Sun Belt Heat Week 7: What was that?
Week 6 was disappointing, confounding and just weird. Will Week 7 be any different?
Sun Belt Heat is sponsored by O’Doul’s. Premium content requires a premium, non-alcoholic pilsner.
Eagles, Red Wolves, you’re in trouble.
Georgia Southern, while rushing for a solid 220 yards per contest, isn’t even scoring 20 points per game. Against perennial Sun Belt punching bag South Alabama, the Eagles scraped up a 20-17 victory in a game where the Jags were leading late despite having only four first-downs all night. The Eagles have yet to look like the shifty offensive juggernaut that seemed to be gelling last season, nor does it look like a team that has anything to challenge Troy, let alone Appalachian State.
As troubled as the Eagles may be, the Red Wolves are far worse. Arkansas State lost yet another important player on Saturday – this time freshman RB Isaiah Azubuike with a broken ankle. Azubuike joins Forrest Merrill, Jerry Jacobs, Ryan Graham and Logan Bonner as OUT for the season. To make matters grimmer, starting linebacker Darreon Jackson is mysteriously missing, absent for “personal reasons.” Add this calamity to injuries to starting RB Marcel Murray and starting DL Kevin Thurmon. Oh yeah, and WR Dahu Green has yet to see a meaningful minute.
On the whole, these injuries are catastrophic to the Arkansas State season. But the absence of Merrill and Jacobs have proven most devastating. Without Jacobs, the Red Wolves have trouble covering the pass. Minus Merrill, the Red Wolves can’t cork the run. As a result, a mediocre Georgia State team piled up 722 yards of offense on Arkansas State this Saturday, essentially allowing Dan Ellington to do whatever he wanted.
Two of the Sun Belt’s traditional powers are faltering. (You might want to add Troy to this list as well). The conference is wide open. Go get you some.
O’Doul’s “Maintain Your Edge” Sun Belt Game of the Week
Appalachian State Mountaineers (4-0) @ Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (4-1), Wednesday, October 9, 7:00 PM on ESPN2
The Cajuns are given the 1-point EDGE
Louisiana head coach Billy Napier transitioned from charging his team a Cajuns Foundation fee to charging to the top of the offensive rankings. (I won’t apologize for this.) This season, the Cajuns offense has pounded home 31 TDs, tied for third most in the nation. They’re ranked 7th nationally in total offense. They rank first in rushing, compiling 314 yards per game. Trey Ragas, one of three serviceable running backs for Louisiana, ranks 9th in the nation for rushing (548).
The Mountaineers are pretty good, too. Undefeated and having just reminded Coastal Carolina who’s boss in the East, Appalachian State’s Darrynton Evans is right behind Regas with 471 yards, and staring QB Zack Thomas is the top-rated passer in the Sun Belt.
Neither offense can be stopped. But it’s interesting to note that the Mountaineers are allowing 8 points more per game than the Cajuns – who hasn’t fielded a decent defense in several seasons. Appalachian State has accepted stouter tests, but there’s no denying that the Cajuns have all the tools to win this game, especially at home.
VERDICT: Cajuns by 3
ULM Warhawks (2-3) @ Texas State Bobcats (2-3), Thursday, October 10, 2:30 PM on ESPNU
Warhawks get the 3-point thumbs up
Guess who’s on a magical two game win streak? The Bobcats! Guess who has lost three of its last four? The Warhawks! What a terrific Thursday night contest! I’m only being half-saucy. The Bobcats have a shot a proving they’ve outgrown the Sun Belt Basement. ULM is finally free of its brutally tough OOC schedule. Both programs are 1-1 in conference. Remember when I said the Sun Belt was wide open? The winner here gets a jump at joining the Elite.
VERDICT: Warhawks Win
Georgia State Panthers (3-2) @ Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (3-2), Saturday, October 12, 4:00 PM on ESPN+
The Chants are 5.5-point favorites, but not by me
Coastal wasn’t quite ready to beat Appalachian State. But the Chanticleers are likely ready to face the Panthers, even though Georgia State just outright clobbered the team formerly known as the Red Wolves. Coastal brings a surprisingly balanced offense to the gridiron (217 passing, 226 rushing) and a defense that looked fairly stout before giving up 57 to the Mountaineers. But the Panthers are riding a confidence high after setting program bests in offense last Saturday. Dan Ellington looks like an elite Sun Belt QB, and wide receiver Sam Pinckney is a real weapon. If the Panthers defense has a few stops in them, it will be a sad day for the Chants.
VERDICT: Panthers Pounce
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.