The Sun Belt put their name on the map early on by going 3-0 against the Big 12 in the opening weekend of the season. Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas State beat Kansas, Iowa State, and Kansas State. And, the “Fun Belt” rode that momentum throughout the season. The Sun Belt will likely have two teams ranked in the preseason top 25 and you can forget about perennial power, Appalachian State. Now, let’s unveil our 2021 Sun Belt standings predictions.
5. Georgia Southern
The Eagles return eight starters from an offense that averaged over 27 points a game last year. However, replacing quarterback Shai Werts may prove to be problematic. But, Georgia Tech transfer Justin Tomlin will attempt to do just that. His experience in running the option should covert over quite nicely. They draw Appalachian State, Louisiana, and Coastal Carolina on this year’s schedule but host two out of the three. It does appear they could take a step back in 2021.
Troy finished the 2020 campaign a game under .500 with a 5-6 season. But, that was slightly deceiving as three losses were by a combined nine points. Chip Lindsey is in his third year at the school and is now getting his players in to run his system. The quarterback position should be solid between returning starter Gunnar Watson and Missouri transfer Taylor Powell. Signs point to an improving defense with 10 starters returning and with having three of their last four at home, the Trojans are on an upward trajectory.
3. Georgia State
There’s a lot to like about the 2021 version of Georgia State. First, they bring back 19 starters including all 11 from an offense that averaged over 33 points per game. The Panthers should have no problem equally the three games they scored over 40 points in 2020. The biggest challenge is the schedule which appears to be the toughest in the conference. With road games against North Carolina, Auburn, Georgia Southern, Louisiana, and Coastal Carolina even though they will be improved they might struggle to eclipse last year six-win total.
2. Appalachian State
The Mountaineers are hoping the third time is a charm. The third time is in reference to transferring quarterback Chase Brice who is looking for success with his third team. Appalachian State might feel like the third wheel as well with all of the discussion around Coastal Carolina and Louisiana. The defense returns 10 starters and should be the best in the conference. With all three losses coming by a total of 14 points, can Brice be the missing link to give the Mountaineers a conference championship?
1. Coastal Carolina
Coastal Carolina were the darlings of the college football world. And, believe it or not, they should be better this season. The defense returns 10 starters and should be nearly as good as Appalachian State. Grayson McCall returns as not only the best quarterback in this conference but one of the best dual threats in the country. If they win at Appalachian State on October 20th, it all but guarantees a spot in the championship game with a very favorable schedule.
5. Louisiana Monroe
Terry Bowden enters his first year at Louisiana Monroe looking to rebuild a struggling program. Struggling might be putting it lightly as the Warhawks were 0-10 last year with only one of those 10 games competitive. The second game of the season should prove an end to their winless ways as they host FCS Jackson State. Bowden has a history of building a program off of transfers and now with the transfer portal firmly in play the program could be built this way. However, Warhawk fans will need to be patient as another long year in Monroe is likely.
4. South Alabama
Speaking of transfers, the Jaguars have an infusion of talent through the transfer portal on offense. Jake Bentley, Kareem Walker, and Allen Dailey all are projected starters at the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions from Utah, Mississippi State, and Kentucky respectively. That should help bolster an offense that only averaged 20 points per game. The Jaguars have a lot of ground to gain to get to Louisiana’s level but they are headed in the right direction.
3. Texas State
In what seems to be the norm on the Group of Five level many times the defense falls behind the offense. That’s certainly the case for the Bobcats as the offense returns eight starters from a team that averaged 28 points per contest. To get past the two-win mark of last year, there must be an improvement over the 38 points surrendered each game. But, the schedule probably won’t allow them to make much headway in the standings with road games at Georgia State, Louisiana, Arkansas State, and Coastal Carolina.
2. Arkansas State
Expectations grew too large for Arkansas State last year after the upset of Kansas State in the second game of the season. The Red Wolves won just once in their last six tries which caused them to miss a bowl for the first time in five seasons. Scoring should not be a problem with our third-ranked quarterback in the conference returning in Layne Hatcher. He threw for over 2,000 yards with 18 touchdowns against only two interceptions. We’ll call for them to get to six wins and go bowling in Butch Jones’ first year in Jonesboro.
With all due respect to the previous four teams in the division, there is more of a gap between Louisiana and the rest of the pack in the West division than there is in any other division in the FBS. The Ragin Cajuns return 20 starters from a team that only lost once a year ago which included a win against Iowa State. They will get another opportunity to knock off the Big 12 as they face Texas in the first game of the season. Aside from that game, Louisiana is likely to be favored in every game aside from Texas and is our clear winner of this division.
Sun Belt Championship Game
Coastal Carolina vs Louisiana
This game was missed a year ago as the conference championship game due to Covid protocols. Coastal Carolina won the regular-season meeting 30-27 on a last-second field goal. We expect nothing less between the Sun Belt’s two best teams. Louisiana gets revenge this time and wins the conference championship.