2015 CFB Preview – Sun Belt

    Sun Belt Go to Selection Page           The Sun Belt should be in for its wildest ride yet. By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak The

    July 7, 2015

     
       

    The Sun Belt should be in for its wildest ride yet.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    The expansion and poaching appears to have calmed down for the moment, and while there might be some looks from Conference USA in the near future, the current form should be the Sun Belt conference for a little while.

    And now the league has become even more fun because of the new blood.

    The new guys didn’t just add some more teams to the mix, they brought an upgrade.


    South Alabama entered the league in 2012 and quickly became good enough to win 12 games over the last two seasons with a bowl appearance.
    Texas State came aboard in 2013 and has 13 wins as a Sun Belt member, winning four of its last six games last season with a devastating rushing attack that’s only going to get better.

    But that was nothing compared to what was coming.

    Granted, Idaho and New Mexico State failed to set the world on fire in their move from independence purgatory to a part of the Sun Belt fraternity, and Georgia State is still trying to figure out its bearings with just one win over its two seasons in the conference, but Appalachian State and Georgia Southern came through big after they joined on last year.

    It took half the season for ASU to kick it in, but it managed to get by Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette on the road as part of a five-game winning streak to close things out. Meanwhile, the Eagles of GSU got their running game going throughout the year with an unbeaten conference campaign. And now they come back stronger.

    Georgia Southern and Appalachian State should keep on rumbling with their respective offenses, Arkansas State is loaded and Louisiana-Lafayette is dangerous, and Texas State is lurking. It’ll be a great chase at the top, while ULM is going to be solid, South Alabama should be decent with a little seasoning, and even Georgia State, Troy, Idaho and New Mexico State has the potential to be far, far better with a coaching change (Troy) and offenses returning with some dangerous playmakers (GSU, Idaho & NMSU).

    There are reasons for all 11 fan bases to be interested and excited coming into the season, and the Sun Belt title chase should be fantastic because of it.

    Bold Statements
    – The Sun Belt will have among the nation’s most interesting backs. Appalachian State’s Marcus Cox and Louisiana’s Elijah McGuire are going to be two of the nation’s top producers, while NMSU’s Larry Rose III, Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida and Texas State’s Robert Lowe are going to put up huge numbers.

    – Georgia Southern won’t beat West Virginia or Georgia, but both games are going to matter in the fourth quarter.

    – Idaho won’t come close to a winning season, but there will be signs of life. The defense will struggle again, but the offense will continue to explode. The Paul Petrino passing game will be fantastic.

    – ULM will win games on defense. The linebacking tandem of Hunter Kissinger and Michael Johnson will be among the Sun Belt’s best, while the secondary should be in for a big season. Now the offense has to come through.

    – Don’t be stunned if Troy comes up with a night-and-day improvement of a season under new head coach Neal Brown. He might only be 35, but he knows what he’s doing.

    – Texas State won’t get the attention of Appalachian State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia Southern or Arkansas State, but it’ll be deep in the hunt for the Sun Belt title. QB Tyler Jones and RB Robert Lowe will be unstoppable at times, especially running outside helped by a terrific tackle pair.

    – It’s taking a while, but NMSU is starting to come up with a few playmakers. There’s experience on defense now, but the offense will have to hang 30+ a game to stay in games.

    – The Ragin’ Cajuns will go to get another bowl game. It’s going to take a hot second half of the season, but Louisiana will get on a roll with an offense that’ll get better and better as the season rolls on.

    – Cody Clements will be a solid fill-in for Brandon Bridge. South Alabama is going to take a step back overall, but the quarterback play will be just fine.

    – Georgia State will be a fun-bad must watch. Every game is going to be a shootout with no defense and lots and lots of scoring.

    – However, LB Joseph Peterson is always worth the price of admission. Trey Payne isn’t bad, either.

    – Arkansas State has a great combination of dangerous running game/great pass rush. QB Fredi Knighten and RB Michael Gordon will be unstoppable at times.

