2018 Sun Belt Sizzle Week One: Start With The Napalm
Sun Belt Sizzle keeps y’all woke on what’s hot in Sun Belt football.
Finally, finally, your first installment of Sun Belt Sizzle for 2018 has arrived. The wait was difficult, I know. The horror of existence is challenging to endure without Sun Belt pigskin, brothers and sisters. Yet, here we are, fully loaded for Week One takedowns.
Let us make Karl Benson’s farewell tour one that cements his legacy as…as…well, as a commissioner of the Sun Belt. Make this the season the Sun Belt cracks the Playoff Committee’s Top 25, and that we truly challenge for the Committee’s “Here You Go, G5 Sweet Cheeks” bowl this January. Are you with me?
Don’t answer. I can’t hear a thing.
Thursday, August 30
Kennesaw State vs. Georgia State, 6:00 PM on ESPN+ at Georgia State Stadium
Congrats, Panthers! You have been officially selected to ignite the Sizzle in 2018. Shawn Elliot’s squad ended the season fire-hot, upending former Sun Belt member Western Kentucky in the AutoNation Cure Bowl and posting a solid 7-5 record (the Memphis game was canceled).
But the Panthers lose last year’s leading rusher Glenn Smith and quarterback Connor Manning, the Cure Bowl MVP. But CC transfer Dan Ellington, a 6-3 dual-threat talent, is rumored be Thursday night’s starter. And he’ll have the conference’s most talented wide receiver, Penny Hart, to gobble up TD tosses.
Meanwhile, The Owls of Kennesaw State are no pushovers. Led by Brian Bohannon, the Owls finished the season 12–2, 5–0 in Big South play to win the Big South conference championship. Adding to the intrigue, the Panthers won exactly one game at home last season. One game!
Georgia State 28, Kennesaw State 24
Southeastern Louisiana vs ULM, 7:00 PM on ESPN+ at Malone Stadium
Matt “Darth” Viator assembled one of the Sun Belt’s most entertaining offenses in 2017, putting up a passing barrage that was only second to Arkansas State’s. However, Viator kinda forgot about the defense. Only East Carolina put up worse total defensive numbers in 2017.
Meanwhile, SE Louisiana nearly upset the Louisiana Cajuns last year, falling 48-51. The Lions can score (or, at least they could last year), which means Viator gets to see if his Warhawks defense has improved over the sabbatical. At least he can feel confident knowing Caleb Evans is back behind center. The preseason All-Sun Belt Second Team QB accounted for 29 total touchdowns last season and should continue to find success in 2018.
ULM 42, Kennesaw State 21
Saturday, September 1
Coastal Carolina @ South Carolina, 11:00 AM on the SEC Network at Williams-Brice Stadium
The first FBS in-state donnybrook for the Sun Belt belongs to the Chanticleers, who take the two-hour drive inland to meet the Gamecocks in Columbia. The only thing I know for certain about Coastal is that their eccentric head coach, Joe Moglia, is back on the sideline, and that they’ll likely run that funky triple-option-like offense that nearly destroyed Arkansas’ will to live last season.
Meanwhile, South Carolina is projected to finish just behind Georgia in the SEC East and will likely deploy all its five-star resources to completely des…
You know what? This isn’t Sizzle! What’s wrong with me? Moglia will apply his uncanny business acumen to create an offense and defensive paradigm shift, executing a hostile takeover of the Gamecocks, using All-Sun Belt linebacker Silas Kelly to siphon the marketshare out of South Carolina’s run game!
Coastal Carolina 100, South Carolina 3
Texas State @ Rutgers, 11:00 AM on the Big 10 Network at High Point Solutions Stadium
Last season, the Everett Wither’s Bobcats were among the youngest teams in college football. Now these guys are a year older, and they might have the offense set at QB with sophomore wunderkind Willie Jones III. WJ3 (did I invent that?) bounced in and out of the lineup last season with Mississippi State transfer Damian Williams getting the bulk of the snaps. But Jones was clearly the future, and now he has a shot at pulling the Bobcats out of the Sun Belt Basement.
Meanwhile, Rutgers kind of sucks, but ESPN FPI still gives the punching bag of the Big 10 a 94.1% chance of waxing Texas State. Vegas isn’t kinder, giving the Scarlet Nights a better than 16-point advantage. Still, I keep waiting for the Bobcats to wake up, and Withers does have the defensive pieces to give the Rutger’s offense trouble. It’s really all up to WJ3! No pressure, kid.
