Sun Belt Football 2016 Predictions

Complete preview of the Sun Belt for 2016.

The three-team battle between Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern should provide plenty of intrigue for the Sun Belt in 2016. The Red Wolves are the defending Sun Belt champions after finishing 2015 with a perfect 8-0 mark in conference play. However, Arkansas State’s spot at the top of the league will be tested this fall. Appalachian State returns 16 starters from last year’s 11-win team and features the Sun Belt’s top quarterback in Taylor Lamb, along with a deep group of talented running backs. Even though a new coach takes over at Georgia Southern (Tyson Summers), the Eagles won’t miss a beat in the win column. Headlined by quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw, and running back Matt Breida, the offense will challenge for the nation’s lead in rushing yards once again.

 

The second tier of the Sun Belt is surrounded in some mystery. Troy looks like a team on the rise under second-year coach Neal Brown, while UL Lafayette hopes to rebound after a disappointing 4-8 mark last season. South Alabama has a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but the Jaguars have enough promising pieces to return to a bowl in 2016. Georgia State might have the fewest question marks in the second tier of teams, but the Panthers are also replacing quarterback Nick Arbuckle.

 

Idaho and New Mexico State showed progress last season and could take another step forward in the win column this fall. The Aggies are led by running back Larry Rose III, while the Vandals return eight starters from an offense that averaged 30.3 points a game in 2015. Texas State and ULM are expected to finish at the bottom of the league, as both programs begin rebuilding projects under new coaches.

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the Sun Belt in 2016

 

1. Is the Sun Belt a Three-Team Race for the League Title?

Yes. Appalachian State has made a quick transition to the FBS level under coach Scott Satterfield, and the Mountaineers fell just short of winning the league in 2015. After a 7-1 mark in conference play last season, Appalachian State could make a run at a perfect league record in 2016. The Mountaineers won’t have to play Arkansas State – the projected No. 2 team in the Sun Belt – but have road trips to Troy and Georgia Southern. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Satterfield’s team give Miami all it can handle on Sept. 17. Appalachian State is Athlon’s projected Sun Belt champion, but Georgia Southern and Arkansas State aren’t too far behind. The Red Wolves have a favorable league slate – no Appalachian State and a home game against Georgia Southern – and seem to have a capable replacement for Fredi Knighten at quarterback in former Oklahoma signal-caller Justice Hansen. Coach Blake Anderson also landed a couple of talented transfers to fill some of the personnel voids on both sides of the ball. Georgia Southern is 14-2 in Sun Belt play since joining the FBS level, but there’s some mystery in Statesboro with new coach Tyson Summers. The new coaching staff won’t change too much on offense with the return of dynamic running back Matt Breida and two capable quarterbacks in Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw. However, the passing attack has to perform a little better, and the defense needs to be revamped in the back seven for the Eagles to win the league in 2016.

 

Related: Athlon's 1-128 Team Rankings for 2016

 

2. Troy…A Team on the Rise?

Neal Brown inherited big shoes to fill in replacing Larry Blakeney at Troy. The former offensive coordinator for the Trojans is one of the youngest coaches in the nation and finished 4-8 in his debut with the program last season. While the Troy finished with a losing mark, there was progress under Brown’s direction. The Trojans won three out of their last six games and lost three conference games by six points or less. With 14 returning starters – including one of the league’s top quarterbacks in Brandon Silvers – Troy should be able to push for the program’s first bowl trip since 2010. Jordan Chunn’s return from injury fills a void at running back, and seven returning starters provide a solid foundation on a defense that ranked third in the Sun Belt in fewest points allowed (28.3) last year. The schedule doesn’t provide much margin for error, but Troy should find a way to get to six wins in Brown’s second season.

