2023 NCAAF: Sun Belt Conference Preview

August 30, 2023

The Sun Belt Conference has been known for unpredictable results, wild endings to big games (especially non-conference ones) and coaching creativeness on both sides of the football.

Could 2023 be a year of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, though?

According to Around The Corn’s predictions (below), it may feel that way. There is a lot of talent at the top programs, and there could be a noticeable divide between the teams that are fighting for a spot in the conference title game and those that are near the bottom of the two divisions.

That being said, there is still plenty to be excited about within this conference and a lot of good football will come from it.

Teams I Like

Appalachian State

Not only did the Mountaineers not even sniff Sun Belt title contention in 2022 – Appalachian State missed the postseason entirely for the first time in seven seasons. This was after beginning the year with a thriller of a game against future ACC title game participant North Carolina, which the Mountaineers barely lost.

So, yea, there’s plenty of motivation in Boone to right the ship in 2023. Shawn Clark’s team will be breaking in a new quarterback after stability at the position for the previous two years, but there is enough talent elsewhere on the roster (and turmoil elsewhere in the conference) for the Mountaineers to seriously compete for the Sun Belt title.

South Alabama

The Jaguars had never won ten games in a season as an FBS member before 2022, and this season Kane Wommack’s team will look to build on that success and take the next step. A conference championship is well within reach for South Alabama, which returns a plethora of offensive talent including quarterback Carter Bradley, star running back La’Damian Webb and a multiple tight ends that will be used often in the passing game.

The defense should also be stout, with a front that helped the Jaguars rank third in the country in stopping the run last season nearly entirely intact. The schedule is challenging, including a trip to face defending Sun Belt champion Troy on the road in November, but with everyone that is coming back the Jaguars won’t be afraid of any challenge.

Not High On

Coastal Carolina

The Chanticleers have been an exciting team to watch the past few seasons, but much of that excitement was thanks to its creative former head coach Jamey Chadwell, who bolted for Liberty. How Coastal Carolina sets up under new head coach Tim Beck (yes, Ohio State fans, that Tim Beck) will undoubtedly be different. How the player personnel left over from the Chadwell administration responds is unknown.

There is plenty of talent still sprinkled throughout the roster, though the defense will have a new look in 2023. Additionally, the Chanticleer’s three-game skid to end the 2022 campaign could be very telling. Whether that was simply a lapse in concentration to end the year or a sign of Chadwell’s mind being elsewhere won’t ever truly be known, but if Coastal Carolina takes a step back this season it might have been an early warning sign.

Players to Watch

Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina quarterback

The senior quarterback tested the portal waters in the offseason, and who could blame him? The 6’3” 215 pound signal-caller could have made big NIL money at a Power 5 school and increased his exposure to NFL scouts, but decided to return to Conway for his final collegiate season. And how could Coastal Carolina fans or teammates be mad at him for looking? McCall is the only three-peat winner of the Sun Belt’s Player of the Year award, after all.

No question, fans, teammates and coaches alike will be happy to have McCall back under center for the Chanticleers. He’s highly entertaining and versatile enough to continue to flourish under Tim Beck, who will run things a bit differently than Jamey Chadwell. Perhaps another POY award is in store before the pros come McCalling.

Frank Gore Jr., Southern Mississippi running back

Although Gore finished his sophomore campaign as the second leading rusher in the Sun Belt, his coming out party really didn’t begin until the last two games of the season. In particular, his 329 yard explosion in the Lending Tree Bowl broke the NCAA bowl game record and came on the national stage.

Watch the Golden Eagles back in action and you’ll be reminded of his father, who last played in the NFL just a few years ago. The younger Gore’s combination of low center of gravity power and straight line speed accompanied with excellent pass catching skills make him an intriguing pro prospect in his own right.

Games to Watch (Non-Conference)

South Alabama at Tulane (September 2, 8 PM ET)

One of the best Group of Five non-conference matchups on the schedule this season. Both teams should vie for conference titles.

Troy at Kansas State (September 9, 12 PM ET)

The other Men of Troy will travel to the other Manhattan in a game that will be no walk in the park for the Wildcats.

Games to Watch (Conference)

Coastal Carolina at Appalachian State (October 10, 7:30 PM ET)

The winner of this game should control its own destiny in the Sun Belt East division title race.

South Alabama at Troy (November 2, 7:30 PM ET)

If the Jaguars are to win the Sun Belt West division, they’ll have to prove their worth on the road against the defending champs. Troy has won the last five meetings between these two rivals.



  1. Appalachian State (9-3, [7-1])
  2. Coastal Carolina (8-4, [6-2])
  3. Marshall (7-5, [6-2])
  4. James Madison (8-4, [5-3])
  5. Georgia Southern (7-5, [5-3])
  6. Georgia State (2-10, [1-7])
  7. Old Dominion (1-11, [0-8])


  1. South Alabama (9-3, [7-1])
  2. Troy (10-2, [7-1])
  3. Louisiana (7-5, [6-2])
  4. Southern Mississippi (4-8, [3-5])
  5. UL-Monroe (4-8, [2-6])
  6. Arkansas State (2-10, [1-7])
  7. Texas State (2-10, [1-7])

Conference Title Game

South Alabama at Appalachian State

Conference Champion: South Alabama

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