The SBC West is up for grabs while the SBC East will be an abattoir of pain
My first prediction is that 2022 will be the most compelling season of football ever played by the Sun Belt. With four quality programs added to what was already a conference of growing pigskin strength, each battle at the line of scrimmage will bear both glorious and horrendous consequence. If this doesn’t excite you, I regret to inform you that you’re dead.
Sun Belt Media Days (multiple days for the first time) begins Tuesday, July 26, but already we’ve seen a number of rankings and finishings for the conference. I submit mine before I find myself under the influence of Terry Bowden’s voodoo.
PREDICTION: The Sun Belt East Will Eat Each Other Alive
The only programs in the East with tried and proven SBC quarterbacks are Coastal, Georgia State and Appalachian State, which makes me question my selection of Marshall finishing second. It might be because I find Thundering Herd running back Rasheen Ali to be among the most dangerous players in the conference.
I have respect for Panthers QB Darren Grainger, and I love what Shawn Elliot has done with the Georgia State offensive line. But losing WR Sam Pinckney will hurt the offensive, and I’m still not convinced the Panthers have enough defense to close out games.
The bottom three of the East are interchangeable. Is Old Dominion ready for prime time? No clue. I do know that even with Clay Helton on the sideline, the Eagles are going through a ton of adjustments. As for James Madison, I need to see proof that the Dukes have FBS speed, size and depth before I pick them anywhere above the basement.
Overall, each program in the East can deliver enough body blows to create real chaos at season’s end.
PREDICTION: Even ULM can win the Wide, Wide SBC West
Many people are predicting the Cajuns to repeat as Sun Belt West champions, including FunBelt Podcast Guest Phil Steele. But Louisiana not only aged-out longtime QB Levi Lewis and is breaking in first time head coach Michael Desormeaux, but also portaled a number of impressive talents to P5 programs, including Lorenzo McCaskill, Kyren Lacy, Mekhi Williams-Garner, Emani Bailey, Montrell Johnson, and O’Cyrus Torrence. Look for Louisiana to take a step backwards this season.
With the Cajuns falling, everybody else seems to be on the rise. South Alabama was disappointing under Kane Womack last season, but I expect them to be a season wiser in 2022. Troy brings back Gunnar Watson at QB and what may be the strongest defensive line in the conference.
Does Arkansas State belong at #3? In this division, why not? Butch Jones is in his second year and is much closer to coaching the team he wants. The defense has to get better, right? A bit further west, Texas State feels pretty good about themselves after a four win season with upgrades at QB and the Bobcats’ usual number of transfer imports. Meanwhile, ULM will only improve under Terry Bowden, with QB Chandler Rodgers providing much needed stability behind center.
As for Southern Miss, new head coach Will Hall is challenged to find THE GUY at quarterback while improving an offensive that finished 127th in the nation last year. However, Frank Gore Jr. is one of the best RBs in the conference, which means, yeah, even the Golden Eagles can win the West.
PREDICTION: Nobody goes undefeated in conference (and the SBC gets punished for it)
For Group of Five programs, the nation views anything less than a perfect conference record as disqualifying a serious NY6 contender. This is bad news for the Sun Belt, who have become victims of their own success.
PREDICTION: Week One will generate national buzz for the Sun Belt
On Week 1, Sun Belt programs host North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Liberty, Army and Middle Tennessee while paying visits to Texas and Ole Miss. I agree with my FunBelt Podcast battery mate Shane Melton, who believes Week 1 will set the tone for the majority of programs in the Sun Belt.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sadly, mine