What can be said about the Sun Belt Conference that hasn’t been said already? We know it’s fun. #FunBelt: It’s a great rhyme and hashtag, and it provides a mid-week college football fix every October.
Last year, the Sun Belt also boasted some impressive football.
Six teams made a bowl game out of the Sun Belt Conference last season. Four of those teams — led by the co-conference champions Appalachian State and Arkansas State — as well as Troy and Idaho, won their bowls. In addition, Troy reached the Top 25 in program history, marking a new milestone for the league as a whole.
There’s a lot of intrigue with those four teams. In fact, one of those teams might take the conference crown outright this year.
Team to Beat: Appalachian State
Back-to-back 10 win seasons, back-to-back Camellia Bowl victories! The last two seasons have gone well for the Mountaineers. They led most of the game against Tennessee, losing in overtime and defeated Old Dominion the following week.
Appalachian State won nine of its last 10 games, including the bowl game over Toledo. Their only loss during that stretch came in a back-and-forth against Troy. Even in that instance, the Mountaineers led until the final minute.
This is a team that brings back quite a bit, most notably Maxwell Award Watch list member and Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year running back Jalin Moore.
Last season, Moore rushed for 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns. With quarterback Taylor Lamb back, the running game looks well intact. Lamb complemented the running game with 505 yards and and nine touchdowns on the ground, last season.
Defensively, the team brings back leading tackler and Nagurski Trophy preseason watch candidate , linebacker Eric Boggs. Last season, Boggs had 98 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions.
Appalachian State has both Georgia and Wake Forest as non-conference opponents. They open up the season in Athens. A win in that road environment against Georgia could bring tons of attention to the Mountaineers.
The team has a favorable schedule in the sense that they don’t play last year’s co-champs Arkansas State, nor do they face Troy.
However, they will get a chance to welcome Coastal Carolina to FBS with a home game Oct. 21.
Appalachian State is a team that can still win 10 games even if the Mountaineers don’t win the Sun Belt.
Team Most Likely to Surprise: Coastal Carolina
The Chanticleers are the new kid on the block in the Sun Belt Conference. After years of success in FCS, Coastal Carolina now gets the opportunity to shine in FBS.
Coastal Carolina has only been around as a football program for less than 15 years. During that time, the Chants won seven Big South conference titles, and appeared twice in the FCS quarterfinals.
Head coach Joe Moglia introduced an innovative offensive style in recent years that made Coastal Carolina stand out
The Chanticleers don’t have the same historic success in FCS as rival Appalachian State brought when it moved into the Sun Belt. However, it’s still a solid program and could really add intrigue to the Sun Belt — not to mention the world’s only teal-colored field.
They could surprise a lot of people, but it might not be easy. They’ll have to replace top running back De’Angelo Henderson.
Also, there’s a back-to-back stretch in October when the Chanticleers take on both Arkansas State and Appalachian State on the road. If they win at least one of those games, they’ll be in good shape. If they win both, it could make a big statement.
Since this will be Coastal Carolina’s first year in FBS, they’re not bowl eligible until next season.
Team Most Likely to Disappoint: Louisiana-Lafayette
It’s hard to pick against a coach who can out-bench press me (by like a lot). It really is!
The Ragin’ Cajuns won four of their last six games to get to bowl eligibility status. They’d lose in the New Orleans Bowl to Southern Miss.
Louisiana-Lafayette will go into this season without their top rusher. They don’t have Elijah McGuire to rely on in the backfield.
The Cajuns have tough road games on their schedule this season. They have to go to Idaho (Kibbie Dome y’all), Arkansas State and Appalachian State.
If that’s not enough, Louisiana-Lafayette has back-to-back non-conference road games at Tulsa and Texas A&M. It’s not going to be easy being bowl eligible again this season.
Offensive Player to Watch: Brandon Silvers, Troy
There were a couple of likely candidates to choose from, including the reigning Offensive Player of the Year Moore.
However, senior quarterback Brandon Silvers for Troy could have a big year. Last season, Silvers led the Sun Belt in touchdowns (23), completions (293) and attempts (460). Silvers was also towards the top in the other passing categories.
It’s clear that Silvers is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference. He’s done a solid job at Troy. With all the success he’s had, Silvers is on the Maxwell Award Preseason watch list.
Silver’s two favorite targets, Emanuel Thompson and Deondre Douglas, will both be back in the fold this season. Both receivers combined for 12 touchdowns last season. Thompson had 80 catches for 820 yards, while Douglas caught 60 for 740.
Troy’s offense could put up some pretty big numbers with that tandem.
Defensive Player to Watch: Aikeem Coleman, Idaho
Aikeem Coleman is undoubtedly one of the top defensive players returning to the line-up for Head Coach Paul Petrino and Idaho this season. Last season, Coleman was voted Newcomer of the Year in the Sun Belt.
The defensive lineman finished fourth in the conference last season in sacks with eight. Coleman also led the Vandals in tackles for a loss with 11.
With that in mind, Coleman was selected as one of the Nagurski Preseason Watch List candidates.
If Idaho is going to take another step forward, they’ll need Coleman to cause chaos in that backfield.