Sun Belt Sizzle Week Eleven: The Heat Rises
The Sun Belt experienced a shakeup last week that has the conference scrambling after the Red Wolves and glory.
After ten interesting weeks of gridiron wackiness, the Sun Belt Big Three has (at the moment) become the Big One. With the Trojans falling to South Bama earlier in the season, and the Mountaineers slipping against ULM on Saturday, the Arkansas State Red Wolves find themselves atop the smoldering heap.
The Red Wolves have won an outright or a share of the SBC title five of the last six seasons, so Blake Anderson’s Bunch finds itself in familiar surrounds. But they shouldn’t get too comfy. Appalachian State, Georgia State and Troy are simply waiting for the Red Wolves to stumble.
The Mountaineers have an intriguing path with games against the Panthers and Louisiana – the Cajuns with two conference losses still have a shot. Meanwhile Troy is the only one of the 1-loss teams who plays Arkansas State. That season-ending, December 2nd matchup could determine the fate of the championship.
Georgia Southern Eagles (0-8) @ Appalachian State Mountaineers (5-4)
Thursday, November 9, 6:30PM on ESPNU, (Mountaineers 17.5-point favorite)
If Georgia Southern/Georgia State is Sun Belt Rivalry Lite®, then Eagles vs. Mountaineers is the creamy, high alcohol content ale. Though the two programs have exchanged fire since the 1930s, the contest didn’t become a heated rivalry until the 1990s, when the game became an annual event. Heat’n’Hate is what gives this game sizzle, as the Oh-for-8 Eagles are clearly several tiers below the host team Mountaineers. Rivalry was nearly enough for Georgia Southern to upend Georgia State on Saturday. But Appalachian State is still in the hunt for an SBC title, and isn’t likely to allow an old foe the satisfaction of sinking them on national TV. Look for Tee Sims and the Mountaineers defense to have a good night ransacking Shai Werts and the low-scoring Georgia Southern offense. Also, look for some online trash talk.
Gut: 35-17, Mountaineers
Louisiana Ragin Cajuns (4-4) @ Ole Miss Black Bears/Rebels/Landsharks/Whatever (4-5)
Saturday, November 11, 11AM on SEC Network (Ole Miss is a 19.5-point favorite)
Both teams surrender 37 points per game. Both are experiencing uneven seasons. Both are juggling injured QBs. Ole Miss and Louisiana are practically the same damn team, right? The Rebs already defeated a Sun Belt opponent early this season, a 47-27 drumming of South Alabama. Are the Cajuns any different? Coach Hudspeth is counting on the defense that stifled the Jaguars on Saturday to allow the Cajuns offense to outgun the Ole Miss air and ground attack. True freshman quarterback Levi Lewis is expected to make a second consecutive start for Louisiana, which is a plan so crazy it just might work.
Gut: 31-24, Ole Miss
Georgia State Panthers (5-3) @ Texas State Bobcats (2-7)
Saturday, November 11, 3PM on ESPN3 (Bobcats are a 5.5-point Dog)
Two weeks ago, Texas State won their first conference game in two years. Last week, the Bobcats offense put up a staggering 35 points on New Mexico State – 18 more than its pitiful average. Are the Bobcats finally feeling it? We’ll have to ask Georgia State on Saturday, who saunters int San Marcos just one game in the loss column behind the conference leader. The Panthers are riding a good-enough defense and stellar production from the Conner Manning/Penny Hart combo to Sun Belt relevance. When Georgia State finds a running game, look out. Meanwhile, Bobcats QB Damion Williams has thrown for 590 yards and 4 TDs his last two games. Both teams are peaking. The one who rises to the occasion wins.
Gut: 17-10, Texas State
Troy Trojans (7-2) @ Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (1-8)
Saturday, November 11, 3:30 PM on ESPN3 (Chants are a 17-point Dog)
Troy’s offense ranks 7th in the Sun Belt for points per game (24.9) but Neal Brown’s defense ranks 13th nationally for scoring defense (17.7). The lack of production from senior QB Brandon Silvers and his talented wide receivers is puzzling, but that Blace Brown-led defense is legitimately strong. But the Chanticleers odd-ball offense has the tendency to put any defense on its heels (ask Arkansas). Whether its Tyler Keane or Kilton Anderson under center, Coastal Carolina’s triple-option plus gives the Sun Belt newbie a shot to win every game – though only Sun Belt killer UMass has succumb. Troy is too big and too deep on both sides of the ball to make mistakes against Coastal. Look for Jordan Chunn to do the bulk of the damage for the Trojans.
Gut: 24-7, Troy
Arkansas State Red Wolves (5-2) @ South Alabama Jaguars
Saturday, November 11, 4PM on ESPN3 (REd WOlves are a 11.5-point favorite)
South Bama doesn’t give up many points – only 14 per game during its last two. The problem is the offense. The Jaguars rank 9th in the Sun Belt for points per game (21.9), 9th in rushing (124 yards) and 8th in passing (222.8). The game of Ping Pong that head coach Joey Jones is playing between QBs Dallas Davis and Cole Garvin has resulted in 10 picks and not much consistency. Meanwhile. the Red Wolves are leading the conference in points scored (40.4) while ranking just behind the Troy Trojans in scoring defense. As good as Justice Hansen and the offense is, the Red Wolves “bend-don’t-break” secondary is simply breaking the will of opposing offenses. It projects to be a long day for whoever starts at QB for the Jags on Saturday.
Gut: 48-14, Arkansas State
Sitting out: ULM, New Mexico State, Idaho
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.