Your Super-Duper Sun Belt 2019 Football Preview Has Arrived
It’s time to sip deep from the golden chalice of Sun Belt Heat.
A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Phil Steele’s uber-comprehensive College 2019 Football Preview magazine and immediately commenced to flipping to page 312 for the penetrating, Sun Belt analysis. I flipped. And flipped. And flipped some more. Three hundred and eleven flips is an ass-ton of flips. But, eventually, I made it! It was my own personal Mt. Everest, ascending to the summit of Mr. Steele’s wisdom.
Mr. Steele (and his researcher assigned to the Sun Belt, Robbie DiPaola), did a pretty good job reminding me of some fairly essential things, like Willie Jones III is no longer on the Bobcats’ roster, and that Jamey Chadwell (and not the enigmatic Joe Moglia) coaches Coastal Carolina. You miss the details during the long off-season. At least, I do. Not Phil Steele! He’s too real!
If you want Phil’s breakdown of the Sun Belt, go by his meaty magazine. It costs about $17, and it’s worth every nickel. (“That’s a good…use of money.” – my wife) This content, however is free, so long as you’re willing to endure endless autoplay videos.
Three New Coaches To Welcome (or Fear)
- Jacke Spavital, Texas State
- Eliah Drinkwitz, Appalachian State
- Chip Lindsey, Troy
What do all three of these guys have in common? This is the first head coaching gig for each. Welcome to the Belt, Boys! Overall, the coaching ranks in the Sun Belt is pretty shiny, with Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson boasting conference seniority going into his 6th season. Jamey Chadwell (Coastal), Billy Napier (Louisiana), and Steve Campbell (South Alabama) are all headed into just their second season, meaning half the conference is being coached by dudes with less than two years of experience.
Five Sun Studs to Watch in 2019
- Zac Thomas (QB, Appalachian State)
- Kindle Vildor (DB, Georgia Southern)
- Kirk Merritt (WR, Arkansas State)
- BJ Smith (RB, Troy)
- JaMarcus Bradley (WR, Louisiana)
The Sun Belt released its Preseason Football Coaches’ Poll and identified all its awesome players. And it’s not a bad stack. I’d also look out for defensive stars like Forrest Merrill (Arkansas State), Monquavion Brinson (Georgia Southern) and Bryan London II (Texas State) to stand out.
The Sun Belt Has Some CFP Juice This Year
In January, Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir was among three new appointees named to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee – the most powerful committee in the universe.
As Aaron Burr once sang, it’s good to be in the room where it happens. Mohajir, who isn’t one to sit quietly in a corner, should be a loud voice for the Group of Five.
Why _________ Will (and Won’t) Win the Sun Belt East
Appalachian State Mountaineers
Will Win: Zac Thomas proved himself a dynamic replacement for Taylor Lamb in 2018, and he works behind one of (if not the) best offensive lines in the conference. Defensively, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Jordan Fehr are two First Team All-Conference linebackers that are simply going to shut down anything the Sun Belt throws at them.
Won’t Win: Scott Satterfield was a real mastermind on the sideline, and losing him to Louisville is probably a deeper cut than the Mountaineers faithful are willing to admit.
Will Win: For the last three years, the OG of the Sun Belt has played incredible ball, rising out of Sun Belt mediocrity to flirt with the AP Top 25 and win conference championships. Sun Belt Preseason Offensive POY BJ Smith gives the Trojans plenty of firepower to be dangerous.
Won’t Win: Not only did the Trojans lose HC Neal Brown to West Virginia, but super wideouts Deondre Douglas and Damion Willis are also gone, leaving a rehabbing Kaleb Barker with fewer weapons.
Georgia Southern Eagles
Will Win: The Triple Option is back…er, again! Chad Lunsford restored order in Statesboro last season with a full measure of Triple Strength Triple O, unleashing QB Shai Werts’ multi-threat potential. And that Brinson/Vildor combo in the backfield is legit scary for any pass heavy offense. The Eagles look balanced enough to make noise.
