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Sun Belt Conference College Football Preview 2017

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The Sun Belt Conference seems to be thriving after the additions of Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Texas State and South Alabama. Sure, after this year they will lose a bowl team in Idaho who is dropping back to 1AA for some strange reason. New Mexico State is getting dropped by the Sun Belt as well which will then free up a 10 team two division league that will have a conference championship game starting next year. This year the conference welcomes Coastal Carolina from the 1AA ranks. There’s no championship game this year but there’s plenty of reason to tune in to Sun Belt football.

1. APPALACHIAN STATE MOUNTAINEERS – I knew App State was a major player on the 1AA ranks but who could of guessed they’d be this good in single A. The Mountaineers are 21-5 in the past two seasons. Last year they should of won the opener in Knoxville vs the almighty SEC we all know it. This year they’ll get another shot at the SEC when they open @ Georgia and if they win that, then watch out world because they could crash the system and get the at large bid. This years team is much better than last years team. Led by senior QB Taylor Lamb and RB Jalin Moore, App State should be loaded yet again.

The out of conference games are @Georgia, vs Savannah State, vs Wake Forest & @Umass. 3-1 is what I’m thinking here but Georgia better not take App State lightly. In conference App State somehow misses out on playing the two other elite teams of the Sun Belt in Troy & Arkansas State so if they upset Georgia they could run the table. The in conference road matchups are @Texas State, @Idaho, @Louisiana Monroe & @Georgia State. They should be favored in all those but they could get tested against Idaho & LA Monroe. At home in Boone they have in conference matchups vs New Mexico State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern & Louisiana. They should be 4-0 there but Georgia Southern could give them a game. All together I got the Mountaineers going 11-1 with the one loss being to Georgia, so if they get past the Dawgs in the season opener watch out world.

2. ARKANSAS STATE RED WOLVES – Last year it took a while before ASU really got things going. Hopefully this year they will continue some of last years momentum with them. The good news is their start quarterback and former Oklahoma Sooner Justice Hansen is back at the helm along with running back Warren Wand. The bad news is that they are replacing every single player on their offensive line. For that reason alone I almost had Arkansas State further down but i do like what coach Blake Anderson has been doing at ASU.

On defense they might have the best player in the conference in senior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones along with eight other upperclassmen so they should be solid on that side of the ball. The out of conference schedule is brutal with games @Nebraska, vs Miami (FL), vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff, & @SMU. If they can find a way to go 2-2 there folks in Jonesboro should be happy but 1-3 could be the case. On the road in conference they have road games against Georgia Southern, New Mexico State, South Alabama & Louisiana Monroe. They will probably be favored in all of those but need not slip, those teams are all capable of an upset so I’ll put them at 3-1 in conference on the road. At home ASU gets Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, Texas State & Troy. The first three they should all win but the fourth game against Troy will be their biggest test in conference. I have them going unbeaten in those four. All together I’m thinking 7-5 or 8-4 with a bowl game coming soon.

3. TROY TROJANS – Head coach Neal Brown is doing a great job at Troy. Last year they went 10-3 and almost upset the national champion Clemson Tigers on the road. This year should be right on par with that as they bring back star QB Brandon Silvers and wideout Emanuel Thompson. Together they make quite a duo that should have every team on their schedule well aware of them. The out of conference schedule is tough with games @Boise State, vs Alabama State, vs Akron & @LSU.

Troy fans should be happy if they go 2-2 but don’t sleep on Akron. On the road in conference they get games against New Mexico State, Georgia State, Coastal Carolina & Arkansas State. I have them going 3-1 in those but they very could beat Arkansas State on the road. At home in Troy they get matchups vs South Alabama, Georgia Southern, Idaho, & Texas State. I’m thinking 4-0 here but there could be some close matchups there. All together I have the Trojans going 9-3 but losing a late season game at Arkansas State.

4. IDAHO VANDALS
– The Vandals went 9-4 last season and ended the season with a blowout win over Mountain West Colorado State. So why are the Vandals moving back to 1AA and joining the Big Sky next year? Even if the Sun Belt kicks you out couldn’t they make a push to join the Mountain West? Maybe I’m dreaming but the Vandals should be back bowling again this year, especially since star QB Matt Linehan (son of the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan) is back for his senior year. Sure they lost four of their top five receivers but Linehan should be able to keep the offense rolling.

