The Sun Belt has always been FBS’s version of the whipping boy. The jobber if you will. Some teams would almost rather schedule a SBC team than a high-calibre FCS team. Crazy I know. I would never say these things to Mark Hudspeth’s face (since he seems to be the Hulk Hogan of college football coaches) but they were true. But, along with Hudspeth’s Ragin Cajuns, there are a few teams who are not pushovers anymore. Which means in the end these teams will move up to Conference USA or the American Conference. Sorry guys, it’s inevitable. Now on to the predictions.
- Louisiana Ragin Cajuns (8-0 conference, 10-2 overall) – Speaking of Hulk Hudspeth, his Ragin Cajuns are the absolute dominant force of the Sun Belt. I would be shocked if they didn’t win yet another SBC title. And now the question is…when does Conference USA extend an invite to a team that could probably win the C-USA West this year?
- Arkansas State Red Wolves (7-1 conference, 8-4 overall) – Yes, it appears the Red Wolves are only a game back in the Sun Belt standings of Louisiana but make no mistake; if they somehow beat the Cajuns on the road in their October showdown it will be a big upset. I do think the Red Wolves should concentrate on keeping their head coach for more than one season before trying to dominate the conference.
- South Alabama Jaguars (6-2 conference, 7-5 overall) – USA! USA! USA! The University of South Alabama has a built-in cheer for their team. That’s just peachy. But seriously, the Jags, along with UTSA, are the newest teams who have figured it out quickly and have quickly become contenders in their respective conferences. This year should be USA’s first bowling experience. Next year, who knows? With an upset or two they could win their first conference title which is amazing for a program that has been around for less than a decade.
- ULM Warhawks (5-3 conference, 6-6 overall) – The Hawks are quickly becoming the poor cousins of the Ragin Cajuns. It wasn’t too long ago when a man named Kolton Browning was under centre that this team was looking like the next Sun Belt (duck) dynasty. They’re still relevant in the conference but other programs are catching up. If there is no recruiting push then this may be the last bowl game for a while for this team.
- Georgia Southern Eagles (4-4 conference, 5-7 overall) – “Welcome to FBS football, just put your bags down over there. So let’s go through the orientation. Since this is your first year, you will need to lose a minimum of 10 games…excuse me? You won’t be doing that. OK then well you can’t be .500 in your league and…what’s that? No, again? Tough school. Well you can’t be in the upper half of your new conference standings and expect to be in a bowl in the next year or two. Sorry? You plan on doing exactly that? I give up.”
- Troy Trojans (4-4 conference, 6-6 overall) – For a team that, over the last ten years, has seemed on the cusp of something special in the conference or on the brink of moving on to greener pastures, things sure have stalled for Larry Blakeney’s Trojans. And to be honest, there is a bit of a hot seat here despite the fact the head coach has been around the program for 30 years. Would be a tragic end to his career to end on a losing season. Shouldn’t happen but .500 is probably needed to give him another year at the helm.
- Georgia State Panthers (3-5 conference, 5-7 overall) – OK so this should be considered going out on a limb. I had picked the Panthers to win three games last year and they won none. And they looked shitty being winless. They almost made Miami of Ohio look like a good team. So to say they win five this year reeks of brain damage on my part. However, their schedule is quite easy and if they don’t win even three then, despite the fact this is a newer program, they should re-think what they are doing down there in Atlanta.
- Texas State Bobcats (3-5 conference, 4-8 overall) – This should look like another odd pick. Many are picking the Bobcats to at least be .500 this season if not going bowling. Just like in GSU’s case, schedule has a lot to do with this. Overall, a talented team by Sun Belt standards but a tough conference schedule (by Sun Belt standards) and a relatively tough non-conference sked for a team that isn’t quite ready for prime time. Give Dennis Franchione one more year and it should happen for this program.
- Appalachian State Mountaineers (2-6 conference, 4-8 overall) – This team should have moved up just after their three FCS titles in a row. That was when they were at their apex. Around the Upset of the Century against Michigan. Everyone was talking about Mountaineers and how they would be the next team to move up. Now they are just another FCS call-up and it might take a few years for them to be even competitive in the Sun Belt.
- New Mexico State Aggies (2-6 conference, 4-8 overall) – For most programs, winning only two conference games and four games overall should be signs of concern. Not in Las Cruces though! That should be cause for celebration. This team hasn’t gone bowling in more than half-a-century. HALF…A FUCKING…CENTURY. That is the kind of poor play that not even Cleveland Browns fans could fathom. Finally they are on the right track and here’s hoping they keep it up.
- Idaho Vandals (0-8 conference, 0-12 overall) – Because every year needs at least one winless team, I present to you Exhibit A: the University of Idaho’s football Vandals. A team so bad that plays in such a small crappy stadium, it is a wonder how this team ever got to the top division in the first place. They basically had to beg the Sun Belt to admit them (although the SBC wants a conference championship like everyone else so there is strength in numbers) after the Mountain West told them to fuck right off. If this team wins even once, colour me shocked because this is arguably as bad as it gets this season.
No conference title game for the Sun Belt either…yet. Karl Benson is being Karl Benson and will search for the next Sun Belt team. And despite the fact he wanted Montana for the WAC and probably still wants Montana for the Sun Belt (Montana, in a wise move, declined both times), doesn’t mean he won’t go to the Montana well again. Chances are we will see a Sam Houston State or a Central Arkansas or a team like that from the south, you know, in Sun Belt territory (unlike Idaho since the FBS has decided geography is for pussies). Not that SHSU or UCA are bad teams; they wouldn’t be the worst team in the SBC this year. Expect expansion sometime in the next five years, just in time for Division 4 to be announced which will make these conference championship shenanigans a moot point and make it pointless to expand in the first place unless a hot program is looking for a home.