#10 SUNBELT CONFERENCE
The Sunbelt conference has embraced a niche in college football, and it seems to be paying off. This is the league that all the serious old Southern FCS schools have moved up to. These schools joined a group of small time Southern schools that had been struggling with FBS, but they seem to be hitting a certain stride. Last year the league was paced by Appalachian State who was a visit to Clemson and a blown trip to Arkansas State away from running the table. Georgia Southern has also made the move up successfully and looks to be going strong. While this league will never challenge the SEC, the SBC has a nice following of serious college football fans/alums, and it shows in the results. This year will be a bit of a strain as the new rule to allow a CCG with 10 teams changed the leagues trajectory. They were trying hard to get to 12 teams, and had been stuck at 11. With that change they announced that recent adds NMSU and Idaho would be let go after next year. NMSU will be going Indy, while Idaho looks destined back to their roots in the FCS and Big Sky Conference. Now Big XII expansion could change things as any teams moving “up” out of the SBC might result in the SBC needing to keep one or both of these schools.
- Arkansas State – Red Wolves – 12-0 / 8-0: The Red Wolves have the tools and the schedule to make a run at perfection. They have 13 starters returning from last year’s 9-4 team. We should know if they can make it early as they travel to Auburn on Sept. 10th. They can win that game, and if they do they could run the table. In conference they are not faced with a tough road game, and don’t have to play Appalachian State.
- Appalachian State – Moutaineers – 11-1 / 8-0: The Mountaineers look to have another strong team, and might be better than Arkansas State, but they have to go to Rocky Top on Sept. 1st, after that they have a fairly clear path. This could be a year where a CCG would really be good for the SBC and needed with two teams that are very likely to go 8-0 in league play.
- Georgia Southern – Eagles – 7-5 / 6-2: Georgia Southern is a team with a schedule that is going to hurt their record. They have trips to Western Michigan, Arkansas State, Appalachian State, and Mississippi. When you lose to 4 good teams on the road it can make your record look moderate. Still this is a dangerous team, and could turn any of those 4 road trips into a nightmare for the home team.
- Georgia State – Panthers – 7-5/6-2: For a school that was in an abandoned mall when I was in college it’s come a long way baby. They are a relative newcomer to football, and have made a decent showing since moving up. They will continue that this year. I have them set to lose 5 games, and those are on the road to Air Force, Wisconsin, Appalachian State, Arkansas State, and Georgia Southern. So 7-5 is a good result for this program.
- UL Lafayette – Ragin’ Cajuns – 5-7 / 4-4: Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns will have a solid year, but not be able to get over the hump for .500 play. After a 4 year run from 2011-14 where they went 9-4 each year, and represented the SBC in the New Orleans Bowl, they have fallen back in the pack, and this isn’t the year they break out again, but it could be a step forward.
- South Alabama – Jaguars – 5-7 / 4-4: This is another of those relatively new programs that is making a nice transition to FBS football. They’ve been near .500 for the last three years, and they will fall short once again, but barely.
- Idaho – Vandals – 4-8 / 3-5: The Vandals were once the scourge of the FCS, and were tearing up Big Sky country. Their sojourn into the land of FBS has been dreadful for the most part. While their rejection by the SBC, and all other leagues in FCS have led them to make the decision to return, I doubt any changes in the landscape will convince them to stay in FBS. I also don’t see their on field performance giving them any second thoughts.
- New Mexico State – Aggies – 2-10 / 2-6: Another year of NMSU football, and another 10 loss season. You have to admire their persistence, and probably feel a bit sorry for the kids. The big news out of Dallas possibly meant as much to NMSU as it did to the schools in the Big XII’s candidate pool. As it at least gives a glimmer of hope for the Aggies to find a new football home, or get to stay in the SBC.
- Troy – Trojans – 3-9 / 1-7: Troy has been in a slump since 2010, and it will continue this year. The schedule doesn’t help them much as they get the teams they might beat at home on the road, and the teams they probably can’t beat anywhere at home.
- UL Monroe – Warhawks – 2-10 / 1-7: ULM is in a slide since 2012 when they beat Arkansas, and took Auburn to the overtime. This year they have the schedule opportunities with OU and Auburn on the schedule, but the best this Warhawk squad will be able to hope for is not getting hurt too seriously in those games.
- Texas State – Bobcats – 1-11 / 0-8: This team seemed to fall apart as Franchione rode the string out, and then he retired after the season. The new coach will have a serious challenge putting the pieces back together. Luckily they get Incarnate Word at home or 0-12 could be his starting mark. The good thing there is nowhere to go but up.