Sun Belt Conference Preview

DEFENDING CHAMPS GEORGIA SOUTHERN MUST FIGHT OFF MULTIPLE SUN BELT CHALLENGERS

The Georgia Southern Eagles had an amazing debut season in the Sun Belt Conference last year. They were supposed to finish in the lower half of the newly expanded league. Instead, they ran the table for a perfect 8-0 mark in conference play. And, they just missed upsetting NC State and Georgia Tech in September!

All that got them was a banquet at the end of the season, because new members to the FBS from the FCS can't go to bowls in their first season. CRIME! How can an 8-0 team that isn't on probation for rules violations not be allowed to play in a bowl?!

Anyway, Southern lost some key starters from last year's roster. So, there could be a real dogfight at the top of the Sun Belt. Let's take a look at our team profiles. As always, our information comes from the respected Athlon preseason publication.

Arkansas State
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 20 on offense, 83 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Blake Anderson
Notebook: The Red Wolves are Athlon's pick to win the league because they return such a strong offense to a team that played in a bowl last year. Defense is obviously a concern. And, we have to admit that we're not as optimistic about this program as others are. Last year's group struggled vs. quality, and dodged Georgia Southern in the conference schedule rotation (which they do again this season!). Let's see what happens out of the gate at USC and vs. Missouri before penciling in a title. Quarterback Fredi Knighten will put on a show. A poor defense will let their opponents do so as well.

Georgia Southern
2014 Record: 9-3
2014 Rankings: 16 on offense, 57 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Willie Fritz
Notebook: Not great numbers in terms of returning starters. But, the same was true last year and the team ROCKED! Kevin Ellison is back at quarterback, which gives the Eagles a chance to repeat. The opener at West Virginia will provide a good test. Maybe a mid-November meeting with SEC power Georgia will get interesting too. Coach Fritz really impressed in his debut season, exceeding expectations by a mile. If he does that again, he'll get hired away quickly.

Louisiana Lafayette
2014 Record: 9-4
2014 Rankings: 54 on offense, 72 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth
Notebook: Tough spot here for the Ragin' Cajuns, as they lose a lot of talent on both sides of the ball including quarterback Terence Broadway. They were the only Sun Belt team to win a bowl game last season. And, the program does have some staying power by Sun Belt standards. It helps that they don't have to face Georgia Southern (missed them last year too). Let's see what happens in the season opener at Kentucky. For now, you have to assume the offense is going to struggle badly vs. defenses who know what they're doing.

Appalachian State
2014 Record: 7-5
2014 Rankings: 27 on offense, 25 on defense
Returning Starters: 10 on offense, 10 on defense
Head Coach: Scott Satterfield
Notebook: Wow...TEN starters return on BOTH sides of the ball. And, that's for a team that went 6-2 in league play. Heck, this team won its last six games of the regular season while closing on a tear (they beat Arkansas State and Lafayette on the ROAD!). If you assume that the Mountaineers found themselves midseason...then it seems very likely that THESE GUYS should be the real favorites in the Sun Belt. We're giving them a lot of respect in our own proprietary Power Ratings. The league may soon regret inviting Georgia Southern and Appalachian State to join! Those teams play on October 22 by the way. Big early game at Clemson on September 12.

Texas State
2014 Record: 7-5
2014 Rankings: 24 on offense, 99 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Dennis Franchione
Notebook: Nice sleeper potential for a group that went 5-3 in league play and returns quarterback Tyler Jones. Defense is going to be a concern given last year's poor ranking. The season opener at Florida State will be a paycheck game. If the Bobcats can survive the first month of league play (Lafayette/South Alabama/Georgia Southern in succession), things will get easier after that. Note that this team finished 5-3 in the Sun Belt last season and lost a 3-point heartbreaker at home to undefeated Georgia Southern. A lot to like.

South Alabama
2014 Record: 6-7
2014 Rankings: 84 on offense, 65 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 2 on defense
Head Coach: Joey Jones
Notebook: A bit of a scam that this team got to play in a bowl game given a 1-4 finish and double digit league losses to Georgia Southern, Lafayette, and Arkansas State. They were killed by graduation, which means things are likely going to be bleak in 2015. They caught a break when many Alabama-Birmingham players (including quarterback Cody Clements) matriculated to the program when UAB disbanded. Monitor September matchups at Nebraska, at San Diego State, and vs. NC State to see how that's working out.

Louisiana Monroe
2014 Record: 4-8
2014 Rankings: 106 on offense, 47 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Todd Berry
Notebook: Interesting group...as that 4-8 mark includes a lot of naibliter losses vs. respected teams. The Warhawks almost beat Texas A&M last November. Losses to Georgia Southern, Lafayette, Appalachian State, and Texas State were all by a touchdown or less. The defense deserved better. The offense must solve some problems for 2015 to be any better.

Troy
2014 Record: 3-9
2014 Rankings: 100 on offense, 107 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Neal Brown (first year)
Notebook: This program has fallen on hard times. Coach Brown used to run the offense here, before moving on to other up-tempo programs (Texas Tech and Kentucky). Eight returning starters on that side of the ball, including Brandon Silvers at quarterback, should mean the scoreboard will be lighting up. That defense though...ugly! Look to play Overs early on the road vs. NC State and Wisconsin.

New Mexico State
2014 Record: 2-10
2014 Rankings: 49 on offense, 113 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 10 on defense
Head Coach: Doug Martin
Notebook: Their best chance to compete last year was when opponents took them too lightly. Things could get better this year because of all the returning talent. But, it's hard to look over the rosters and see much of a climb in the standings. New Mexico State should have a slightly better Power Rating while still being a distant non-contender. Maybe a good result in the road opener at Florida will change our minds about that.

Idaho
2014 Record: 1-10
2014 Rankings: 53 on offense, 112 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Petrino
Notebook: It's brutal that this program has to deal with a Sun Belt travel schedule. Then they also have paycheck games at USC (September 12) and at Auburn (November 21). Only saving grace is that quarterback Matt Linehan returns to help guide the challenge. That lousy defense will really wear down because of all the travel.

Georgia State
2014 Record: 1-11
2014 Rankings: 85 on offense, 116 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 10 on defense
Head Coach: Trent Miles
Notebook: The only win last year came in the season opener against tiny Abilene Christian. And, it was a 38-37 home thriller. The Panthers are way off the pace of being consistently competitive in this league. Returning experience should help them improve their Power Rating while still being relative blowout fodder. Overmatched.

One man who's never overmatched is JIM HURLEY! That will be true in college football again come September. But, the winners keep piling up every day in Major League Baseball. Be sure you hook up with NETWORK after the All-Star Break for more BIG, JUICY WINNERS. If you have any questions about baseball or football service, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours this week.

We'll have a special All-Star Break baseball report Tuesday in the NOTEBOOK. Then we'll come back on Friday to resume our regular in-season schedule...

Tuesday: MLB All-Star Break Report Card
Friday: MLB Series Preview...LA Dodgers at Washington
Saturday: College Football Preview...Big 10 "East"
Sunday: College Football Preview...Big 10 "West"
Monday July 20: MLB Series Preview...Pittsburgh at Kansas City
Tuesday July 21: MLB Series Preview...Baltimore Orioles at NY Yankees

Some great baseball matchups ahead. And, the arrival of the Big 10 on our preview slate means we start to focus on the MAJOR conferences. Be sure you're printing all of these previews out for future reference! See you football fans on Saturday...and you baseball bettors tomorrow!

25
Sep

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