 

3. Will UL Lafayette Rebound After a 4-8 Record?

Even though UL Lafayette had significant personnel losses to address, Mark Hudspeth’s team seemed like a safe pick at the top of the league in 2015. The Ragin’ Cajuns watched their streak of four consecutive nine-win seasons and bowl trips end with a disappointing 4-8 mark last year. UL Lafayette enters 2016 with question marks on both sides of the ball, but Hudspeth’s team should rebound back into the postseason. The Ragin’ Cajuns are led by standout running back Elijah McGuire, and sophomore Jordan Davis provides a promising option at quarterback for an offense that scored only 26.4 points a game in 2015. While all eyes this offseason are on the quarterback position, the defense has to take a step forward after giving up 5.96 yards per play last season. UL Lafayette has one of the Sun Belt’s best rosters in terms of talent, and Hudspeth is too good of a coach for this team to miss out on a bowl once again.  

 

Related: Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

4. Georgia State – the Sun Belt’s Wild Card Team?

When Trent Miles took over as Georgia State’s coach in 2013, he inherited a program in need of major repair. The Panthers were short on talent, depth and lacked the overall direction to complete in the Sun Belt. After three years, it’s clear Miles has this program moving in the right direction. After a 1-23 start at Georgia State, Miles began his third year with a 2-6 record. However, the Panthers finished 2015 on a tear by winning their final four regular season games, including a 34-7 victory over Georgia Southern. Another bowl bid isn’t out of the question for Georgia State, but Miles has to find a replacement for standout quarterback Nick Arbuckle. Outside of replacing Arbuckle, the Panthers’ overall depth chart is in relatively good shape and features the Sun Belt’s top receiver in sophomore Penny Hart. If a replacement emerges for Arbuckle, our prediction of Georgia State at No. 6 is probably too low.

 

5. Rebuilding at Texas State and ULM

Texas State and ULM finished at the bottom of the Sun Belt last season, but both programs took a step forward with their new coach hires for 2016. ULM is turning to former McNeese State coach Matt Viator, while Texas State picked Everett Withers (James Madison head coach) as its next leader. Both programs face an uphill battle in 2016, but the future looks bright for the Bobcats and Warhawks. Viator won 78 games in 10 seasons at McNeese State and inherits an offense with promising pieces, including quarterback Garrett Smith and receivers Ajalen Holley and Marcus Green. However, Viator loses a ton of talent on defense and must patch an offensive line that surrendered 38 sacks in 2015. Texas State has recruited better than ULM in recent years, so there could be more talent in the program than last year’s 3-9 record would suggest. Quarterback Tyler Jones is a good building block for Withers, but the supporting cast features a lot of question marks. Additionally, Texas State returns only four starters from a defense that gave up 39.2 points a game in 2015. 

 

2016 Sun Belt Team Previews

             
 

National

Rank:

58 78 81 110 119 107
   

National

Rank:

126 120 115 122 102  

 

Visit the Athlon Sports Online Store to order a copy of the 2016 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

Sun Belt 2016 Football Predictions

         
Rank Team   Projected Sun Belt Record Projected Overall Record
1

Appalachian State

(No. 58)

7-1 9-3
Read the full, in-depth preview of Appalachian State for 2016.
2

Arkansas State

(No. 78)

6-2 8-4
Read the full, in-depth preview of Arkansas State for 2016.
3

Georgia Southern

(No. 81)

6-2 7-5
Read the full, in-depth preview of Georgia Southern for 2016.
4

Troy

(No. 102)

4-4 6-6
Read the full, in-depth preview of Troy for 2016.
5

UL Lafayette

(No. 107)

4-4 6-6
Read the full, in-depth preview of UL Lafayette for 2016.
6

Georgia State

(No. 110)

4-4 6-6
Read the full, in-depth preview of Georgia State for 2016.
7

South Alabama

(No. 115)

4-4 5-7
Read the full, in-depth preview of South Alabama for 2016.
8

Idaho

(No. 119)

3-5 4-8
Read the full, in-depth preview of Idaho for 2016.
9

New Mexico State

(No. 120)

3-5 3-9
Read the full, in-depth preview of New Mexico State for 2016.
10

Texas State

(No. 122)

2-6 3-9
Read the full, in-depth preview of Texas State for 2016.
11

ULM

(No. 126)

1-7 2-10
Read the full, in-depth preview of ULM for 2016.

