SUN BELT – EAST
APPALACHIAN STATE Mountaineers
New coach, no matter! 1st year HC Shawn Clark is the Mounties 3rd new coach in 3 years. The 5 year reign of former HC Satterfield resulted in a record of 48-6 SU. Last year, HC Drinkwitz took over the controls and led the team to a 13-1 SU record. The only loss was to Georgia Southern, for consecutive years. Remember that! Clark has been a coach here since 2016 as first OL Coach and as Assistant last year. He does bring in a pair of new coordinators. He is also fortunate enough to inherit 13 returning starters including 8 on the offensive side of the ball led by the league’s best signal caller in QB Thomas. Statistically speaking, two things have remained consistent for this program. In the last 4 seasons, they have rushed for at least 224 RYPG on 5.4 YPR. Secondly, the defense has allowed 20 or less PPG. Mounties are once again the class of the Belt. Expect them to be in their 6th consecutive Bowl game after winning the Sun Belt Title yet again. 13 spring practices with the new coaching staff are a further advantage.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN Eagles
The Eagles have been good enough to defeat league leader App State for consecutive seasons. But they have still gone only 17-9 SU as they head into the 3rd full season under HC Lundsford. This highly successful option attack will greatly benefit from the return of senior QB Werts, who is among 8 returning offensive starters. Controlling the point of attack is important to GA South, who relies on a clock-eating option offense. Toward that end, in the 2 years under Lundsford, they have outrushed the opponents 259/5.3 to 138/3.8. A veteran OL returns 6 players with experience. The Eagles run deep with returning starter production and experience. With 6 spring practices under a coaching staff who has been together all 3 years under Lundsford, look for a top3 defense in the Belt to nicely compliment the offensive attack for a team who will once again challenge App State for Belt superiority.
Under former HC Neal Brown, who left for greener pastures of WVU in 2019, Troy compiled a 3 year record of double digit seasons with an overall mark of 31-8 SU, outscoring their opponents by an average margin of 32-20. 2nd year HC Lindsey, a former OC at Auburn, struggled in his 1st season. Though the offensive numbers improved marginally, despite 6 returning defensive starters, that unit took a major hit when they allowed 13 points more and 88 yards more than the previous season. Question is, under a new coach, can we truly count on them to be a team who will bounce back big under a coaching staff who failed to prove their mettle last season. Major loss is QB Barker who could possibly be replaced by Parker McNeil who had gaudy numbers as the JUCO Offensive Player of the Year last season. A difficult prognosis for this bureau until we see them in action in 2020.
GEORGIA STATE Panthers
75% of their lettermen returning, along with 8 starters on each side of the ball, may bode well for the Panthers as they enter their 4th season under HC Elliott. Major loss however is QB Ellington who was outstanding in the 1½ years he was at the helm. Ellington however, was injured in early November. With him went the Georgia State fortunes as they finished the year on a 1-4 SU, ATS slide being outscored 177-85 in their 4 losses. Unfortunately, that late season slide has become a trend for the Panthers who are now on closing season runs of 2-13 SU, ATS combined under Elliott. This year, a pair of red shirt freshman will battle for the job along with recruit Colasurdo, a highly touted prep player from South Carolina. We will watch this team’s offensive output (31/440 last year) closely, as the defense under Elliott has underperformed allowing 37 PPG combined for a pair of “200 Club” defenses. Not to be trusted ‘till otherwise proven.
COASTAL CAROLINA Chanticleers
Two full seasons under 3rd year HC Chadwell have produced identical 5-7 SU marks. Of major concern is a defense that has allowed 30 or more PPG in each of the previous 4 seasons. 6 returning starters to the defensive side of the ball hope to improve greatly from 15 spring practices, the most of any team in the Nation. A pair of junior signal callers in Payton and Carpenter may lose their shot at starting to RS McCall who is their best dual threat. With 8 total returning starters to the offensive side of the ball, and improved recruiting in recent years, the Chants offense will again be the crown jewel of this team. In short, it looks like CCU’s best team in 4 years. Unfortunately, the country will not be availed the opportunity to witness the teal turf of Brooks Stadium which has expanded to nearly 20,000 in hopes of hosting the Myrtle Beach Bowl this year.
