The Sun Belt is with out question the worst of the FBS football conferences. It’s become even more of a waste land in recent years with so many of the top programs (Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, North Texas, FAU, FIU) leaving to join Conference USA and the conference replacing them with FCS programs.
Just this past year the Sun Belt posted a 5-28 record against the other FBS schools, including a 1-15 mark against Power 5 programs (Troy upset LSU).
With all that said, if you are an action junkie, you are going to want to take some time to get to know the 10 teams that make up this conference. That’s because so many of the conference games are played during the week and many times they will be the only games on the board for Tuesday and Wednesday action.
Note that with New Mexico St (Independent) and Idaho (moved down to FCS) both leaving the conference, the Sun Belt is splitting up into two divisions (East & West).
Sun Belt College Football Preview & Predictions
Below I give out my projected records for all 10 teams and how they will finish in the standings of each division. You can check out my 2018 college football predictions page to see who I have winning every conference.
2018 Sun Belt Projected Standings, Rankings & Betting Odds
|Pos.||Team||Conf||Overall||Sun Belt Odds|
Going into the season the East figures to be a two-way race for the top spot between Troy and Appalachian State. These two teams both tied for the best record in the Sun Belt a year ago at 7-1, but did not play each other given the format of the league.
While these are two of the most talented teams in the Sun Belt, it is worth noting that both lose a lot from last year. The Mountaineers only have 11 starters back and the Trojans return just 12. Each team also has to replace a 4-year starter at quarterback.
I’m going to give the slight edge to Troy, even though they have to go on the road to face Appalachian State (final game of the season for both teams).
The Trojans haven’t just been one of the best teams in the Sun Belt the past couple of years under head coach Neal Brown, they have proven they can hang with some of the best teams in the country. Last year they won at LSU and lost by just 11 at Boise State. In 2016 they lost by just 6-points at Clemson, who went on to win a national championship that year. I think Brown will get the most out of his new QB and the Trojans should feature one of the leagues best defense.
One thing I do want to point out with Appalachian State is just how impressive they have been since joining the FBS in 2014. Most teams struggle to compete when making the transition from the FCS. The Mountaineers are an exception with 4 straight winning seasons, including a 30-9 record over the last 3 years (21-3 in Sun Belt).
While I don’t think Georgia Southern will be able to turn this into a 3-way race, I do think the Eagles will be one of the most improved teams in the league. Georgia Southern went a mere 2-10 last year, but are bringing in a new offensive and defensive coordinator to better fit their talent and are one of the most experienced teams in the country (18 returning starters). Keep in mind the Eagles went 18-7 with a 14-2 record in the Sun Belt their first two years in the league (2014-15).
Georgia State went 7-5 last year with a 5-3 mark in league play, but it was a bit misleading as all 7 of their wins came against teams that finished the year with losing records. The Panthers have a much tougher slate this year and have just 11 starters back.
Coastal Carolina joined the conference last year and found life a lot harder than it had been at the FCS level. The Chanticleers went just 3-9 after going 33-10 over the previous 4 seasons. With just 12 starters back and arguably the toughest schedule of any team in the Sun Belt, it’s going to be another long season.
|Pos.||Team||Conf||Overall||Sun Belt Odds|
There’s not as much debate on who will win the West. Arkansas State is the overwhelming favorite to win the division and that’s evident by the conference odds you see in the table above.
The Red Wolves had a chance to earn a share of the league title last season, but lost at home in the final game of the season to Troy to finish 1-game back in the standings. That should have this team coming into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder. While they only have 12 starters back, the offense will be potent with the return of starting quarterback Justice Hansen. He helped guide Arkansas State to 37.8 ppg and 495 ypg last year.
While I’m picking the Red Wolves to finish on top, as you can see, I don’t think they are going to runaway with the title. I have ULM just one game back in the standings and there’s a chance that their showdown at Arkansas State on Nov. 17 could decide the champion.
The Warhawks will be one of the most improved teams in the league, as they have 17 returning starters (9 offense, 8 defense), including one of the conferences best signal callers in Caleb Evans. The offense was very good last year (33.9 ppg, 458 ypg), but the defense was atrocious (41 ppg, 532 ypg). I see them being even stronger on offense and if the stop unit can improve, this team will be in the mix.
Louisiana will be in the first year under head coach Billy Napier. A lot of times it takes a new coach a year or two to have a big impact, but I think Napier steps into a great situation. The Ragin’ Cajuns have 8 starters back on offense and have added a number of transfers to sure up the defense.
South Alabama is another team that will be in the first year of a new head coach, as Steve Campbell takes over in Mobile. While there are some nice pieces coming back, the Jaguars are going to be a young team and have major concerns on the offensive line with just 1 starter back.
Texas State has gone just 3-21 the last 3 years in Sun Belt play. Even with 14 starters back (7 offense, 7 defense), I still think this is going to be one of the worst teams in the league. The Bobcats simply can’t score enough (averaged 17.3 ppg last year) and don’t have the talent on defense to keep games competitive.