TS Sun Belt

THUMBNAIL SKETCHES OF (130) 2021 CFB TEAMS

By Joe Gavazzi  JoeGavazziSports.com

Sun Belt

EAST

Appalachian State Mountaineers

The Sun Belt is making a dramatic rise up the Conference hierarchy.  As with last season, App State, LA Lafayette and Coastal Carolina all have the potential to be Top 25 teams.  App State has the greatest history with an amazing record of 63-15 L6Y.  Last year, under 2nd year HC Clark, they suffered losses at defensively stingy Marshall and to both Coastal and OOH LA LA.  I visited Kidd Brewer Stadium in the off season and was quite impressed with the Power 5 atmosphere of this 30,000 seat stadium which will again rock to full capacity for 6 home games.

Hard to say that Clemson/Duke transfer C. Brice can add much to a team who has been the perennial cream of the crop in Sun Belt play with a 42-10 SU record L4Y.  But with the departure of 3 year starter Zac Thomas, the addition of Brice, a Top 25 ranked recruit, could well be the homerun this team needed to challenge CCU and ULL for the Belt.  Brice comes with an extraordinary pedigree being recruited by Clemson, then transferring and starting for Duke LY.  There, despite the tutelage of Duke HC Cutcliffe, a renowned QB whisperer, Brice became a turnover machine throwing 15 INTs.  Returning to guide him is OC Ponce who was in this role from 2013-18, before spending the last two seasons at L’ville. Defense is rarely a question for App State who has allowed 20 or less points for 6 consecutive seasons. With 10 returning starters, that unit should once again be dominant assuring the Mountaineers of their place as Best in the East.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

The story of program initiator and former HC Joe Moglia hit its crescendo when Moglia’s hand-picked HC Jamie Chadwell led the Chants to a dramatic 11-1 SU, 8-4 ATS season that included 7-0 SU on the “surf turf”, a name that came into prominence last season as a nod to the proximity of Myrtle Beach and its teal color.  Everything is “teal” at CCU.  As a result of this resurgence, the Chants were 13-23 SU the previous 3 seasons, they will no longer be a “surprise team”.  In fact, with a 20 PPG defense returning 92% of their production, and an offense, led by returning QB McCall operating behind an OL that returns 137 career starts, the Chants will be no surprise this season.  A comfortable early slate will have them priced through the roof until they meet the avenging Mountaineers in Boone, NC on October 20th.  The winner most likely faces OOH LA LA for what is becoming an increasingly prestigious Sun Belt Crown.

Georgia State Panthers

Best of the rest in the SEC EAST would be Georgia State under 5th year HC Shawn Elliott.  With the momentum of consecutive winning seasons for the 1st time in school history, 19 returning starters, the 33 PPG offense, that returns intact, will be led by returning QB Brown operating behind an OL with 137 career starts.  The momentum created by a season-ending 3 game win streak, including 39-21 Bowl victory vs. WKY, will have this team challenging the top 2 of the SEC EAST.

Georgia Southern Eagles

“Good news, bad news” for the Georgia Southern Eagles under 4th year HC Lunsford.  Taking over a legendary program which was tanking under 2nd year HC Summers, Lunsford has returned the Eagles to the winning side of the ledger.  His 3 year record is 27-15 SU, 23-16 ATS highlighted by last season’s Bowl victory against LA Tech, 38-3.  We will note that home is where the heart is for Lundsford who is 17-4 SU, 16-5 ATS in Statesboro.  The bad news for the Eagles is the transfer of vet QB Werts (to Louisville).  The good news is that there are 8 starters returning to each side of the ball to continue the winning tradition under Lunsford.

Troy Trojans

After a history of double digit winning seasons under former HC Brown, the Trojans have slipped to a pair of 5 win campaigns under now 3rd year HC Chip Lindsey.  An offensive dip to just 27 PPG was partly to blame.  Looking to right the offensive ship, they have turned to a Power 5 transfer in JR QB Powell from Missouri, a Top 40 recruit.  Though his numbers in the SEC were limited, and less than gaudy, his experience against the Big Boys could make him a prime candidate for BIG FISH IN SMALL POND Trophy of the Year.  To get to the winning side of the ledger however, 11 returning starters on the defensive side of the ball will need to improve on their 26 PPG defense of last season.

