Sun Belt owns middle-of-the-week football with conference contests on Wednesday and Thursday. How will the world – and the universe – cope with this much sizzle?
The number of rivalry games between Sun Belt opponents is dissatisfying to say the least. Programs tend to come and go in the SBC, often putting a premature end to what could have been zesty rivalries (Arkansas State versus Middle Tennessee, anyone?).
Enter South Alabama and Troy, who share a state but (until recently) not much heat-and-hatred. The two first face each other in 2012. To add some spice to this in-state, in-conference donnybrook, the two programs cooked up the Battle of the Belt in 2015. The winner gets a wrestling-style belt and state bragging rights (Auburn and Alabama can go suck an egg.)
Both programs have tasted Belt ownership, with the Jags snagging it in 2015, and the Trojans retrieving it the very next season. Each time, the match-up was decided by a TD or less, so you know the fire is for real.
Suspiciously, the Battle Belt looks like it might be a central prop to a WWE Halloween costume, with an egg-shaped sticker hot-glued to the front. That’s too bad, because while Battle of the Belt may feel a little manufactured, its potential as a true rivalry is for real. Come on, Jag and Trojan boosters. Chip in some dough and lets buy a battle belt worthy of battle.
South Alabama Jaguars (1-4) @ Troy Trojans (4-1)
Wednesday, OCtober 11, 7PM ON ESPN2
The last time South Bama performed on ESPN2, the Jags were completely annihilated by Mason Rudolph and Oklahoma State 44-7. Life doesn’t get rosier with a trip to Troy, who’s coming off a road win agains LSU and is encroaching on another visit to the AP Top 25. South Alabama is a complete mess at the moment, with Dallas Davis and Cole Garvin taking turns losing the QB starting job, and a defense that surrenders 31 points per game. At least RB Xavier Johnson is back to elite form, averaging 6 yards per carry.
Even with Johnson playing true to self, Neal Brown isn’t about to give up the Battle Belt to these clowns, right? Well, Troy does have a recent history of losing focus in big moments, as when it cratered to Arkansas State the week the Trojans cracked the AP Top 25 last season. Is it possible to suffer a hangover after defeating a mediocre SEC team? We think Brown learns his lesson and is sufficiently hydrated enough to best South Bama at home. Look for Jordan “Mega” Chunn and Brandon Silvers to roast the Jags sorry defense all Wednesday night long.
Gut: 38-6, Troy
Texas State Bobcats (1-5) vs Louisiana Ragin Cajuns (2-3)
thursday, OCtober 12, 6:30PM ON ESPNU
The Cajuns not only found a win in Moscow, they also rediscovered their defense, holding the Vandals to under 300 yards and to 16 measly points. Mark Hudspeth also found a new source of offense – junior QB Andre Nunez, who completed 75% of his passes on Saturday to lead Louisiana to its first conference win of the year. Combined with freshman RB Trey Ragas and WR Kenneth Barnes, the Cajuns have a capable offense ready to host the Bobcats on Thursday night.
You know who’s not ready to be hosted by the Cajuns? Or really ready for anything? Texas State, who have lost five straight since opening the season with a spiritless win over Houston Baptist. The young Bobcats were seeing some success on the defensive side of the ball, but ULM ripped that unit apart for 45 points and made Caleb Evans look like Brett Favre on Saturday. Now there’s nothing left in San Marcos but Everett Withers “no-nonsense” approach to coaching and a strong social media push for conservative values.
Gut: 34-10, Cajuns
Appalachian State Mountaineers (3-2) vs Idaho Vandals (2-3)
Saturday, OCtober 14, 4PM ON ESPN3
When one Mountaineer falls, another ascends to the top. Taylor Lamb was fairly terrible against New Mexico State, going 10/21 for 48 yards and two picks. But Jalin Moore punished the Aggies on Saturday for 241 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Moore and a defense that intercepted New Mexico State’s Tyler Rogers a mind-boggling six times is plenty enough to take down Paul Petrino’s Vandals.
Except that trip to Moscow is a loooooooooong journey, bother! (2,499 miles to be precise.) It’s going to be tough stepping off that stagecoach to face Matt Linehan and RB Aaron Duckworth in the claustrophobic confines of the Kibbie Dome! Honestly, even if the Mountaineers had to play the Vandals on the moon, Appalachian State still has plenty of energy to bury Idaho.
Gut: 31-17, Mountaineers
Georgia State Panthers (2-2) vs ULM Warhawks (3-2)
Saturday, OCtober 14, 4PM ON ESPN3
The Panthers have won two games in a row, but that impressive win streak is in dire jeopardy once Georgia State parks the bus in Monroe. During Georgia State’s no-losing streak, starting QB Conner Manning delivered a solid dose of drama free signal calling, throwing a couple TDs against 1 pick and averaging 263 yards. But it’s the defense that has picked it up for the Panthers, shutting out Charlotte and holding the Chanticleers to three scores.
The Bobcats had a fairly decent defense, too, and the ULM Warhawks obliterated it. Caleb Evans has pulled away from Garret Smith to become The Man behind center, rewarding Matt Viator’s confidence with 433 yards and three TDs against Texas State. Now ULM is all alone atop the Sun Belt at 3-0, and they’ll likely remain undefeated come Sunday.
Gut: 42-21, ULM
New Mexico State Aggies (2-4) vs Georgia Southern Eagles (0-4)
Saturday, OCtober 14, 5PM ON ESPN3
The Aggies have to be the hardest working 2-4 team in the nation, having threatened the Sun Belt establishment not once, but twice already. New Mexico State fell by 3 points to Troy in Week 3, then collapsed late in the 4th quarter against the Mountaineers on Saturday. The loss to Appalachian State was double-costly, as crazy-good WR Jaleel Scott left the game early with an injury. His status is still up in the air.
Tyler Rogers may need Scott to beat Georgia Southern, whose pass defense picked off Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen 4 times. Without Scott, we’ll likely see more Larry Rose III and newcomer Jason Huntley toting the rock on the ground. Meanwhile, the Eagles will be running that funky triple option behind freshman QB Shai Werts, who is rapidly growing more comfortable with his role as the Eagles’ prime playmaker. The Eagles play strong in Statesboro, but Rogers simply has too much firepower on both sides of the ball for a rebuilding Georgia Southern to trade punches
Gut: 56-24, New Mexico State
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (1-4) vs Arkansas State Red Wolves (2-2)
Saturday, OCtober 14, 6PM ON ESPN3
Congratulations, Chants! You’re the guest of honor for Red Wolves homecoming. Coastal Carolina has lost four straight after opening the season with a “welcome to the FBS” win over Massachusetts. But the Chanticleers are a dangerous opponent shrouded in mystery. And they have a solid running back in Osharmar Abercrombie (though he hasn’t come close to reaching the 149 yards of production he pounded onto the Minutemen in Week 1).
The Red Wolves will have to be wary of 5-9 Tyler Keane, Coastal’s shifty QB who sports a better-than-decent 140.7 QB rating. With Keane, Abercrombie and WR Malcolm Williams (20 receptions for 412 yards), the Chanticleers are putting up 27 points per game, with 190 yards of ground production per contest. That will keep the Red Wolves defense busy, who already allowed 333 ground yards to Georgia Southern, who run a similar-ish offense. The Red Wolves will likely opt to outlast the Chanticleers through the pass game, dominating a defense that has collected only 6 sacks and 1 pick. Expect points ahoy!
Gut: 56-35, Arkansas 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.