SUN BELT – WEST
OOH-LA-LA Ragin’ Cajuns
Louisianna-LaFayette again appears to be the class of the Sun Belt West. The most amazing thing is that 3rd year HC Billy Napier did not bolt the comfort of the Sun Belt for a higher paying opportunity. Napier, you will recall, was the highly successful Offensive Assistant at Alabama and Arizona State. Those jobs had him well prepared to lead OOH-LA-LA to a pair of seasons in which they increased their win total from 7 to 11 victories, culminating with a Bowl victory vs. Miami OH. 2019 OOH-LA-LA increased their offensive performance by 6 points and 71 yards while improving their defense by 14 points and 63 yards. In so doing, the attack unit averaged 38 PPG with a “200 Club” offense that ran AND passed for 237 YPG including 258/6.3 overland. A pair of 1st round draft picks in their OL will be offset by the return of a pair of quality signal callers in Lewis and Magalei. They will be joined in the backfield by veteran RBs Mitchell and Regas. With an outstanding recruiting class and quality replacements for the OL, it is All Systems Go for clearly the best team in the West, who returns 80% of their lettermen, and will again challenge App State, a team who has defeated them in the last two Title Games for Belt superiority. We look to again profit for what figures to be Napier’s final year at OOH-LA-LA.
ARKANSAS STATE Red Wolves
Even a Sports Handicapper can figure out this one. 7th year HC Anderson has made a clear priority of Sun Belt games. Check out these numbers! In the last 6 years, his Red Wolves are on combined runs of 26-12 ATS to finish the season. That goes hand-in-glove with Anderson’s record of 36-12 SU in Belt play. Prior to that, Anderson’s Red Wolves are a combined 6-15 ATS. Get the picture? I believe I have. Last year was a challenging one for Anderson who lost his wife just prior to the season. His Wolves battled onward, still recording a consecutive season of 8-5 SU highlighted by a 34-26 Bowl win vs. FIU. The potent Red Wolves offense was again a notch above a defense that allowed 34/479 with “200 Club” defensive numbers almost weekly. That stop unit will be the only thing holding back the Wolves this season. A pair of quality signal callers in QB Bonner and Hatcher each return as the Wolves go for their 10th consecutive winning season and Bowl Bid. A good chance to do so with the continuity of coordinators, 11 spring practices, and a once again potent offense that returns 9 starters including an OL that is the most veteran in the league with 128 combined starts. Ark State again figures to challenge, but just fall short, against a OOH-LA-LA team against whom they are 0-2 SU, ATS L2Y.
SOUTH ALABAMA Jaguars
Jags were the only Belt team to have zero spring practices, thus offsetting 15 returning starters. The previous two years, under 3rd year HC Campbell, have seen USA go a combined 5-19 SU. Though the defense showed modest improvement, the Jags had a pitiful offense that averaged just 18/331. With a major roster turnover, hopes are for improvement in the 3rd year under HC Campbell who is now beginning to fill the roster with his own recruits. As for the offense, hopes fall to Chance Lovertich who led Miss Gulf State CC to a National Title, and is 58-1 SU as a starter including a trio of State High School Titles. He is joined by a pair of his teammates from MGCU and 5 other JUCOs who Campbell hopes will improve the fortune of this attack unit. Several prognosticators say this team is better than last year’s edition by double digits. I will have to see them prove it.
LA MONROE Warhawks
5th year HC Matt Viator has failed to prove his mettle in his tenure at Monroe. In 4 years at the helm, he has yet to post a winning season with a record of 19-29 SU, 19-26 ATS. In fact, the Warhawks have had just one winning season in the last 10 years. Do not let the 13 returning starters give you hope for a better season. Among their losses is starting QB Evans who passed for nearly 3000 yards with 61% C and 21/10 ratio. They will be hard-pressed to replicate a “200 Club” offense that averaged 32/462. Also gone from that unit are 4 OL, the 2 best WR, and their OC Matt Kubik. Further negatively indicating their early season performance has been an outbreak of COVID, with their practices interrupted, and not expected to return until Monday, August 31st. In short, this is a play against team whose offense will drop off dramatically. With the 8 returning defensive starters being responsible for a “200 Club” defense that allowed 39/485, you want no part of the Warhawks especially in the early going.
TEXAS STATE Bobcats
The Bobcats figure to challenge Monroe for the basement in the Western side of the Belt. More was expected in the maiden voyage of 2nd year HC Spavital who came to San Marcos as the highly touted OC at WVU. In his maiden voyage, despite 19 returning starters, his Bobcats were outscored 33-18 and outgained 415-321. It resulted in a 3-9 SU, ATS season, meaning Texas State now has a 5 year mark of 13-47 SU, 22-38 ATS. Offensive hopes rest with Memphis transfer QB McBride. But 8 returning offensive starters are not necessarily an advantage. With only 4 starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, it will be up to Spavital to incorporate a plethora of JUCOs and transfers with little time to practice. Much like ULM above, you want no part of this team until they indicate improvement. Biggest loss of the season in San Marcos will be the loss of the ability to watch the Bobcats cheerleaders on the sidelines. They are widely considered to be the most attractive unit in the State.