2015 NCAA Football Preview: Sun Belt Conference

September 3, 2015

Finally, the last “conference” preview. That of course still leaves the Independents, which I’ll publish on Friday morning since none of the three teams play on Thursday night.

Let’s take a look at the Sun Belt Conference.


The Sun Belt Conference is the ideal place for a new FBS team to begin its campaign in college football’s top division. The competition is a step up above the FCS level programs, but not so much so that a program will become discouraged. Case in point: Georgia Southern, playing in its first FBS season in 2014, swept its Sun Belt competition and would have gone to a bowl game had it been eligible.

Causal college football fans know most Sun Belt teams as the squads that are steam rolled by SEC bullies in the early season and occasional November out-of-conference contest. While this is true, there is also real football being played here and it’s pretty competitive. This is definitely the weakest conference in FBS, and this year the league appears to be particularly down. But it’s a long season and there are always surprises. Perhaps one of those surprises will come from the Sun Belt, which makes it worth writing about.

College Football Playoff Contenders


If your eyes even caught that there was text underneath this segment, you likely already knew what it was going to say. No one from the Sun Belt will compete for a playoff spot. It isn’t even close.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Elijah McGuire, Louisiana-Lafayette junior running back

The normally offensively potent Ragin’ Cajuns will be in a rebuilding phase of sorts to begin the year, meaning that McGuire will be expected to be the leader early on. As a sophomore in 2014, he rushed for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns and was the go-to guy for UL-Lafayette in third and short situations.

Without Terrance Broadway at quarterback this season, UL-Lafayette will need McGuire to step up and continue to produce despite being the player that opposing defenses will game plan to stop.  McGuire is multi-talented as well, returning punts for the Ragin’ Cajuns which resulted in him leading the Sun Belt in all-purpose yards last season.

Fredi Knighten, Arkansas State senior quarterback

Knighten was once only feared for his running ability, but the senior has developed into one of the more accurate passers in the league. He also led the Sun Belt in touchdown passes thrown with 24 and will have two of his favorite targets back in J.D. McKissic and Tres Houston. Add in the 779 yards on the ground and it’s easy to see why Knighten is the most important player on the Red Wolves offense.

With his top seven receivers returning, expect Knighten to spread the wealth on offense. Spreading the field with the pass is one of the ways that he was able to create running lanes for himself, which may honestly still be what he prefers to do. With his natural speed, head coach Blake Anderson can’t do much to discourage that.

Out-of-Conference Games to Watch

Georgia Southern at West Virginia (September 5)

The spread option offense that Georgia Southern runs isn’t something that defenses see often, so this alone should keep things interesting. The only downside for the Eagles is that West Virginia has had all summer to prepare for it.

Both teams like to score, but the way that they go about it couldn’t be more different. Georgia Southern would prefer to run the ball while Dana Holgersen’s offense focuses on the short passing game. The Eagles bring back more pieces that complement their style, though, so it may surprise some people which offense looks more in sync in this one.

Arkansas State at Toledo (September 26)

The Red Wolves are one of the few Sun Belt teams that can go on the road and give a team like Toledo a game. Both of these teams should be comfortable playing in a shootout.

Toledo’s defense is not particularly strong, so Fredi Knighten could have a huge game. Arkansas State’s biggest test will be stopping running back Kareem Hunt, who will be making just his second start of the season after sitting out the first two games for the Rockets.

In-Conference Games to Watch

Georgia Southern at Appalachian State (October 22)

The Eagles drew an extremely favorable schedule for 2015, as this is the only game against top Sun Belt competition on the road for them. The same can be said of Appalachian State as well, which faces Georgia Southern, Arkansas State and UL-Lafayette at home. Of those three, this game has greatest potential to decide the division.

The Mountaineers are in trouble if the defense is as porous as it was in 2014. The only way that Appalachian State wins this game is by creating turnovers, which won’t be easy against the Eagles.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Appalachian State (November 28)

If Mark Hudspeth’s offense matures throughout the season, this game has the chance to be the highest scoring Sun Belt contest of the year. Neither team appears to have much going on in the secondary and both are known for pass-happy offensive attacks.

Taylor Lamb had one of his worst games passing against the Ragin’ Cajuns last season but the Mountaineers were still able to win by more than two touchdowns. Assuming Lamb plays better this time around, Louisiana-Lafayette will have its hands full in this one.


1. Georgia Southern (9-3, [8-0])

2. Appalachian State (9-3, [7-1])

3. Arkansas State (8-4, [7-1])

4. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4, [6-2])

5. Texas State (7-5, [5-3])

6. Troy (5-7, [4-4])

7. New Mexico State (3-9, [3-5])

8. South Alabama (3-9, [2-6])

9. Idaho (2-10, [1-7])

10. Louisiana-Monroe (2-10, [1-7])

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

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