The pre-spring version of the CFN 2021 rankings with a first look at all the Sun Belt teams.
2021 Sun Belt Rankings: Pre-Spring
Sun Belt: East
1. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Why To Be Happy: All the parts are back – almost (more on that in a moment). Everything you liked about the 2020 Chanticleers should kick in again, including the shocking return of head coach Jamey Chadwell after not getting hired away yet. The offense should get ten starters back, almost everyone returns on D, but …
What To Work On: Two very, very, very important parts are off to the next level. RB CJ Marable and DT Tarron Jackson were two of the Sun Belt’s best players as two difference-makers who helped take a very good team and make it special. There are parts to try replacing them, but they were just that good.
Bottom Line: It’s not the slam dunk that you might thing that a loaded team that did all that is going to be every bit as good, or better. Appalachian State and others in the league are strong, too, but the expectations are through the roof now – and rightly so.
2. Appalachian State Mountaineers
Why To Be Happy: Nothing stops. The defensive front is back and loaded, the offensive backfield is loaded with top running backs – helped by getting Jahmir Smith from Notre Dame – and the senior receivers are coming back for new QB Chase Brice – the former Clemson Tiger and Duke Blue Devils.
What To Work On: The offensive line loses parts. Brice needs to be prove he can be a mistake-free and consistent playmaker in place of Zac Thomas, and he’ll have to do it behind a retooled front
Bottom Line: Coastal Carolina will continue to be the darling of the Sun Belt – and rightly so – but the Mountaineers are a steady quarterback away from being right back in the Sun Belt title mix.
3. Georgia State Panthers
Why To Be Happy: All 11 starters are expected to be back – or close to it – from a fantastic offense that’s bringing in even more parts from the transfer portal. At the moment, eight starters appear to be back on the defensive side, but as long as QB Cornelious Brown and the offense can keep on improving, look out.
What To Work On: The offense has to be stronger at not turning the ball over and the defense has to be better in pass coverage. The experience should help both things – the defensive losses should be up front – but there are just enough tweaks needed to be just behind the best in the East.
Bottom Line: The Panthers are rising. No one’s going to put them ahead of Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State, but they’re going to be strong enough to beat either one and be a dangerous player in the chase.
4. Troy Trojans
Why To Be Happy: There’s an interesting influx of talent coming in to go along with an already experienced team. The quarterback situation is fine, but Taylor Powell is coming in from Missouri. The running backs are good, and in comes La’Damian Webb from Florida State. As is, at the moment, all 22 starters might just be back.
What To Work On: The turnovers have to stop and the ground game has to be more dangerous. This is going to be a very good, very experienced team that should be able to hang with anyone in the league, but it has to be a whole lot tighter to challenge for the East.
Bottom Line: The parts are there to possibly win the division. The team lost four of their last five games and weren’t close to consistent enough, but watch out for a big turnaround.
5. Georgia Southern Eagles
Why To Be Happy: Losing a veteran QB like Shai Werts who knows exactly how to run this offense would be devastating, but in comes James Graham from option-era Georgia Tech. Outside of Werts, there aren’t enough big losses to need a major overhaul, but …
What To Work On: The offensive line is the one area that’s going to near reworking. Just enough is gone off the front five to need a full offseason to get right, and now throw in the new quarterback aspect in a division loaded with great QBs.
Bottom Line: Don’t get hung up on this ranking – all five teams in the division could end up in any order. As always, Georgia Southern is going to be a thorn in everyone’s side, but unlike the top teams, there are just enough missing parts to be behind the the rest of a strong division.