Normally our college football roundtables take place on Wednesday but this week we are doing things a little differently. On Wednesday and Thursday we started our discussion on the Sun Belt Conference and it concludes today. TSS Associate Editors Bart Doan and Terry Johnson join staff writer Kevin Causey and special rotating guests in our weekly roundtable discussing all things college football.
On Wednesday we talked about players to watch in the Sun Belt Conference and on Thursday we discussed surprises in the Sun Belt. Today we look at the big picture in the Sun Belt as we are joined by Ben Moore of PantherTalk.com of the 247 Sports Network and Dusty Thibodeaux of WarhawkReport.com of the Rivals Network.
Question: Who do you expect to be the Sun Belt champ?
On Twitter @BenMoore247:
Newcomer Georgia Southern shocked many, including myself, with their ability to rip through the league in 2014 and they should be the favorite entering the season again despite significant losses on the offensive line. Their playmakers at QB and RB are back and they should be better in the front seven.
I really like App State’s potential and Arkansas State’s pedigree but my pick is Texas State. They finished 5-3 in the league last year and lost two games to Southern and South Alabama by a combined seven points. With seven returning starters including QB Tyler Jones, I like the Bobcats to go 7-1 and take home the title in 2015.
On Twitter: @WarhawkReport
Really a tough call, since there’s not a true standout team headed into the season. I expect App St to head the preseason poll with South Alabama being right there. The Mountaineers rattled off five straight to close out the 2014 season, including a win at Louisiana-Lafayette. With a lot of key parts back from that team, they should show they are contenders. The Jags added to their depth with the implosion of UAB and with the staff additions should dominate the state for recruiting to continue their rise. South Alabama’s success though depends on their ability to find a quality QB to replace the graduated Brandon Bridge.
On Twitter @CFBZ
One team that might be flying under the radar a bit is the Ragin Cajuns of Louisiana (Lafayette). With the new additions of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern and their impact, people have forgotten about Mark Hudspeth and his success. Since becoming head coach in 2011, all Hudspeth has done is go 9-4 every single season and compile a conference record of 24-7. The Cajuns will be in the running.
But, Georgia Southern is a different animal. Only one team in the league held Georgia Southern under 300 yards rushing in 2015 (Texas State) and every team gave up at least three rushing TDs to them. Will the Sun Belt coaches be able to adjust their game plans to stop the Eagles attack? The Eagles have pieces to replace but they have a tried and true system that works for them. After getting caught off-guard by Georgia Southern in 2014, the Sun Belt will catch up in 2015 but not enough to keep them from being champs.
On Twitter @SectionTPJ
I’m predicting a split championship this fall. Two teams will finish Sun Belt play with an 8-0 record.
Defending champion Georgia Southern is one of the teams that will go undefeated. The Eagles put on a clinic on how to transition from FCS to FBS last season, winning nine games, including a perfect mark in Sun Belt play. Despite losing 132 career starts on the offensive line, the Eagles will continue to score points with Kevin Ellison and Matt Breida returning. They’ll be even tougher defensively, welcoming back seven starters from a unit that led the Sun Belt in scoring defense, fourth down conversion defense, and turnover margin.
Arkansas State is the other team that I expect to finish with an 8-0 record in conference play. Led by QB Fredi Knighten, the Red Wolves return nine starters from the Sun Belt’s most explosive offense, which had 73 plays from scrimmage longer than 20 yards. The defense will be equally dangerous featuring Chris Stone and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones – arguably the top pass rushing duo in the league.
It’s a shame that these two squads don’t play each other this fall.
On Twitter @TheCoachBart
I’ll take Mark Hudspeth and you can take the field. Yeah, the questions are many. Not enough offensive linemen. Questions at running back. Who the hell is going to be the quarterback. All of which I don’t care about. At some point, some major program is going to get wise and scoop up Hudspeth, but until then, he’s hanging out here … terrorizing the Sun Belt.
The issue has been injuries, and it’s difficult to throw your chips in on a team with so many questions inside the trenches, especially on offense. At linebacker, the Cajuns are stacked, and even though it may be a battle, Brooks Haack looks up to snuff at the most important position in the game. Elijah McGuire is a guy you probably want to get to know, because he’ll be doing stuff on Sundays (please, mark this prediction). He’s a threat running and catching, and is one of the unsung stars yet to sing in 2015.
The Cajuns are a big team with a lot to replace, but something tells me this is the year for Hudspeth and friends. And maybe the year he leaves. He’s a great … great, not good … coach in waiting. Everyone else can take GSU. Give me the Cajuns.