Won’t Win: With the departure of Wesley Fields, the Eagles’ backfield is a bit of an unknown. Furthermore, the Triple Option is no longer a novelty in the Belt. Lunsford may need some new tricks to match last season’s success.
Will Win: Dan Ellington is an underrated, under-the-radar dual-threat QB, and the defense returns seven starters. The program is still glowing beneath the halo of its new football stadium, and 4th-year head coach Shawn Elliot is finally working with the team he mostly recruited.
Won’t Win: Let’s face it, the talent just isn’t quite there for the Panthers, especially with WR stud Penny Hart bolting early for the NFL. Sadly, the offense doesn’t look any better than last year, leaving a defense with some nice pieces doing way too much heavy lifting.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Will Win: Really, Coastal Carolina’s greatest strength is that nobody knows anything about the Chants, who play, like, a half dozen QBs per game and the entire team always appear to be size smaller than their opposition. Smaller guys are always most dangerous in a fight, a big guy once told me.
Won’t Win: The Chants had a nice RB talent with Marcus Outlow, but he’s graduated and gone, leaving talented legman CJ Marable to tote the rock. Marable has skillz. Just not enough skillz to do it all.
Why _________ Will (and Won’t) Win the Sun Belt West
Arkansas State Red Wolves
Will Win: With the longest tenured Sun Belt coach to guide them, the Red Wolves field the best defensive line in the conference. On the other side of the ball. the wide receiver set has NFL skills, led by seniors Omar Bayless and Kirk Merritt. The Red Wolves have been a part of the Sun Belt Championship conversation for a decade. No reason to shut up now.
Won’t Win: Two of the program’s most decorated players – QB Justice Hansen and DE Ronheen Bingham – have moved on, and the coaching staff under Anderson has experienced a major offseason shake-up. Can’t win every season, right?
Louisiana Ragin Cajuns
Will Win: Bold new head coach Bill Napier breathed brand new life into Cajuns last season, and many of the high-octane pieces that fueled that offense returns in 2019. Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell may be the best damn RB duo in the nation, and WR Ja’Marcus Bradley is an exceptional receiver. Accept it: Cajuns will score on your ass.
Won’t Win: Napier unleashed the offense, but the Louisiana defense was a revolving door of touchdowns. Without offense/defense balance, the Cajuns are just the 2017 ULM Warhawks.
Will Win: Speaking of 2017 Warhawks, senior QB Caleb Evans is back for one last shot of pulling the perennial underdog into conference contention. Evans was a key driver of that 2017 team that amassed 39 points per game. Production dipped to only 26 points per game in 2018, but if Evans is on target, look for that offense to cause trouble.
Won’t Win: Matt Viator looked to be ready to elevate the Warhawks to a contender in 2018, but he never seemed to find the defensive help to keep his squad in games. Many starters return, but without RB Derrick Gore and WR Marcus Green to give Evans some help, it looks to be along season in Monroe.
Texas State Bobcats
Will Win: According to my good friend Phil Steele, the Texas State Bobcats field the second most experienced team in all of college football. All of Everett Withers’ 2016 freshmen now belong to newly minted head coach Jake Spavital, who puts his air raid offense in the hands of talented FCS transfer QB Gresch Jenson (or possibly Tyler Vitt, we’ll keep you posted).
Won’t Win: The football program struggles mightily in San Marcos, despite being located in a sweet spot of pigskin talent. Spavital is a great hire, and he might be the spark needed to raise the Bobcats out of the basement, but man, let’s give the guy a couple seasons.
South Alabama Jaguars
Will Win: Steve Campbell brought with him a winner’s mentality when South Bama poached the talented young head coach from Central Arkansas last season. But the Jags went a miserable 3-9 with an offense that routinely put up baseball scores. Season Two will find Campbell better prepared, and sophomore QB (and projected starter) Cephus Johnson looked great in Spring Camp.
Won’t Win: Yeech! The Jaguars begin the non-con with Nebraska and later Memphis, which should reveal what we all know in our hearts – South Alabama just doesn’t have the horses to pull the sledge. Tre Minter is a fine running back, and the defense isn’t without skills, but Campbell has a ton of work left to do in Mobile.
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.