Sun Belt Heat: 2019 Bowl Edition

Sun Belt Heat: 2019 Bowl Edition

Arkansas State

Sun Belt Heat: 2019 Bowl Edition

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Sun Belt Heat: 2019 Bowl Edition

The Sun Belt attempts to close out 2019 in a red hot blaze of glory.


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The Sun Belt is officially affiliated with five bowl games, and the conference neatly obliged by providing five bowl-eligible teams. No drama to see here, folks.

I would like to point out, tho, that Appalachian State defeated a ten-win team in the Sun Belt championship game and didn’t budge an inch in the final College Football Playoff standings and are still ranked beneath tomato cans like Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa. This is in addition to the fact that Memphis, playing in a very competitive conference, was placed at SEVENTEENTH.

The message is clear: there is nothing a G5 program can do on the field that will elevate us past even the most mediocre P5 programs.

Of course, I heard the wise pundits point to Appalachian State’s loss to hated rival Georgia Southern as proof that the Mountaineers do not belong with the nation’s elite. A loss to South Carolina didn’t prevent Georgia from being in the Final Four picture until the last week of the season. Three conference losses didn’t prevent Michigan from getting a Citrus Bowl invite with Alabama. But by all means, punish Appalachian State for losing to a team who is also bowling.

I’m not sure what to do about this bias that isn’t a radical solution. But this system is never going to work for us. It’s the BCS in a different package.

The FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl, Dec 21, 1:30 PM on the CBS Sports Network

Liberty Flames (7-5) vs Georgia Southern Eagles (7-5)

Muscle Numbers

Total Offense Total Defense Rushing Passing S&P+
Georgia Southern 111th 53rd 8th 130th 84th
Liberty 34th 88th 73rd 21st 94th

Disgraced head coach Hugh Freeze sought redemption at Liberty and received it this season, pulling the Flames to a Bowl in its first year as an FBS program. Freeze enjoys the services of 6’4″ wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, who’s amassed 1,333 yards and 9 TDs behind the arm of senior QB Stephen Calbert. Collectively the seven wins are impressive, but none can be called a signature victory. The loss to Rutgers was a missed layup.

Georgia Southern, on the other hand, has a Top 25 victory over Appalachian State and a pretty stout pass defense thanks to Kindle Vildor and Monquavion Brinson. Quarterback Shai Werts has emerged as a dangerous threat with his speed, and he should be able to find the end zone against a Flames’ defense that allows nearly 30 points per game.

The key for the Eagles will be stopping the Flames run game and senior RB Franke Hickson, who totaled 12 TDs on 921 rushing this season. Georgia Southern has been mortal when faced with a balanced attack. We’ll see if Freeze takes advantage.

Final Verdict: Eagles defense D’s up

The Camellia Bowl, Dec 21, 4:30 PM on ESPN

Arkansas State Red Wolves (7-5) vs FIU Panthers (6-6)

Muscle Numbers

Total Offense Total Defense Rushing Passing S&P+
Arkansas State 44th 127th 112th 14th 88th
FIU 97th 60th 60th 91st 92nd

Nobody will mistake the 2019 Camellia Bowl as the ultimate football game ever played. But there is history between the two programs, who were once Sun Belt mates. And Panthers head coach Butch Davis is not without reputation. Additionally, the Panthers – who are headed to their third consecutive bowl game – have a decent defense. Oh yeah, they also upset in-town rival Miami this season.

Still, it’s difficult not to like the Red Wolves here, even if the team is critically injured and coming off an awful loss to South Alabama, which Coach Blake Anderson called “all the motivation needed” to finish the season with a W in Montgomery. The nation’s leading receiver, Omar Bayless, will look to pad his resume while the Sun Belt’s leading sacker, William Bradley-King will look to tack on a few more QB takedowns.