 

Sun Belt 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR @DavidFox615
Offensive POY

Matt Breida

RB, Ga. Southern

Matt Breida

RB, Ga. Southern

Matt Breida

RB, Ga. Southern

Taylor Lamb

QB, App. State

Defensive POY

Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Coach of the Year

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Neal Brown

Troy

Coach on the Hot Seat

Doug Martin

NMSU

Doug Martin
NMSU

Doug Martin

NMSU

Paul Petrino

Idaho

Top Freshman

Tyler Tutt

RB, Tex. State

Jalin Buie

RB, South Alabama

Dontrell Allen

CB, UL Lafayette

Darian Anderson

WR, Ga. Southern

Top Newcomer

Dee Liner

DL, Ark. State

Chad Voytik

QB, Ark. State

Dee Liner

DL, Ark. State

Dee Liner

DL, Ark. State

Sleeper Team Troy Troy UL Lafayette Troy
Top Coordinator Hire

Frank Spaziani

DC, NMSU

Frank Spaziani

DC, NMSU

Frank Spaziani

DC, NMSU

Buster Faulkner

OC, Ark. State

Key Position to Watch App. State WR App. State WR App. State WR App. State WR
Hardest to Evaluate UL Lafayette UL Lafayette South Alabama Georgia State
Coach on the Rise

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Blake Anderson

Arkansas State

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Must-See Game

App. State at

Ga. Southern

App. State at

Ga. Southern

Ga. Southern at

W. Michigan

App. State at

Ga. Southern

Breakout Player

Brandon Silvers

QB, Troy

Matt Linehan

QB, Idaho

Shaedon Meadors

WR, App. State

Justice Hansen

QB, Ark. State

Comeback Player

Jayshawn Jordan

S, Idaho

Jordan Chunn

RB, Troy

Tyler Rogers

QB, NMSU

Tajhea Chambers

LB, Ark. State

 

Ranking the Sun Belt's Coaches for 2016

 

1. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State

2. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette

3. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State

 

Click here to view the full Sun Belt Coach Rankings for 2016

 

Grading the Sun Belt's New Coach Hires for 2016
 
1. Matt Viator, ULM (B+)
2. Everett Withers, Texas State (B-)
3. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern (B-)
 
 
Sun Belt's Top Five Players on the Rise for 2016
 
1. Dee Liner, DL, Arkansas State
2. Xavier Johnson, RB, South Alabama
3. Rashad Dillard, DL, Troy
4. Garrett Smith, QB, ULM
5. Shaedon Meadors, WR, Appalachian State
 
Sun Belt's Top 10 Non-Conference Games for 2016
 
1. Georgia Southern at Western Michigan (Sept. 24)
2. Miami at Appalachian State (Sept. 17)
3. Appalachian State at Tennessee (Sept. 1)
4. Toledo at Arkansas State (Sept. 2)
5. Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (Nov. 5)
6. Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech (Oct. 15)
7. Troy at Clemson (Sept. 10)
8. Arkansas State at Auburn (Sept. 10)
9. Troy at Southern Miss (Sept. 17)
10. Boise State at UL Lafayette (Sept. 3)
 
Sun Belt's Key Coordinator Hires for 2016
 
1. Frank Spaziani, Defensive Coordinator, New Mexico State
2. Buster Faulkner, Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas State
3. Randall McCray, Defensive Coordinator, Texas State
4. Mike Collins, Defensive Coordinator, ULM
5. Brett Elliott, Offensive Coordinator, Texas State
6. Kane Wommack, Defensive Coordinator, South Alabama
7. Matt Kubik, Offensive Coordinator, ULM
 
Top Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)
 
1. Darion Anderson, WR, Georgia Southern
2. Michael Jackson, WR, Georgia Southern
3. Jalin Buie, RB, South Alabama
4. Kelvin Lucky, DE, Troy
5. Drew Wilson, OL, Georgia Southern
6. Monquavion Brinson, CB, Georgia Southern
7. Riley Cole, LB, South Alabama
8. Zo Bridges, LB, Troy
9. Dontrell Allen, CB, UL Lafayette
10. Lawrence Edwards, OL, Georgia Southern

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