MOBILE, AL (The Belt) — According to the Sun Belt Preseason Poll, as voted on by coaches, Appalachian State is predicted to repeat as champions of the conference.
That may be the only place we agree.
Well, I take that back. Louisiana and South are pretty much interchangeable, but I’ll get to that.
Here’s my predictions for this year’s Sun Belt final standings, teams ranked by how good they are and how well I think they will do.
- Appalachian State (8-0) — This one’s easy. The defending champions, returning most of their starters on both sides of the ball, don’t have to face Troy or Arkansas State. In fact, the toughest test they face is Idaho. Otherwise they should go 8-0.
- Arkansas State (8-0 or 7-1) — The Red Wolves should start 0-2 and win the next nine. At that point, it’s a matter of whether Troy shows up. Troy lost its season closer last year, and it fell the long fall back to earth on national television when it lost this game 35-3. It’s the better team, but as you can see, I’m high on the other defending conference champs.
- Troy (8-0 or 7-1) — To be honest with you, Nos. 2 and 3 are reversible. I think that Troy’s offense is going to be phenomenal this year, but the Red Wolves tend to show up in conference games.
- Idaho (6-2) — No team has a bigger chip on its shoulder than Idaho. Thing is, they have a good quarterback, and they returned 10 of 22 starters. They should only lose to App State and Troy, and they could pull out three of their four non-conference games.
- South Alabama (5-3 or 4-4)— If South can stay healthier, expect the defense to shine. I wouldn’t say Joey’s on the hot seat yet, but fans aren’t happy. They want to actually win a bowl game. At least this time they’ll earn it.
- Louisiana (5-3 or 4-4) — I’m betting the only losses this teams has is against the four scheduled teams that are above it in this list. This is another place where two teams are reversible. The Jaguars host the Cajuns on Nov. 4, and the winner of that game is likely to go bowling. They lost star Elijah McGuire to the Draft, but a slight retool to emphasize the returning receiving corps could help fill that gap.
- Georgia State (4-4) — The Panthers are what you would consider my sleeper team. They’re a forgettable, middle-of-the-road team. That makes them dangerous, in a way. They could very well steal the final bowl slot.
- Coastal Carolina (3-5) — You read that right. The Chanticleers are unknowns, so they ended up last on the preseason poll. However, they could easily start the season 3-1 or 4-0, depending on how well Bill Clark built the Blazers. Knowing him, the battle of the new programs is bound to make for some interesting football.
- ULM (2-6) — Let’s put it this way. I almost hit “publish” when I realized they weren’t in my master list. Matt Viator has his work cut out for him, but I don’t think this is the year his team explodes. There’s too much talent on the opposing schedules for them to gain traction.
- Georgia Southern (2-6) — How much of a difference does experience at the quarterback position make? It doesn’t make life easier for a new offensive coordinator. I expect Southern to explode on the ground, but the conference’s talent on defense should make life difficult. In a way, the Eagles are still rebuilding.
- New Mexico State (1-7) — One of the coaches gave this team a first-place vote (I’m hoping it was Paul Petrino, personally) and I’ll bet that’s because of star Larry Rose. He’s potentially the best back in the conference, but he’s no Atlas. I see three or four winnable games on this schedule, and two are non-conference.
- Texas State (0-8) — One of those games is this one. The weekend of Nov. 4 is proving to be a defining weekend in this conference (Besides South-Louisiana, Idaho visits Troy the preceding Thursday night) and that includes the battle for the bottom. The difference between the Aggies and the Bobcats is Larry Rose and a touchdown or two.
The best way someone explained this to me is “there’s the top three, and then the rest.”
It certainly feels that way. App State, Arkansas State, Troy and even Idaho could stun everyone and make the NY6 bowl, but the key word there is stun.
Speaking of which:
BONUS: Way Too Early Bowl Projections
Basically, if ULL beats Idaho, South or Tulsa, they’re going back to New Orleans. I’ll bet App State is in Mobile, Arkansas State is in Montgomery, Troy’s in Orlando and Idaho stays in-state. Georgia State goes to Arizona, and South goes to Frisco.
If ULL doesn’t win out, Troy or Arkansas State is in The Big Easy (the other is in Mobile). App State goes back to Montgomery, South’s in Orlando, Idaho goes to Arizona and Georgia State goes to Frisco.
Sticking to my preseason poll alone, you get the latter.
It’s a crapshoot, but someone’s got to do it.