Final Verdict: Red Wolves out offense the Panthers

The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Dec 21, 8:00 PM on ESPN

Appalachian State Mountaineers (12-1) vs UAB Blazers (9-4)

Muscle Numbers

Total Offense Total Defense Rushing Passing S&P+
Appalachian State 42nd 26th 17th 87th 25th
UAB 105th 9th 67th 101st 82nd

Look at the Muscle Numbers, and he see why Appalachian State had a tremendous season – and the digits don’t tell the entire story. Consider, the Mountaineers were ranked 87th in passing even with starting QB Zac Thomas tossing 2,576 yards for 26 TDs, second in the Sun Belt. Furthermore, junior running back Darrynton Evans is a legitimate stud, and you can’t ask for better defensive disruption that that provided by Demetrius Taylor (7 sacks) and Shaun Jolly (5 picks). They’re a solid, bruising squad from top to bottom.

UAB is a bit of a mixed bag. Nine wins is great. But the OOC – which includes yawn-victories over South Alabama and the Akron Zips – is uninspiring. Opponents are only putting up 20 points on the Blazers’ stingy defense, but the offense behind sophomore quarterback Tyler Johnston barely musters 23 per game. The 49 to 6 loss to CUSA champion FAU indicates that the defense can be broken. Mountaineers are an early 17-point favorite. Seems reasonable.

Final Verdict: Mountaineers greatest 20th ranked team ever

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, Dec 29, 3:30 PM on CBS Sports Network

Georgia State Panthers (7-5) vs Wyoming Cowboy (7-5)

Muscle Numbers

Total Offense Total Defense Rushing Passing S&P+
Georgia State 27th 110th 14th 93rd 91st
Wyoming 110th 46th 27th 125th 55th

A couple years ago, the punchless Panthers hired Shawn Elliot, an offensive line position coach, to lead the program. Flash forward to today, and Georgia State has an offensive line (led by All-Sun Belt offensive lineman senior Hunter Atkinson) that has made them a top 15 rushing program in the nation. This is due in no small part to dual threat quarterback Dan Ellington, who put up nearly 600 yards and 5 TDs with his legs alone. Were it not for the Panther’s lightweight defense, we might have seen Georgia State in the Sun Belt title game this season.

Wyoming brings a decent run game to Arizona themselves, with running back Xazavian Valladay putting up 1,000 yards and QB Sean Chambers rumbling into the end zone 10 times. Wyoming has only 8 passing TDs all year, an imbalance that will likely enable the Panthers’ to focus on the run. Still, this is the first bowl game of the season for which the Sun Belt opponent is expected to lose. The Cowboys defense may be that reason why. Led by defensive back Alijah Halliburton and linebacker Logan Wilson (both all Mountain West selections), the Wyoming defense will be the difference in this game.

Final Verdict: Panthers drop the low scoring ball

The LendingTree Bowl, January 6, 6:30 PM on ESPN

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (10-3) vs Miami (Ohio) (8-5)

Muscle Numbers

Total Offense Total Defense Rushing Passing S&P+
Louisiana 8th 51st 7th 64th 23rd
Miami (Ohio) 122nd 58th 104th 114th 95th

The Cajuns have the longest wait in the nation for their opportunity to win, on paper, this almost comically mismatched bowl game of the year. Look at those Muscle Numbers! Louisiana is posting a whopping 500 yards per game behind their three-headed ground monster – Elijah Mitchell, Raymond Calais and Trey Ragas. The defense is much improved, and head coach Billy Napier has made Louisiana the best team in the Sun Belt west of Appalachian State. Little wonder that Louisiana has opened as a 14-point favorite.

The Redhawks are your MAC champions, having beaten Central Michigan 26-21 in the conference title game. Kameron Butler, Ivan Pace and Doug Costin give Miami a strong frontline presence, limiting opponents to about 115 yards on the ground per game. And starting QB Brett Gabbert is your MAC Freshman of the Year. But the Cajuns are just too mighty on both sides of the ball. The last bowl game of the season should be relatively stress free.

Final Verdict: Cajuns boil up some Hawk

 

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. 

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