Sun Belt Summer Content Series: Will the Sun Belt Be Relevant Beyond Week 4?
Summer is for posing the college football observations that will be long forgotten by the end of Fall camp. Today, we weigh the national relevance of the Sun Belt beyond OOC play.
Unofficially, the Sun Belt is divided into two seasons: Weeks 1-4, when the majority of out-of-conference games are played, and the remaining weeks consisting mostly of conference play (known as “The REAL season” by the conference’s crustier fans).
Season One is where you’ll most likely find a Sun Belt team on a national TV channel, with B-roll announcers sluggishly sifting through media guides, half-heartedly attempting to pronounce the names of players largely unmentioned by the ESPN media machine. But the exposure is essential to the Sun Belt’s fortunes. Victory is even more crucial.
After all, a team like Ohio State or Clemson can afford to drop a contest in Season One and still be included in the national conversation. (Pundits enthusiastically identify these types of unscripted losses “a necessary wake-up call.”) But for a Sun Belt team, a Season One loss is a catastrophe, signaling that we’re “not ready for the Big Stage.”
Before Week Four, nearly every college football program is (at least at heart) in contention. After Week 4, the conversation drastically switches focus to the college football blue-bloods – and to one-or-two G5 programs with the good fortune of scratching out a Season One upset.
The question is, can the Sun Belt sneak into this conversation in 2018? There are challenges to overcome.
The Sun Belt doesn’t host a Power Five team this year
The Power Five artificially solidifies its domination over the Group of Five by ensuring that most of its contests are held in friendly confines. That’s just smart business, I guess. But in recent seasons, Sun Belt programs have done well to lure P5 opponents onto its own turf. This season, however, sees a SBC home schedule completely free of big ticket teams. LSU can tell you that one can be bested by the Sun Belt even while playing at home. But no P5 home games for the SBC raises the degree of difficulty.
There’s too much parity in the Sun Belt
History tells us that America has a hard time accepting more than one good team from a G5 conference. How many times have we been told that a G5 team must go undefeated in conference to even be considered for Top 25 inclusion? The Sun Belt isn’t allowed more than one excellent team, and right now the SBC is a three-headed monster comprised of Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Troy. More troubling, teams like Louisiana, ULM, South Bama and Georgia State are more than capable of ruining the narrative. The wide open nature of the Sun Belt may ultimately close us out.
The Sun Belt OOC is murder, as usual
The Sun Belt doesn’t necessarily need to win on Week 1 to remain relevant in Week 5 – for example, Arkansas State’s narrow (and entertaining) loss to Nebraska in Week 1 last season provided plenty of buzz. But if a Sun Belt program is to see a seat at the table in 2018, it needs to go at least 3-1 in Season One.
So who has the schedule to do it? The Sun Belt, per tradition, has booked itself a difficult OOC. Arkansas State appears to have a nicely positioned tunnel shot, with only Alabama spoiling a perfect Season One record. On paper, Ws should be notched against Southeast Missouri State, Tulsa and UNLV.
Who else? The Mountaineers need to take care of business against Southern Miss at home, but Troy might be an even better bet to emerge through Week 4 in good shape, having hosted Boise, visiting a vulnerable Nebraska team, and playing an early conference tilt against ULM.
A dark horse? Texas State, who open the season against Rutgers.
The Sun Belt’s overall Strength of Schedule sucks
I don’t make the rules. According to ESPN FPI, five of the top ten easiest schedules in college football this year belong to the Sun Belt. And if you’ve ever listened to one of ESPN’s screaming heads, you know that SOS is the chief argument for allowing a 7-3 Auburn team into the playoffs over an 11-1 Northern Illinois program. So even if, say, Appalachian State runs the conference board this season, an army of stat dorks are waiting to mention the Mountaineer’s 129th ranked SOS.
Are there any advantages for the Sun Belt?
You mean besides heat and moxie? Maybe. The new championship format that the Sun Belt finally triggers in 2018 will give the conference much needed late season exposure. Should a marquee match-up arise, say between two teams that won’t meet in the regular season (like the Arkansas State from the West and Appalachian State from the East), then maybe the sleepy members of the College Football Selection Committee will throw the Sun Belt a bone.
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.