Scenes from Sun Belt Media Days: The West is seeking that Championship Mentality

Where the SBC East butted horns, the SBC West tempered expectations

South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack’s clean-shaven face desperately screams for some Sabertooth chops. He sits across from us fidgeting, as though the crisp grey suit he wore was actually an institutional straight jacket. His kingdom for a whistle. He’s ready to see his men on the field.

But when the disappointing results of last season are raised, a kind of introspective calm eclipses Coach Wommack’s animated features. He leans forward, man-to-man.

Believing you can win and expecting to win are two different things,” he explains. “Anyone can believe they can win. It’s when you expect to win that your team has turned the corner.”

Again and again, the Day 2 Theme for Sun Belt Media Day, which focused exclusively on the SBC WEST, was mentality: eliminating mistakes and adjusting attitudes.

“Last season, we’d be behind two or three touchdowns before we’d suddenly realize that we could play with these guys,” said Arkansas State head coach Butch Jones, who often stresses a “championship mentality” for his team. “We have to come to that realization much sooner to compete.”

On Day 1, when the SBC East took the stage, the two-fisted narratives were about winning championships and locking horns with the titans of the division. Day 2 was more about assuring fans that their day was coming. (It wasn’t always clear if that day was predicted arrive sometime in 2022). For many coaches, it was important to make clear that in 2021 their programs were mere inches from success. Texas State’s Jake Spavital and ULM’s Terry Bowden both lamented the razor-close games that were allowed to slip away for lack of focus or plain bad luck.

The SBC West went 16-24 in conference last season. Poor focus and bad luck had its day in 2021. We may see it linger in 2022.

Spavital Isn’t Handing Over the Huddle to Layne Hatcher Just Yet

While some have already labeled Arkansas State transfer Layne Hatcher among the best QBs in the Sun Belt, Texas State HC Jake Spavital wasn’t prepared to name him the Bobcats starter on Sun Belt Media Day 2.

NEW ORLEANS – JULY 27: Photos of the 2022 Sun Belt Conference Football Media Days at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel on July 27, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“Layne provides incredible leadership,” said Spavital, but then insisted that others in the QB room like CJ Rogers and Ty Evans were just as capable and remained firmly in the mix. Additionally, Spavital was also complimentary of his RB squad, which added Arkansas State transfer Lincoln Pare.

(Almost) Nobody Is Sold on the Cajuns

While the coaches selected the Louisiana Rage’n Cajuns as the predicted winner of the SBC West, most of the pundits to which I spoke weren’t convinced.

“They lost too much,” was a common refrain, referring to the talent that portaled, the head coach who bailed for Florida, and the longtime QB (Levi Lewis) who has graduated and moved on. However, one Cajun media member was overheard predicting a 10 win season, so the doubts aren’t completely universal.

Butch Jones continues to be an enemy of body fat

“It’s incredible the transformation we’re seeing in our player’s bodies,” said HC Butch Jones, who entered the A-State locker room in 2021 and was immediately unimpressed with the team’s BPI. However, the excess flab appears to have been eradicated, with Jones delivering credit to John Waters, Strength Coach Associate Director of Athletics Performance.

One benefactor of the Butch Jones Optimum BPI Method is presumed starting QB James Blackman, who Jones said put on “12 pounds of muscle.”