The out of conference schedule has games vs Sacramento State, vs UNLV, @Western Michigan, & @Missouri. 2-2 is what every Vandals fan should be happy with but don’t get upset by an improving UNLV team. On the road in conference the Vandals have games at South Alabama, Troy, New Mexico State & Georgia State. I’m thinking 2-2 but 3-1 is possible. At home in Moscow they get games vs Louisiana, Appalachian State, Louisiana Monroe & Coastal Carolina. They need to go and should go 3-1 in these games but LA Monroe should be a tricky one. I got the Vandals going 7-5 in their last season in 1A.

5. GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES
– The Eagles had a disappointing first year under first year head coach Tyson Summers, going 5-7 and just missing a bowl game. So with that comes the firing of an offensive coordinator and the hiring Bryan Cook from Georgia Tech. We’re not sure who will be the QB under center at the moment but the Eagles are kind of like Navy where it doesn’t matter than much who is under center. Just expect a triple option attack that will be grueling on the clock and awful passing numbers.

The Eagles out of conference schedule has games @Auburn, vs New Hampshire, @Indiana & @Umass. 2-2 is what I got but maybe they can give the Hoosiers a game in Bloomington. In conference on the road they have matchups at Troy, Appalachian State, Louisiana & Coastal Carolina. I’m thinking 2-2 if they’re lucky. At home in Statesboro they get Arkansas State, New Mexico State, Georgia State & South Alabama. 3-1 is certainly do able here but South Alabama could be a tough game. I’m going to say 2-2 here which has the Eagles at 6-6 and bowling.

6. SOUTH ALABAMA JAGUARS – Jaguar fans should be happy after upsetting Mississippi State in Starkville and going bowling for the 2nd time in three years. Dallas Davis had an up and down year at QB last year but when he’s on he’s on. The running game should be solid with senior running back Xavier Johnson back at the helm. Johnson rushed for double digit touchdowns last year. Those two alone should make South Alabama a dangerous team on anyone’s schedule.

The out of conference schedule has games @Ole Miss, vs Oklahoma State, vs Alabama A&M, & @Louisiana Tech. 1-3 is most likely what they do here but hey who had them beating Mississippi State last year? On the road in conference the Jags have games at Troy, Georgia State, Georgia Southern & New Mexico State. 2-2 is most likely but 3-1 is possible. At home in Mobile they get Idaho, Louisiana Monroe, Louisiana, & Arkansas State. 3-1 is possible but I’m thinking 2-2 which would make the Jaguars 5-7 on the year and just missing a bowl game.

7. LOUISIANA-MONROE WARHAWKS – If you are a LA Monroe fan there is plenty of reason to be optimistic. They just had their best recruiting class ever and they return a solid QB in Garrett Smith plus they add former Alabama running back in Derrick Gore to their backfield this year. When you add those up and the fact that head coach Matt Viator was in his first year last year and maybe you got something going. Originally I was thinking “hey LA Monroe might be a sleeper this year” but after looking at the schedule I changed my mind.

Year two should show signs of big improvements though but the out of conference schedule is just crazy with games @Memphis, @Florida State, vs Southern Miss, & @Auburn. I don’t see them winning any of those four but maybe they can sneak up on Southern Miss at home. In conference on the road the Warhawks get games at Louisiana, Texas State, South Alabama & Idaho. 3-1 is possible here but I’m thinking 2-2. Which means to make a bowl they’ll have to win all their home games. The home games are against Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, Appalachian State & Arkansas State. 2-2 is what I’m seeing here which leaves the Warhawks at 4-8 or 5-7.

8. LOUISIANA RAGIN’ CAJUNS – The Cajuns are used to being a decent mid major being it that they have been bowling five out of the past six seasons including last year. However, last year they just couldn’t get the offense going. They brought in a new offensive coordinator and Anthony Jennings graduated so now it’s up to junior Jordan Davis to improve the offense.