    – The health of ASU DE Ja’Von Rolland Jones might be the key to the Sun Belt season. He has to stay in one piece.

    – There’s a nice mix of all-around talent at Appalachian State. There’s no screaming weakness – this might be the Sun Belt’s most complete team as the year goes on.

    Team That’ll Surprise
    Georgia State – Will the wins start to come? QB Nick Arbuckle is back along with most of the top targets in what should be a better and more dangerous attack, while ten starters return on defense. There’s still a talent gap, and it’s going to take some work to crank up more than just a few wins, but there’s reason to be excited about a boost.

    Team That’ll Disappoint
    South Alabama – It’s a rebuilding year for a team coming off a breakthrough six-win campaign along with a bowl appearance. Not only is QB Brandon Bridge gone, but most of the key parts of the offense are done along with nine starters on D. Even with a few nice replacements, like UAB QB Cody Clements, six wins would be terrific, but 4-8 is more likely.

    Game of the Year …
    Georgia Southern at Appalachian State, Oct. 22 – It stinks that Georgia Southern doesn’t play Arkansas State, but the two ASUs face of on November 5th in what should be one of the key games to the season. In one way or another, the Eagles and Mountaineers – the battle of the relative new guys – should decide the conference title after a 34-14 GSU blasting last season. ASU is far better and sharper now.

    5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight …

    1. RB Larry Rose III, Soph. New Mexico State
    2. NT Gerrand Johnson, Sr. ULM
    3. FS Matt Dobson, Sr. Georgia Southern
    4. RB Robert Lowe, Sr. Texas State
    5. FS Doug Middleton, Sr. Appalachian State

    Coach on the Hot Seat
    Todd Berry, ULM – All the other non-established coaches are relatively safe and secure in building or rebuilding modes. Berry came up with back-to-back decent seasons in 2012 and 2013, but going 4-8 last year was a step back for a coach with a career 56-93 record. With a decent team returning, a winning record is a must.

    5 Non-Conference Games the Sun Belt opponents had better take very, very seriously
    1. Georgia Southern at West Virginia, Sept. 5
    2. Louisiana-Lafayette at Kentucky, Sept. 5
    3. NC State at South Alabama, Sept. 26
    4. Missouri at Arkansas State, Sept. 12
    5. Appalachian State at Clemson, Sept. 12

    5 Best Pro Prospects
    1. P/PK Austin Rehkow, Jr Idaho
    2. DE Ja’Von Rolland Jones, Soph. Arkansas State
    3. RB Elijah McGuire, Jr. Louisiana-Lafayette
    4. FS Montres Kitchens, Sr. Troy
    5. OT Chris May, Sr. South Alabama

    5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
    1. QB Brayle Brown or Garrett Smith for Pete Thomas, ULM
    2. QB Brooks Haack for Terrance Broadway, Louisiana-Lafayette
    3. LB Xavier Woodson for Qushaun Lee, Arkansas State
    4. WR Richard Montgomery for Joshua McCain, Idaho
    5. LB Trey McGowan for David Mayo, Texas State

    2015 Team Previews
    Appalachian State
    Arkansas State
    Georgia Southern
    Georgia State
    Idaho
    Louisiana-Lafayette
    New Mexico State
    South Alabama
    Texas State
    Troy
    ULM
    Ten Best Sun Belt Players
    1. RB Elijah McGuire, Jr. Arkansas State
    2. RB Marcus Cox, Jr. Appalachian State
    3. QB Fredi Knighten, Sr. Arkansas State
    4. QB Kevin Ellison, Jr. Georgia Southern
    5. RB Larry Rose III, Soph. NMSU
    6. LB Joseph Peterson, Sr. Georgia State
    7. NT Gerrand Johnson, Sr. ULM
    8. FS Montres Kitchens, Sr. Troy
    9. FS Matt Dobson, Sr. Georgia Southern
    10. RB Matt Breida, Jr. Georgia Southern

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