Everyone’s favorite conference is back in action for what looks to be another thrilling year of football. The Sun Belt (or Fun Belt, as named by the fans) fell under the national spotlight last year because of crazy colors, upsets, and exciting new teams in the college football world. This spotlight isn’t just going to go away, however, and the conference is looking at another year where they have several top teams but in the country. The three big names in play here are Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, and Appalachian State. All three teams have a shot at the title and could rank inside the top-15 before all is said and done.
Make sure to check out all of our other College Football Conference Previews.
Top Conference Players
Obviously, the Sun Belt is not going to have as many stars as the SEC or Big 10 does, but there are still a ton of great players here. The biggest name has got to be Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall. As a true freshman, McCall led the Chanticleers into a top-10 position in the nation and was recognized after upsetting Zach Wilson‘s BYU on their teal turf. Other than McCall, Coastal has some exciting players on their run-heavy offense like running back Reese White and tight end Isaiah Likely. Looking away from Coastal, Louisiana’s quarterback Levi Lewis will be right in the running for Sun Belt Player of the Year in his third campaign staring for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
On the defensive side of the ball, Appalachian State’s Demetrius Taylor is one of the best defensive linemen out there and looks to back up a six-sack, 13-tackle-for-loss season with another strong performance in 2021.
Coaches on the Hot Seat
The coach most on the hot seat has got to be Texas State’s Jake Spavital. Spavital’s current record with the Bobcats is 5-19, which is obviously less than ideal. However, things seem to be looking up for Texas State as they seem poised to make a little bit of a run in the conference this year. On the other hand, if they can’t make a run and finish at the bottom of the pack once again, Spavital does not deserve to keep his job anymore and Texas State will be looking into the coaching carousel.
Three Conference Games to Watch
While there isn’t any real prestige or glory to this conference, the top-tier games are really, really exciting. There’s going to be a jumble at the top of the standings in both divisions, so every game counts, and everything is always on the line for the group of five teams trying to make a New Year’s Six Games.
Unfortunately, Louisiana does not play Coastal Carolina this year. This would have been the best game and probably will be when both presumably make the conference championship game.
Anyways, there are still several matchups worth pointing out, so let’s get into them.
Coastal Carolina vs. Appalachian State
This game, both this year and last, practically decides who will head to the conference championship game. Coastal Carolina was victorious in 2020 with a 34-23 win in Conway. This year, though, the game heads to Appalachian State. Appalachian State is always a very dangerous program and last year’s three-loss campaign is one of the worst in a while. If they can get back to their winning ways in 2021, the stakes in this game will be so high, and it should come down to the wire. All in all, we are predicting an Appalachian State upset in Boone, but only by one score or less.
Appalachian State vs. Louisiana
It’s worth mentioning now that Louisiana has an absolutely daunting schedule. Besides this game here, where they face a top-three team in the conference, the Ragin’ Cajuns also go up against Texas and Liberty in two non-conference games that will be much closer than a lot of people would expect. In this one, however, we have probably the best matchup we can ask for. Appalachian State got pretty unlucky having to face both Louisiana and Coastal, but if they can upset both, they would be in prime condition to win the conference. Even with just the upset over Coastal, this could be a preview of the conference championship. In the hostile environment, however, this should be one that Louisiana handles pretty easily, dropping the Mountaineers on par with Coastal Carolina.
Georgia State vs. Georgia Southern
Probably the “biggest” and newest rivalry in this conference is the Modern Day Hate Rivalry between Georgia State and Georgia Southern. Ever since establishing this rivalry in 2014, the games have not disappointed. Georgia State holds a 4-3 series lead and three of these games have been decided by less than a touchdown. This year’s game will feature a really nice combination of offense and defense. Georgia State’s star quarterback, Cornelius Brown, is poised to have a big day while his coworkers on the defensive end need to get after it to stop an incredible Georgia Southern rushing attack. In the end, Georgia State holds on and wins for the second year in a row.
One Bold Prediction
A Sun Belt team heads to a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. This isn’t improbable, but it certainly isn’t likely. The only way this can happen is between Louisiana and Coastal Carolina. Both teams should be ranked at the beginning of the season, and either will have to win out from thereon. If Louisiana does it, they should easily get in because of their tough schedule. If Coastal does it, there will still be some debate if they deserve a New Year’s Six, just like last year. This would be a really cool sight to see for the neutral fan and would show some hope for the lower group of five conferences.
Dark Horse Teams
There are two dark horses this year: Georgia State and Arkansas State.
We’ve already touched on Georgia State a little bit, but they are truly an upset threat to the top teams nightly. Brown is one of the best quarterbacks in this conference and the Panthers have a truly sublime pass-rush to back it up.
Arkansas State is a dark horse because of new head coach Butch Jones. This program wasn’t really trending up or down last year, but with an experienced coach like Jones, we might see the Red Wolves get into a bowl game. Jones isn’t the best coach in the world, but he’s done it at the highest level, meaning he’s got what it takes to knock off a few of these really good teams.
- Coastal Carolina
- Appalachian State
- Georgia State
- Georgia Southern
- Arkansas State
- Texas State
- South Alabama
In hindsight, the conference won’t really have any major shakeups compared to last year’s standings. In the East, Coastal will only edge out Appalachian by a game or so. The only change from last year is Georgia State leapfrogging Georgia Southern. Looking at the West, Louisiana will run away with this one once again, but there is some movement from teams like Arkansas State and Texas State. All in all, we do see some parody from this conference but when these teams are ranked nationally, no one is complaining.
Conference Championship Matchup
The game that everybody is waiting for should finally arrive on Dec. 4, 2021, and will occur at someone’s home stadium, though it’s really too hard to tell who will be the host as of now. This is going to be an absolute thriller and potentially a battle for who will qualify for a New Year’s Six Bowl. This game won’t necessarily be a shootout, nor will it be a defensive matchup. Rather, it will be even throughout. Expect lots of running from both teams, especially Coastal Carolina. Ultimately, Coastal’s talent will just be a little too much for Louisiana to handle, and they will end up victorious in a game that is decided in the last two minutes.
Conference Champion: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
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