WEST

LA Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns

This could well be the final season in Lafayette for 4th year HC Billy Napier.  But it won’t be the last time you see him as he is coveted by Power 5 programs.  Napier has built the beginning of a dynasty in Lafayette with a 2 year record of 21-4 SU. They are now in line for their 4th consecutive SBC-West Division Crown.  During his tenure, the defense improved from 40/493 to 22/356 LY.  In the last two seasons, the offense has averaged a combined 36/462 YPG.  Most impressively, it was the 3rd consecutive season of “200 Club” offenses. By the way, only UCF, Ohio State and Louisville have averaged that type of offensive balance and excellence for that many years.  No reason why this does not continue as OOH LA LA returns 73% of their offensive production which will operate behind Senior QB Lewis, and an OL that has 140 career starts.  The defense with a similar 10 returning starters returns 95% of their tackles.  Much like last year, I will call for the Cajuns to pull an opening week upset at Texas (beat Top 10 Iowa State 31-14 to open 2020) and go undefeated until their non-con matchup at Liberty November 20th.  Winning the SBC-West again, they will potentially avenge their lone loss of last season to CCU in the Conference Title Game.  Historically best pointspread role for Napier is on the road where he is 14-9 ATS L3Y.

Arkansas State Red Wolves

The Red Wolves look like a classic candidate for the BBB list.  Following a run of 7+ wins in the previous 9 years, they dipped to 4-7 SU in 2020.  A closer inspection of the stats however, indicates that they had improved both offensive and defensive numbers from the previous season.  Gone is previous 7 year HC Anderson (to Utah State).  Enter 1st year HC Butch Jones.  Jones inherits 17 returning starters including an OL with 148 career starts.  Jones has proven to be successful in his previous stops with an 84-54 SU career record as HC at Tenn, Cin, and C. Mich.  He spent the last two seasons on the offensive staff of Alabama.  His DC will be Rob Harley who comes off 6 seasons as an LB coach for the highly successful Pitt defense.  On the offensive side, returning QB Hatcher returns.  He has 20 starts the previous 2 years with a combined 46/12 ratio.  He will however, be challenged by Florida State transfer James Blackman who looks to make a splash in the smaller waters of the Sun Belt. Look for the Red Wolves to howl once again this season and return to the winning side of the ledger.

Texas State Bobcats

Not even the cheerleaders are as cute as they used to be on this San Marcos campus which likes to lay claim to the hottest coeds in the state of Texas.  That certainly cannot be said of the Bobcats who are now 15-57 SU L6Y, including a combined 5-19 SU under 3rd year HC Spavital.  Major culprit has been a defense which, last season, joined the defensive “200 Club” while allowing 38/495.  In a clever recruiting move, Spavital did not sign a single prospect.  He opted instead to sign 12 FBS players thru the transfer portal.  He must hope they jell quickly in fall camp or his Bobcats are headed to yet another dismal season.  Bright spot is clearly the offense with the two headed QB tandem of McBride and Vitt. 

South Alabama Jaguars 

Are we talking about another “Hidden Gem” offense with the Jaguars?  Maybe so, as in the previous 3 seasons, under now departed HC Steve Campbell, the Jags went 9-26 SU and averaged just 19/344 on offense L2Y.  There is little doubt the defense will remain no worse than decent as Wommack was highly successful as a DC at Indiana the previous 2 years.  Big upgrade comes on that offense where Wommack was able to hire new OC Applewhite, a former HC at Houston who was an assistant at Alabama L2Y.  Wasting no time, they imported a Top 10 recruit, QB Jake Bentley, who has experience at both South Carolina and more recently at Utah.  There is enough quality and experience at the skill positions to make this work. 

LA Monroe Warhawks

Yes, another possible “Hidden Gem”.  Coaching in the memory of the loss of his late father, the legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State, Terry Bowden will be coaching with plenty of motivation, and upside, as he takes over the job as head man in Monroe.  Remember, Bowden was good enough to go 47-17 SU at Auburn, then inherit an Akron team that had won 2 games in 2 years and lead them to a record of 5 or more wins (including a Bowl) in the next 4 seasons.  To reinforce what great a job that was, in the two years since he has been gone from Akron, the Zips have a 1-17 SU mark.  This year, he faces the task of rejuvenating a Warhawk team who has clearly reached the nadir of their discontent.  Last year, they were outscored 42-16 and outrushed 249/5.4 to 77/3.1.  They never led at any point in the season.  Not really sold on the experience that 10 returning starters might have on their improvement, but much in the vein of his success in Akron, there may be as many as 11 transfer starters.  To accelerate the defensive improvement, his new DC Zac Alley has been enlisted, after coaching at Clemson (under Brent Venables) and the last two years at Boise.  It is clear that the offense will improve as new OC Rich Rodriquez (HC at Arizona, Michigan and WVU) brings along his gunslinger son, Rhett, with full knowledge of the offensive system.  The road slate is brutal (KY, CCU, App State, LSU, UL Laf).  But with huge pointspread numbers in their favor, it will be no surprise to this bureau if the Warhawks slip through the backdoor more than one time.