Texas State 13, Rutgers 9
Appalachian State @ #10 Penn State, 2:30 PM on the Big 10 Network at Beaver Stadium
The Mountaineers receive the highest-profile game of the week, visiting tenth ranked Nittany Lions (what’s a Nittany?) and Heisman candidate Trace McSorley. Scott Satterfield looks to ruin Penn State’s day without longtime QB Tayler Lamb calling the plays. But he still has seven All-Sun Belt selections taking the gridiron, including Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Clifton Duck. (I’m also contractually obligated to mention that Appalachian State is no stranger to upsetting Big 10 daddies, having defeated Michigan eleven years ago.)
If you listen to ESPN enough, you’ll come to believe that Penn State is a national title contender comprised chiefly of muscular Greek gods. The Mountaineers are 23-point underdogs and Penn State recently repelled a blast of Sun Belt Heat, having dispatched Georgia State last season 56 to ZERO! Appalachian State ain’t the Panthers, tho. You may recall that they once beat Michigan.
Appalachian State 35, Penn State 28
#22 Boise State @ Troy, 5:00 PM on the ESPN News at Veteran Memorial Stadium
You know why this game is on ESPN News? Because it will be news when Troy trounces Boise State! (High five!) Here’s the thing: Neal Brown enters this game without longtime QB Brandon Silvers and veteran RB Jordan Chunn – who were both there for the sluggish 24-13 loss to the Broncos last year in Boise.
Meantime, Mark Rypien is back for the Broncos, and former Sun Belt captain Bryan Harsin is fielding one of Boise State’s best teams since Chris Peterson prowled the sideline. For a Trojans victory, Brown will need junior QB Kaleb Barker to be at least half as good as Silvers. But Barker isn’t alone. He has 11 All-Sun Belt players on his squad, including lights-out WR Deondre Douglas. If Barker and Douglas establish a rapport, it’s over for Boise State.
Troy 24, Boise State 21
South Carolina State @ Georgia Southern, 5:00 PM on ESPN+ at Allen E. Paulson Stadium
Either the Eagles are mired in a long rebuild compounded by the reality of competing in the FCS, or the Eagles are ready soar again behind the triple-option wisdom of 1.5-year head coach Chad Lunsford. Either way, the squad is still pretty young, with the offense led by sophomore QB Shai Werts. But what’s different about this year’s roster is it features 6 preseason All-Sun Belt payers. Last year, the team had zero, and that’s progress.
Last year, the SCS Bulldogs with 2-6 in the MEAC and 3-7 overall and is coached by Oliver Pough, who has haunted the sideline since 2002. That’s all I got, guys.
Georgia Southern 45, South Carolina State 17
Grambling @ Louisiana, 6:00 PM on ESPN3 at Cajun Field
Last year, the Cajuns nearly got dusted in the season opener against an FCS opponent, giving up 48 points to SE Louisiana. The Cajuns’ D never really improved after that, which resulted in too many shoot-outs and losses. Louisiana’s brass responded by deep-sixing longtime head coach Mark Hudspeth and replaced him with former Arizona OC Billy Napier – who appears to still be undecided between senior Andre Nunez and sophomore Levi Lewis at QB.
So let’s talk about Grambling. They’re pretty good, coming off an 11-2 season and finishing 14th in the FCS Coaches poll. If the Cajuns were looking for a softy to beat-up, they’re not getting it from the Tigers.
Louisiana 21, Grambling 20
Southeast Missouri State @ Arkansas State, 6:00 PM on ESPN3 at Centennial Bank Stadium
This tweet is all the analysis one needs to dissect the mindset of Arkansas State, whose fans would torch every Waffle House in Jonesboro were it to absorb another FCS home humiliation.
SEMO was a miserable 3-8 last season, and the Redhawks are supposed to be a gentle tune-up for the Red Wolves, who get Alabama next week. But SEMO and A-State have history. Though Arkansas State has won its last three games against the Redhawks, SEMO holds a 7-4-1 all-time advantage. If it’s one thing UCA taught the Red Wolves, it’s that no opponent should go underestimated.
Arkansas State 70, SEMO 6
Louisiana Tech @ South Alabama, 6:00 PM on ESPN3 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium
In 2013, Jaguar coach Joey Jones was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year. In 2017, South Bama canned his ass. Now Steve Campbell, by way of Central Arkansas, is in charge. The first thing he did was punt on Dallas Davis and name Cole Garvin the starting QB, which will lend much needed stability to the South Alabama offense. Garvin receives the receiving services of All-Sun Belt WR Jamarius Way, who is a 6-4 dump truck of pain.
What the Jags need more than pain dump trucks is a running game. The Bulldogs are traditionally large up front, and running room should be at a premium for Coach Campbell. LT is as loaded as ever, and is expected to finish just behind North Texas in the CUSA West. Campbell, who got used to winning at UCA, is the kind of coach who will want to secure some confidence with the fanbase by supplying a great effort against the Bulldogs. I think he provides it.
South Bama 35, Louisiana Tech 17
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.