Sun Belt Football Predictions
From 2006 through 2010 the Sun Belt Conference was dominated by the Troy Trojans. In 2011 we saw Arkansas State take the conference title. The Red Wolves were repeat champions in 2012, even though they were projected to finish in the bottom half of the standings. Troy finished in sixth place last year and seventh place in 2011. If there is one thing we have learned about this conference over the years, it’s that it is hard to predict.
That being said, this is the first season that picking the Sun Belt winner should be a little easier. There are some new faces in the conference with Texas State and Georgia State. We said goodbye to Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Florida International and Florida Atlantic. Now, with an eight team conference that is very top heavy, I feel safe with this year’s predictions.
2013 Sun Belt Predictions
1. Louisiana-Lafayette - The Ragin’ Cajuns will look to improve on last year’s second place finish in Sun Belt play. They finished the season with a bowl game victory and have 13 starters back from that team. We will have a good idea of how talented this Louisiana team is by mid-October. They will play on the road against Western Kentucky and Arkansas State in back-to-back weeks. Those two teams have accounted for three of the four conference losses for the Ragin’ Cajuns over the last two seasons.
2. Louisiana-Monroe - The Warhawks figure to be Sun Belt title contenders with 17 starters making their return. The offense will feature a veteran quarterback, and they are coming off a 6-2 conference record last season. ULM should be favored in all of their conference games with the exception of the final game of the season coming on the road against Louisiana-Lafayette. This game should play like a conference championship, as I have both teams sitting on a 6-0 Sun Belt record coming into the matchup. I have to give the Ragin’ Cajuns the nod on their home field which is why the Warhawks are my pick for second place this year.
3. Arkansas State - The Red Wolves are coming off back-to-back double-digit win seasons, so it is hard to pick them finishing third in the Sun Belt this year. However, with just 11 starters returning they have a lot of talent to replace. They do have a soft schedule, but I don’t believe their non-conference schedule will allow them to win 10 or more games. Losses against Auburn and Missouri seem inevitable, and they are on the road against Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky in conference play.
4. Western Kentucky - The Hilltoppers brought in a big name coach with Bobby Petrino for the 2013 season. Learning the new schemes on offense and defense could prove to be a challenge in the early season, which is why Western Kentucky is my pick to finish fourth this year. They will be at home in the final game of the season against Arkansas State, but I have the Hilltoppers losing that game.
5. Troy - The Trojans could be the biggest surprise team in the conference. They were one play away in six of their games last year from turning a win into a loss. I don’t think they will catch that many bad breaks again this year. The problem for Troy is the fact that they return just nine starters from a team that finished sixth in the conference. If there is any team that could ruin the conference predictions, I would not be surprised to see the Trojans do it.
6. Texas State - The Bobcats finished last season at +10 in turnovers, yet they managed to win just four games. It is unlikely they will win the turnover margin like that again in 2013, but they should be an improved team overall with 15 starters returning. I think those two areas will wash each other out and Texas State should finish with another 4-8 record. While some may argue their WAC opponents from last season are tougher than anything they face in the Sun Belt, I would argue that the opportunities for success are even more limited this year. The Bobcats will have a learning curve when it comes to coaching tendencies from their opponents, and they are facing many of these teams for the first time this year.
7. South Alabama - The Jaguars finished at the bottom of the conference standings last season with a 1-7 Sun Belt record. They have 17 starters returning so they are bound to show some improvement. However, they will face a difficult schedule this season with Tulane, Tennessee, Troy and Navy all being played on the road. They are going to be double-digit underdogs in most of their conference home games and a 3-9 overall record seems like a good fit.
8. Georgia State - There will be a new conference cellar dweller in the Sun Belt this year. The Georgia State Football team is in just their third season since being established in 2010. They have a great coach with Trent Miles, and I think he has the potential to turn this program around. Miles took over an Indiana State team that finished 0-12 in his first year, but he posted a 7-4 record before his departure in 2012. He is working with an empty cupboard, and it will take time for his coaching to have an impact on this team.
|Arkansas State||Georgia State||Louisiana-Lafayette||South Alabama|
|Texas State||Troy||Louisiana-Monroe||Western Kentucky|
|ACC||Big 12||American Athletic||Big Ten|
|Conference USA||Independents||MAC||Mountain West|