The New Kids Rule the Sun Belt Now
They came in as FCS upstarts. But the balance of power in the Sun Belt has shifted from the conference’s original gangsters to its newest members.
Conventional wisdom would have Texas State your model for FCS-to-FBS transition. The Bobcats, after a flash of early Sun Belt success, have struggled to make the transition, stubbornly maintaining an FCS mindset of paying little for head football coaches – and even less for assistants and staff. After five miserable years of living in the Sun Belt basement, Texas State has finally put some resources in its coaches, snagging Jake Spavital from West Virginia and luring Bob Stitt to serve as OC.
While Texas State (and Georgia State, South Alabama and Coastal Carolina, to a less severe degree) has taken the traditional path of trial and struggle, at least two programs have not only made a seamless jump to FBS play – they have come to outright rule the Sun Belt.
Georgia Southern and Appalachian State (the current undisputed Sun Belt Champion) have taken the mantle formerly occupied by the Sun Belt’s original gangsters – Troy, Louisiana and Arkansas State. They entered the conference with the fiery confidence the comes with winning several FCS national championships. Georgia Southern, in particular, proved formidable from the the start, rolling over the Sun Belt with its peculiar triple option offense during its first year in the conference.
Appalachian State began its Sun Belt era losing 5 of 6 games – then finished the year winning six straight. Since then, the Mountaineers have gone to four bowl games and have won all four. They bear the incredible distinction of being the only FBS football team to have won their first four bowl games.*
This season, Appalachian State (without the mighty Scott Satterfied, now HC for Louisville) tied a bow on their Sun Belt Championship with a brutal 45-13 New Orleans Bowl route over Middle Tennessee – the program the Mountaineers replaced in the Sun Belt. Georgia Southern, after losing ten games in 2017, earned its tenth victory of 2018 by dispatching Eastern Michigan in the Camellia Bowl. The victories were a stamp pounded by the conference’s new breed of leaders.
Meanwhile, the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns, a former longtime Sun Belt powerhouse, was pounded by Tulane in the Cure Bowl 41-24. It was a sobering look at the new reality for the Sun Belt’s traditional heavyweights. Yes, Troy will have a crack at Buffalo in the Dollar General Bowl on December 22, and Arkansas State will get a shot at a 9th victory when they face Nevada in the Arizona Bowl on the 29th, but one senses that the Sun Belt is rising overwhelmingly to the east.
The Sun Belt belongs to Appalachian State and Georgia Southern now. Everyone else is lagging behind.
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this post claimed that Appalachian State is the only program in the FBS undefeated in Bowl play. This is false, and the research team is now pondering their errors while languishing in a secret underground dungeon.
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.