2013 NCAA Football Preview: Sun Belt Conference

August 26, 2013

Just three and a half days left until meaningful football. Let that sink for a minute.

Unfortunately, I can’t let that sink in if I want to finish all of these previews before Thursday night. I’ve got a very busy week ahead of me.

Here is the Sun Belt Conference preview.


Thanks to Conference USA poaching a couple of the Sun Belt’s more well-known teams, it may be possible that the average fan is even less interested in this conference than in years past. But hey, at least it is still a conference, right former teams of the WAC?

All kidding aside, for the most part only alumni and passionate fans of the game will follow the Sun Belt beyond the first few weeks of the season when SEC and Big 12 teams schedule tune up games against Sun Belt opponents. But this isn’t a bad conference, and actually has a couple of teams who have put on a good show for fans willing to watch some of the minor bowl games in mid-December.

That’s really what intrigues me most about this conference. These teams won’t be seriously competing for a spot in the national title game, and most aren’t even thinking about the potential for a BCS bid. But this is still FBS division football, and it’s not going to be all that surprising when at least one of these teams gives a powerful SEC squad all it can handle in early September (or November, as Florida found out against UL-Lafayette last season). These teams live for that moment, and a select few will get to experience it.

Take a minute and get to know these teams. You never know when they might become the biggest story on SportsCenter for one fleeting moment.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid


As mentioned earlier, none of the teams in the Sun Belt are realistically vying for a spot in the national title game. The conference is generally regarded as the weakest in the FBS division, and without the WAC to compete with for that distinction this season, it’s hard to argue with that viewpoint. 

That being said, even an undefeated team in the Sun Belt would not be perceived as having gone through the “gauntlet” of teams that a team in the SEC or Pac-12 with one loss would have. An undefeated Sun Belt squad would most likely be on the edge of simply cracking the Top 16 of the BCS rankings, which is what is necessary for a non-BCS conference team in order to be automatically eligible for a BCS bid.

It’s safe to say that it is very unlikely that any Sun Belt school will run the table in 2013. There are some talented squads with very potent offenses in the conference, but it does not appear that any squad is good enough defensively to compete for three or four weeks with some of the better SEC, ACC and Pac-12 squads that they will face.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

South Alabama

The Jaguars are in their first year of eligibility for both the Sun Belt title and a postseason bowl berth, and one is definitely more attainable than the other. But the good news is that it is possible that South Alabama could win enough games to go to a bowl game in Year 1 of eligibility. Joey Jones’s squad brings back seven starters from a defense that ranked surprisingly well in the Sun Belt, which helped contribute to a lot of close games in 2o12.

If the Jaguars can find a way to eke out victories in a couple of those close games this season, they could find themselves in the middle of the Sun Belt pack by the end of the year. No longer is South Alabama the newbie in the conference; young FBS programs Texas State and Georgia State are first-year members of the Sun Belt, and should be teams the more senior members can beat. It would still be a major accomplishment for South Alabama to end up with a record good enough to qualify it for a bowl game, but it isn’t out of the question.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Kolton Browning (Sr.), UL-Monroe quarterback

The Sun Belt’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year and leader in touchdown passes thrown last season (29) is poised to lead his team to a conference title, something that he was on his way to doing in 2012 before suffering a lower body injury in the game against UL-Lafayette. Before his injury, the Warhawks had beaten Arkansas, took Auburn and Baylor down to the wire and were 6-0 in the Sun Belt. After his injury, UL-Monroe limped to a 2-3 record including a sound 45-14 beating at the hands of Ohio in the Independence Bowl.

If Browning can stay healthy, then the Warhawks will be the team to beat in the Sun Belt. He doesn’t have to do everything on his own thanks to a talented cast around him, but is a definite dual threat option who isn’t afraid to tuck it and run. It would be in his best interest to avoid taking so many hits this season, because his impact on the team was clear during his absence last season and it would be a shame for the same thing to happen again. Also, he has the chance to break conference records for passing yards and total offense, a testament to how good he’s been for so long.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

UL-Monroe vs. Oklahoma (August 31st)

The Warhawks shocked the nation early last season with a 34-31 overtime victory over then No. 8 Arkansas, immediately propelling them into the discussion as a Sun Belt contender. Could Todd Berry’s team create similar magic this season when UL-Monroe travels to Norman to take on Oklahoma? The answer is yes, thanks to Browning at quarterback and a slew of defensive pieces that return, making the Warhawks arguably the most complete team in the conference.

What should worry Oklahoma fans about this game is that UL-Monroe will come in with far more experience at the quarterback position than either Sooner that may line up behind center. Junior Blake Bell is a battering ram and has some experience, but according to the Associated Press redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who has never taken a snap in a college game, will start for the Sooners. The Warhawks are not your run of the mill tune up game; Knight better be ready to perform if Bob Stoops doesn’t want to face a lot of critics after this game.

In-Conference Game To Watch

UL-Monroe vs. UL-Lafayette (November 30th)

It is fitting that the game that will probably decide who wins the Sun Belt is also the last game of the season for both teams. UL-Lafayette and UL-Monroe aren’t just in-state rivals anymore; they are now the two best teams in the Sun Belt and also have the two most potent offenses. Like last year, this game should feature a lot of scoring. Only this time, UL-Monroe should be able to keep pace with the Ragin’ Cajuns a little better. Kolton Browning was injured early in last year’s matchup, and if he is able to stay healthy, the Warhawks will be in this game for its entirety.

The offenses will both be good, but in particular, this game will probably come down to which quarterback performs better. UL-Lafayette’s Terrance Broadway is a right-handed copy of Browning, with the ability to beat you with both his arm and his legs. Browning will definitely have an easier time picking apart UL-Lafayette’s porous defense, but Broadway proved he could torch the Warhawks with five total touchdowns in last year’s game. This game will probably go back and forth for four quarters, with a late touchdown being the difference in a close battle for the conference crown.

Conference Predictions

1. UL-Monroe (9-3, [6-1])

2. Western Kentucky (8-4, [5-2])

3. UL-Lafayette (8-4, [5-2])

4. Arkansas State (6-6, [4-3])

5. South Alabama (5-7, [4-3])

6. Troy (4-8, [3-4])

7. Texas State (3-9, [1-6])

8. Georgia State (1-11, [0-7])

Questions from the Readers

This is a section dedicated to the readers, where I will answer the questions you have sent me through Facebook, Twitter (@KBecks_ATC) or email (kbecks@aroundthecorn.com). Unfortunately, there were no questions sent regarding the Sun Belt or its teams. Feel free to ask multiple questions, as I will answer any appropriate question that is submitted in time. Thanks guys.

– K. Becks

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