Sun Belt Heat Week 8: Rivalries Ahoy
This week, everything gets a little more personal.
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Since opening the conference to football in 2001, the Sun Belt has seen a potpourri of members hola and adios. Among the latter: FIU, FAU, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Utah State, Idaho and New Mexico State. Entering the fray: Appalachian State, South Alabama, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Texas State and Coastal Carolina.
Amid such flux remained a handful of Sun Belt Original Gangstas – ULM, Louisiana, Arkansas State, and Troy. A conference enduring this much entropy can’t expect rivalries to congeal, and yet (as Dr. Ian Malcom once said) “life finds a way.” Behold! Rivalry!
The Cajuns and Red Wolves have sparred regularly since the 1960s. Upon becoming Sun Belt rivals, the Cajuns have won 10 of 17 contests (the Red Wolves 2006 victory was vacated), but home field advantage has been the deciding factor since 2014.
Meanwhile, old grudges aren’t the only factor fueling Sun Belt hatred. The Jaguars and Trojans first met in 2012, and yet they now meet annually for the “Battle for the Belt” (est. 2015) with the winner owning the state of Alabama. The Belt, which looks like something Brutus Beefcake might have worn in 1986, currently resides with Troy, but the Jags have have twice beaten some pretty good Troy teams to win the Battle.
Don’t tell me the Sun Belt ain’t got rivalries. I mean, nobody has actually literally said that to me, but still…don’t tell me that. I’ll send you a link to this article.
O’Doul’s “Maintain Your Edge” Sun Belt Game of the Week
South Alabama Jaguars (1-5) @ Troy Trojans (2-3), Wednesday, October 16, 7:00 PM on ESPN2
The Trojans have the 15-point EDGE
The Trojans have lost three of their last four and the Jaguars’ only victory has come at the expense of Jackson State. However, who cares? Troy’s Kaleb Barker is still an elite Sun Belt quarterback, and South Alabama’s Tra Minter is rushing for nearly 7 yards a carry. Throw the records out! The grim fact of the matter is, the Trojans really need this W if they want even a glimmer of hope to win the Sun Belt East. The 42-10 groin kick the Trojans suffered at the foot of Missouri can’t have done much for freshman head coach Chip Lindsey’s confidence.
Where Troy may lack in confidence, it makes up for with finger-popping explosiveness:
VERDICT: Troy by 21
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (4-2) @ Arkansas State Red Wolves (3-3), Thursday, October 17, 6:30 PM on ESPNU
Cajuns receive the 6-point benefit of the doubt
The Red Wolves lost two more players for the season over the bye week (Tony Adams and Hunter Moreton), but hey, who’s counting? Besides, RB Marcel Murray is expected to be back at 100% and the defense will see some of defensive end Kevin Thurmon’s broken hand, too. Meanwhile, the Cajuns are coming off a hard loss to Appalachian State, who neutralized Louisiana’s dominating run game to just 123 yards. The Cajuns won’t find the sledding so tough against Arkansas State’s decimated defense, which means the Red Wolves will have to out-sling a surprisingly stingy Cajuns defense that yields only 20 points per contest.
VERDICT: Cajuns run run run run run run run pass run run
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (3-3) @ Georgia Southern Eagles (2-3), Saturday, October 19, 2:00 PM on ESPN3
The Eagles are 6.5-point favorites, but really? Really now?
Once upon a time, the Chanticleers beat Kansas, trounced UMASS, and appeared ready to make noise in the Sun Belt East. Two conference losses later, Coastal Carolina is staggering in familiar Chanticleers fashion and is in desperate need of a victory. Georgia Southern might be willing to oblige. Resembling a sad shade of itself through five contests, the Eagles did manage to scrounge up an uninspiring OT win over South Alabama. Both teams play a funky offense, which would be fun to watch. But one has to wonder if the Eagles have the firepower to score more than 20.
ULM Warhawks (3-3) @ #24 Appalachian State Mountaineers (5-0), Saturday, October 19, 2:30 PM on ESPN+
The Mountaineers are expect to be 14.5-points better than the Warhawks.
The Warhawks are 2-0 in conference and are the current stewards of the Sun Belt West. Sitting atop the East, the Mountaineers, who claimed the highest AP Ranking in conference history. What might unnerve new head coach Eliah Drinkwitz is that, in the Sun Belt, an AP Ranking is the kiss of death. (Sorry, Mountaineers.) In addition to fated tragedy, what this matchup has is a nice clash between two of the Sun Belt’s more effective signal callers – the Mountaineers’ Zac Thomas and the Warhawks’ Caleb Evans. The defense that bottles the opposing QB here will sip from the iron chalice of victory.
VERDICT: Mountaineers chug the chalice
Army Black Knights (3-3) @ Georgia State Panthers (4-2), Saturday, October 19, 6:00 PM on ESPN+
Army is a 6 point favorite, which is ridiculous
Well, this game is sneaky good! The Panthers have transitioned from Sun Belt side-of-beef to Sun Belt contender, first crushing the soul of Tennessee and then compiling a 2-1 record in conference. How? Well, Georgia State’s quarterback Dan Ellington is pretty damn good, and that Panthers defense isn’t horribly horrendous. But do they have the savvy to stop Army’s merciless ground game (currently accruing 250 yards a pop)? Frankly, since taking Michigan to overtime, the Black Knights have welded a wooden sword, losing to Tulane (okay) and Western Kentucky (oh-oh). Georgia State, meanwhile, is breathing deep the vapors of exceeded expectations. Look for the high to continue one more week.
VERDICT: Army surrenders
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.