The out of conference schedule is pretty tough with games vs S.E. Louisiana, @Tulsa, @Texas A&M, & @Ole Miss. 1-3 is the best they’ll most likely get there. In conference on the road they get games at Idaho, Arkansas State, South Alabama & Appalachian State. Talk about brutal, I see 1-3 there at best but more likely 0-4. At home in Lafayette they get Louisiana Monroe, Texas State, New Mexico State & Georgia Southern. I’m seeing 2-2 here but maybe they can upset Monroe or GA Southern. All together I have the Cajuns at 4-8 and missing a bowl.

9. COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS
– I got to be honest here. I have no idea what to expect from the Chanticleers. I almost put them higher because have been really good in the 1AA ranks the past few years. At the same time the opponents will be tougher week in and week out plus they’re replacing a lot of key positions. The offensive line is unproven but if they can get it together they might be able to be decent since they brought in Syracuse grad transfer quarterback Austin Wilson. They also have a Boston College transfer in running back Marcus Outlow so maybe they will be better than where I have them.

The out of conference schedule has matchups vs UMASS, @UAB vs Western Illinois, & @Arkansas. There’s some real winnable games there but then again they might only be favored in one of those. I’m going to say they’ll be 2-2 in those. Then comes the conference road games at Louisiana Monroe, Arkansas State, Appalachian State & Idaho. I’m thinking 0-4 here but maybe they can give Monroe or Idaho a game. At home in Conway they get Georgia State, Texas State, Troy & Georgia Southern. I’m thinking 2-2 here which would make them 4-8 for the year but they could easily be better. They can’t go to a bowl game because of NCAA rules for incoming 1A teams but a winning season sure would be nice for next year.

10. TEXAS STATE BOBCATS – Last year was tough on first year head coach Everett Withers as the Bobcats went just 2-10. It was his first year though and they were putting in a new system. Now, in year two maybe the Bobcats can head in the right direction. There’s a new offensive coordinator and a new QB in Mississippi State grad school transfer Damian Williams.

The out of conference schedule has games vs Houston-Baptist, @Colorado, vs UTSA & @Wyoming. 1-3 is what I’m thinking. In conference the away games are at Louisiana, Coastal Carolina, Arkansas State & Troy. I’m thinking 0-4 there but maybe they can get past Coastal Carolina. At home in San Marcos they get Appalachian State, Louisiana Monroe, New Mexico State & Georgia State. I think they have a great shot of going 2-2 at home in conference which would make them 3-9 on the year.

11. GEORGIA STATE PANTHERS – The Panthers have a new head coach in Shawn Elliott who was hired away from in conference rival Appalachian State. So maybe there’s room for hope? Year one is always the most challenging year for incoming coaches so don’t expect this to be overnight. The out of conference schedule has matchups vs Tennessee State, @Penn State, @Charlotte, & vs Memphis.

I’m thinking 1-3 here but maybe they can give Charlotte a game. In conference on the road they get games at Coastal Carolina, Louisiana Monroe, Georgia Southern & Texas State. At best they go 2-2 there but 1-3 is more likely. At home in their brand new stadium they get Troy, South Alabama, Appalachian State & Idaho. Good luck with that, I got them winless in their new stadium when it comes to conference games. All together I got the Panthers at 2-10 or at best 3-9 but I do like the coaching hire.

12. NEW MEXICO STATE AGGIES – New Mexico State is about to begin its final season in the Sun Belt. For those reasons alone I hope I’m wrong about picking the Aggies dead last. Two reasons why I could be wrong is that they return their starting quarterback and running back in Tyler Rogers and Larry Rose so maybe just maybe there’s room to be optimistic here. The out of conference schedule has matchups @Arizona State, @New Mexico, vs UTEP, & @Arkansas.

I have them going 0-4 here but if somehow they were going to steal one, it would be the UTEP game. On the road in conference the Aggies get games at Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Texas State & Louisiana. I’m thinking 0-4 here but maybe they get past Texas State. At home in Las Cruces they get Troy, Arkansas State, Idaho & South Alabama. I’m thinking 0-4 in those matchups. All together I got the Aggies going 1-11 on the season. Maybe they’ll be better suited being an Independent next year.

Colby Dant is a stand up comedian and The Sports Gambling Podcast’s official college football and basketball expert. Unfortunately he’s also a huge Jets fan.

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