Sun Belt Sizzle Week Ten: Fire It Up
The Sun Belt attempts to rebound from a bad week. Actually, a bad couple of weeks. Okay, a bad season, all right?
The College Football Selection Committee checked in for the first time this season on Tuesday Night. As always, the Sun Belt failed the eye-test. Of the 10 major conferences – plus Independents – only the Sun Belt has failed to place a member in the Selection Committee Top 25, a dubious distinction that will likely continue through the 2017 season.
Currently, the Sun Belt ranks 20th on the Sagarin Index, one spot above the Colonial and five below the Missouri Valley. It has the dubious distinction of accounting for 100% of the Massachusetts Minutemen’s two victories. It has more FCS losses than P5 victories. The bottom two teams have a total of one win (ironically, against the Minutemen). This season cannot end too soon for SBC commissioner Karl Benson.
But you and me, we’re still alive, folks! As bad as the Sun Belt is, the conference title race is still hot, still juicy! Who knows who survives this thing! Do the Big 3 parse the pieces for themselves? Or does an upstart like Georgia State slide into the title slot? It’s all very interesting. I swear.
Idaho Vandals (3-5) @ Troy Trojans (6-2)
Thursday, November 2, 8:15PM on ESPNU, (Troy 18-point favorite)
The last time we saw the Trojans play a mid-week conference game, they were sheepishly handing a wrestling belt back to South Bama. Since that embarrassment, Troy has busted out the billy club and delivered its own brand of justice to Georgia Southern (34-10) and Georgia State (38-16) – without the services of Jordan “Mega” Chunn. Meanwhile, Idaho rebounded from its murder at the hands of Mizzou with a solid win over former Sun Belt Celebrity ULM. But the Trojans defense is the total opposite of the Warhawks defense (i.e. it plays defense), and Matt Linehan will likely have trouble cracking Troys’ 21st ranked defense. But this is Troy at home on Thursday, so you never really know, right?
Gut: 35-28, Troy
Appalachian State (5-3) @ ULM Warhawks (3-5)
Saturday, November 4, 2PM on ESPN 3 (ULM is a 9.5-point Dog)
Three weeks ago, this looked like a meaty in-conference matchup. Now, it’s more like a Caesar salad that you can add blackened chicken to for a $1. The Mountaineers are coming off an ego-bruising loss to Massachusetts while ULM has lost three straight. Both teams need a victory to right the ship. The mushy Warhawks defense might be exactly what Taylor Lamb and the App offense needs to revitalize a team that ranks 73rd in red zone offense. In Monroe, the Warhawks are still struggling with identity, flip-flopping endlessly between starting QBs. But get this: behind its better-than-you-think offensive line, the Warhawks lead the Sun Belt in rushing. UMass put 209 rushing yards on Appalachian State on Saturday. This is a hint, Coach Viator.
Gut: 38-35, Mountaineers
Georgia State Panthers (4-3) @ Georgia Southern Eagles (0-7)
Saturday, November 4, 2PM on ESPN 3 (Georgia Southern is a 4.5-point Dog)
Some fans of at least one of these distinguished programs are reluctant to call this three-meeting-old contest a rivalry, but the heat’n’hate between the Panthers and Eagles is for real. Georgia State enters Statesboro winners of the last two, a feat for which Georgia Southern fans no doubt view quite dimly. However, one cannot argue that while the Eagles are in free fall, the Panthers are clawing their way to the top, overcoming humiliating losses to Tennessee State and Penn State to threaten the Sun Belt Establishment. Leading the Panther rebellion are QB Conner Manning and his go-to guy, Penny Hart, who provide production that these depleted Eagles just can’t match. Georgia Southern will need to dip deep into its well of pride to overcome the Panthers’ decent defense. But it may be the Eagles’ pass coverage – which has shined at times – that provides the difference on Saturday.
Gut: 16-10, Georgia State
New Mexico State Aggies (3-5) @ Texas State Bobcats (2-6)
Saturday, November 4, 2PM on ESPN 3 (Texas State is a 9.5-point Dog)
Give the Aggies credit – they’ve stood toe-to-toe against the Sun Belt Elite and threatened the rule of all three. Still, despite its prolific offense, New Mexico State has but a single conference win (Georgia Southern) and three losses (Troy, Appalachian State and Arkansas State). Things project to get far easier against the Bobcats, who picked up their first conference win (literally in years) versus Coastal Carolina on Saturday. The prospect of losing PT to Willie Jones motivated starting QB Damian Williams to hurl for 269 yards and a pair of TDs against the Chants. But the Bobcats will need more than mere motivation to overcome Tyler Rogers, Jaleel Scott and Larry Rose III.
Gut: 28-17, New Mexico State
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (1-7) @ Arkansas Razorbacks (3-5)
Saturday, November 4, 3PM on SEC Network (Arkansas is a 23.5-point Favorite)
Despite a woeful 1-7 record, the Chants have more-or-less avoided embarrassment (with exception to a blowout 52-10 defeat against Western Illinois). Coastal Carolina let slip a chance to notch a win over struggling Texas State, but they receive a second chance by visiting struggling Arkansas, who just overcame a 31-7 deficit to defeat struggling Ole Miss. So much struggle! Yet, this may not be the season for Coastal and its weak depth to take advantage. Still, one dreams.
Gut: 56-14, Arkansas
Louisiana Ragin Cajuns (3-4) @ South Alabama Jaguars (3-5)
Saturday, November 4, 3PM on ESPN 3 (South Alabama is a 5.5-point Favorite)
The last game of the Sun Belt Week 10 slate features a head-to-head between two of the conference’s most confounding programs. The Cajuns, who score the third-most points in the Sun Belt, scored only 3 in its last game against Arkansas State. The Jaguars, who looked strong in wins over Troy and ULM, appeared clueless against Idaho and Georgia State. Both teams are 2-2 in conference. Both experiment at QB. Both are coached by coaches bearing three-syllable names. The Cajuns had a bye week to recover after its injury-fest against the Red Wolves, and in that time Mark Hudspeth hasn’t stopped doing hate-crunches. The Jags’ Dallas Davis is looking capable lately at QB, but expect the Cajuns to enter Mobile hot.
Gut: 42-28, Cajuns
Sitting out: 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.