CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2017: Sun Belt Preview
The 2017 CFN Sun Belt Preview with the top players, teams that will surprise and disappoint, and shoes to fill.
2017 Sun Belt Preview
The Sun Belt is about a year away from where it wants to be.
In 2018, Idaho will be gone off to the Big Sky, and New Mexico State will be wandering in the wilderness of the FBS independents, meaning the Sun Belt will be a lean, mean, conference machine with ten teams in two divisions.
The East will be made up of Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Troy, while the West will be Arkansas State, South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas State and ULM.
Most importantly, there will be a Sun Belt Championship at the end of the rainbow. It’s a shame there won’t be one this year.
With 12 teams and now championship game, the 2017 Sun Belt season could finish up with an unsatisfying conclusion considering two of the best teams – Appalachian State and Troy – don’t face each other. It’s not like the winner will be off to the College Football Playoff, so will an era ending with a co-championship work?
It doesn’t really matter. It’s going to be a fun year for the league anyway.
Last season, Idaho and Troy rose up and surprised, Appalachian State (Tennessee) and Georgia State (Wisconsin) almost pulled off massive upsets, South Alabama tagged Mississippi State and ruined San Diego State’s possible run to the New Year’s Six, and even Texas State – who did nothing else right all season long – started things off with a win over eventual MAC East champ Ohio.
The bowl season certainly helped the league’s prestige, with Idaho rolling Colorado State in a wild Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Arkansas State destroying UCF in what amounted to a road game in Orlando, Appalachian State beat a strong Toledo team, and Troy capped off a big year beating Ohio.
Expect more of the same, only with more fireworks.
Seven of the top eight quarterbacks return, and that doesn’t even count ULM’s Garrett Smith coming back from injury, or the addition of Mississippi State transfer Damian Williams to Texas State.
Five of the top six running backs return – and that doesn’t include any of the upcoming statistical superstars on Georgia Southern – and the passing games that were so strong last year at Troy, Idaho, New Mexico State and Georgia State should be even better.
The projected mediocre-to-bad teams – New Mexico State, ULM, new guy Coastal Carolina – will still be interesting at times offensively, and the stars of the league – Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Troy – will get a few high-profile shots to beat the big boys.
It’ll be another exciting and fun Sun Belt race. Next year might be cleaner and easier, but this one might just be better.
Sun Belt Football Team That Will Surprise
Georgia Southern Eagles
Surprise might be the wrong way to put it – more like bounce back. The Eagles might lose their quarterbacks, but the option rushing attack will crank back up and be among the most productive in the nation. Expect them to be back in the Sun Belt title hunt after taking a year off from the chase.
Sun Belt Football Team That Will Disappoint
Louisiana-LafayettE Ragin’ Cajuns
With a nasty schedule and a slew of suspensions and other losses, that might be just enough to take a team that’s been a regular on the bowl circuit and push it back a little bit.
The Ragin’ Cajuns won’t fall off the map, but with road games at Tulsa, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Appalachian State, there will be little margin for error. There should be three other losses to miss out on a bowl game.
Game Of The Year
Oct. 28: Georgia Southern at Troy
This is Part One of the two game key series to the season. Appalachian State and Troy don’t play, but the Mountaineers have to deal with the Georgia Southern offense at home on November 9th.
With some due respect to Arkansas State, if the Eagles can beat Troy – after winning the regular season finale last year 28-24 – the showdown in Boone, NC might be for the Sun Belt title.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve A Bigger Spotlight
Five players who have been a bit under the radar on a national level, but should rise up and be among the season’s best players – again
1. LB Bryan London, Soph. Texas State
2. DE Joe Dillon, Soph. Louisiana
3. LB Tony Lashley, Jr. Idaho
4. LB Michael Shaw, Jr. Georgia State
5. S Justin Clifton, Jr. Arkansas State
5 Sun Belt Coaches On The Hot Seat
Five Sun Belt coaches who’d better win this season. Being on a hot seat doesn’t necessarily mean a coach is about to fired, but the pressure is on to produce up to expectations, and beyond.
1. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
2. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern
3. Everett Withers, Texas State
4. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
5. Matt Viator, ULM
5 Non-Conference Games That Sun Belt Opponents Better Take Very, Very Seriously
The Sun Belt is going to be more than just competitive in the paycheck non-conference games. Here are five the Power Fivers have to show up for – or else.
1. Wake Forest at Appalachian State, Sept. 23
2. Georgia Southern at Indiana, Sept. 23
3. Appalachian State at Georgia, Sept. 2
4. Arkansas State at Nebraska, Sept. 2
5. Georgia Southern at Auburn, Sept. 2
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, Arkansas State
2. RB Larry Rose III, New Mexico State
3. WR Penny Hart, Georgia State (Soph.)
4. RB Jordan Chunn, Troy
5. TE Blake Mack, Arkansas State
5 Biggest Shoes To Fill
1. Georgia Southern PK Tyler Bass for Younghoe Koo
2. South Alabama TE Maaseiah Francis for Gerald Everett
3. New Mexico State LB Terrill Hanks for Rodney Butler
4. Louisiana RB Darius Hoggins for Elijah McGuire
5. Georgia State WR Todd Boyd for Robert Davis