Meat Grinder: Sun Belt Lessons for Week 8

The Sun Belt is Self-Cannibalizing to the Benefit of Weaker Conferences

We rarely said it aloud this preseason, but in all the talk of the Sun Belt ascending to the very top of the Group of Five (and beyond), the potential that the strength of the Sun Belt would be its weakness was a real possibility. With top Sun Belt teams taking losses to not-so-top Sun Belt teams, that possibility is now the grim reality.

It took an undefeated Jame Madison to crack the AP Top 25. Since then, the Dukes have dropped games to Georgia Southern and Marshall. Appalachian State was supposed to be the conference bell-ringer, but that was before taking an L to Texas State. Coastal was cruising to a ranking before being doubled up by Old Dominion (the Week 1 darling who would fall to Georgia Southern in Week 8). Meanwhile, the defending SBC Champions have a loss to lowly ULM, and Troy and South Alabama seem to be invisible to pollsters.

The Belt-on-Belt violence is entertaining for us, but it has left the window open for programs like Tulane (beaten by Southern Miss!) and Cincinnati to occupy AP slots. This week, Troy was the only Sun Belt team receiving votes, thanks to the Trojans epic performance over South Alabama on Thursday night. The Sun Belt is the best Non-Autonomy conference in college football. But the nation’s pollsters has yet to recognize or reward the conferences’ top-to-bottom superiority.

Don’t Stare Too Long

SBC WestConf RecordSBC EastConf Record
South Bama2-1Old Dominion2-1
Southern Miss2-1JMU3-2
Louisiana2-2Georgia Southern2-2
Texas State1-3Appalachian St2-2
Arkansas St1-4Georgia State1-2

It’s Time to Crown Clay Helton Sun Belt Coach of the Year

For the first several weeks of the season, we looked at Clay Helton and his Georgia Southern Eagles as an experiment bubbling in a petri dish. But the Eagles aren’t a mere theory. They’ve become Sun Belt Law, led by former Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantrease and the nation’s 11th best total offense – and fifth best passing offense. How did this happen? In the pre-season, Phil Steele saw the Eagles’ offensive line as the SBC’s second best, which is a nice unit to have in place when your transitioning from a Triple Option to a pass-heavy air raid. Only Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. has more passing yards that Vantrease, and that has definitely befuddled opposing defenses so accustomed to focusing on the run.

South Alabama v Troy Was a Masterclass of Defense

National media likes to box the Sun Belt has an offensively driven, pass-happy conference that eschews the fundamentals of football for gonzo entertainment. The Jaguars and Trojans proved otherwise, with the Trojans muscling up in Mobile for a 10-6 victory. An opening road loss to a very good Ole Miss team and a freak Hail Mary from Appalachian State prevents Jon Sumrall and the Trojans from receiving the big time ranking they deserve. Oh yeah, and Sumrall definitely deserves COY consideration, too.

The Sun Belt Has Caught Up With The Dukes

It seemed like Todd Centeio and the James Madison Dukes were unstoppable. But suddenly, JMU looks vulnerable after Georgia Southern beat the Dukes with the pass, and then last place Marshall upset the Dukes with the run. Centeio did not play during the Marshall game, but seeing Khalan Laborn abuse the Dukes for 151 ground yards (which included a 61-yard TD scamper) calls JMU’s total, unmerciful domination into question. The Dukes get to spend Week 9 contemplating their lot in life while on bye.

Southern Miss Stole Coastal Carolina’s Lightning Bolt

Coastal Carolina started the season with a string of narrow wins until being buffaloed by Old Dominion. Since then, the Golden Eagles have recorded a 20-19 victory over Arkansas State and a thrilling 20-14 victory over Texas State when Chandler Pittman caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from Zach Wilcke with 32 seconds remaining in the game. Like Helton and Sumrall, USM head coach Will Hall is doing COY work in Hattiesburg, and while the luck will eventually run out, the Golden Eagles have cemented themselves as Sun Belt West contenders moving forward.