Sun Belt Football 2017 Predictions

Complete preview of the Sun Belt for 2017.

A familiar trio of teams leads the way in Sun Belt football predictions for 2017. Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy were the league’s top three teams last year and begin this season at the top of Athlon’s projections. Just behind that trio is South Alabama and Idaho, while Louisiana and Georgia Southern headline the next tier of teams looking to get bowl eligible in 2017. The Sun Belt also welcomes Coastal Carolina to its league this fall, as the Chanticleers continue a two-year transition period to the FBS level. 

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Sun Belt predictions for 2017:

 

1. Appalachian State, Troy and Arkansas State – A Cut Above the Rest

In Athlon’s Sun Belt prediction meeting, there was little debate about the top three teams in the league. Appalachian State, Troy and Arkansas State were a cut above the rest of the conference by a healthy margin. The Red Wolves started 0-4 last fall but won eight out of their last nine games to claim a share of the Sun Belt title. This program is once again a threat to win it all, as quarterback Justice Hansen should benefit from a full year to develop as the starter, and he’s surrounded by a talented cast of skill players. The biggest concern for Arkansas State’s offense remains in the trenches with five new starters. A defense led by end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones will once again rank among the Sun Belt’s best. Appalachian State’s recipe for success isn’t going to change in 2017. The Mountaineers punished opponents for 250.9 rushing yards per game last fall, and the one-two punch of Jalin Moore and Terrance Upshaw is among the best in the Group of 5 ranks. Coach Scott Satterfield’s defense led the Sun Belt by limiting opponents to 17.8 points per game last season. This unit will be strong once again, as Appalachian State features the league’s top linebacker and secondary groups for 2017. Troy had a stint in the top 25 last season, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Trojans push for that mark once again. Coach Neal Brown’s team is loaded on offense after leading the league in scoring (33.7 ppg) in 2016. Quarterback Brandon Silvers ranks as the Sun Belt’s top quarterback, and there’s no shortage of talent at receiver or running back. Replacing three starters on the offensive line and filling a couple of voids in the front seven on defense are Brown’s biggest concerns this offseason. One key factor at the top of the Sun Belt predictions: Appalachian State does not play Troy or Arkansas State.  

 

2. South Alabama or Idaho – Sleeper Teams to Watch?

While the top three teams at the top of the projections were a cut above the rest of the league, South Alabama and Idaho are an intriguing duo to watch in the next tier. The Jaguars have won at least six games in three out of the last four seasons and are led by one of the Sun Belt’s top coaches in Joey Jones. South Alabama went 2-6 in league play last year but earned a trip to the Arizona Bowl thanks to non-conference victories over Mississippi State and San Diego State. The Jaguars had some bad luck last fall with a minus-two turnover margin and five losses by 10 points or less. With quarterback Dallas Davis returning, along with a defense poised to take a step forward, South Alabama should push for another bowl trip. Idaho experienced a breakout season in 2016, snapping a string of six consecutive losing records. Propelled by a standout offense and a plus-11 turnover margin, the Vandals finished 9-4 and defeated Colorado State in an entertaining 61-50 shootout in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Quarterback Matt Linehan leads the way for Idaho once again in its final year at the FBS level, but his supporting cast is undergoing renovations. The Vandals lose four out of their top five receivers, three starters on the offensive line and suffered key losses on the defensive line and in the secondary. After using a plus-11 turnover margin to win four one-score games last season, Idaho is likely to regress slightly from its nine overall victories. But with Linehan at the controls, another bowl trip is likely.

 

3. Will Georgia Southern Rebound in 2017?

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Georgia Southern made an easy transition to the FBS level under former coach Willie Fritz. From 2014-15, the Eagles won 18 games, claimed the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl title and only lost two conference contests in that span. However, Fritz left to take the coaching job at Tulane, and former assistant (and Georgia native) Tyson Summers returned to Statesboro to lead the program. Despite returning 12 starters and a core of talent capable of contending for the Sun Belt title, Georgia Southern regressed to 5-7 and 4-4 in league play. The Eagles strayed too far away from the option attack on offense and regressed in points and yards per play allowed on defense. A win over Troy in the regular season finale may have saved Summers’ job, which only illustrates the pressure this coaching staff is under for 2017. While the first year was a struggle, Summers took some steps to ensure improvement this fall. New play-caller Bryan Cook is well-versed in the option attack and is expected to get the offense back on track. But the Eagles have uncertainty at quarterback, as the battle between Seth Shuman and Shai Werts will continue into the fall. On defense, only four starters are back, with the front seven undergoing significant turnover. In addition to the personnel concerns, Georgia Southern faces a tough schedule in 2017. The Eagles play Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy – the projected top three teams – and a swing game at Louisiana. Georgia Southern still has enough talent to rebound back into a bowl game. However, a tough schedule limits the margin for error in Summers’ second season.

 

4. The State of Things in Louisiana

In Athlon’s Sun Belt prediction meeting, the two teams from the state of Louisiana – ULM and Louisiana – produced a significant amount of discussion. The Warhawks are trending in the right direction under second-year coach Matt Viator and finished 2016 by winning two conference games in the month of November – without starting quarterback Garrett Smith. With Smith healthy and back under center, ULM has a chance to match or exceed last year’s four victories. The Warhawks have to cut down on the turnovers (minus-11 margin last year) and perform better on the line of scrimmage to push into the top tier of the Sun Belt in 2017. How far can Viator take this program in his second season? After posting four consecutive nine-win campaigns and trips to the New Orleans Bowl, Louisiana took a step back in 2015 with a 4-8 record. But the Ragin’ Cajuns rebounded to 6-7 last fall and return 12 starters for 2017. Coach Mark Hudspeth needs to identify a new starting quarterback after the departure of Anthony Jennings, while standout running back Elijah McGuire expired his eligibility following the 2016 season. Hudspeth’s team is strong up front on both sides of the ball but will only go as far as the new backfield tandem on offense performs. Additionally, the schedule isn’t in Louisiana’s favor. The Ragin’ Cajuns play Appalachian State and Arkansas State and take on South Alabama and Idaho in key swing games on the road.   

 

Related: Sun Belt 2017 All-Conference Team

 

5. Coastal Carolina’s FBS Debut

Under the watchful eye of coach Joe Moglia, Coastal Carolina is set to make its transition to the FBS level in 2017. The Chanticleers went 10-2 at the FCS level last year but lost a handful of key players from that squad, including running back De’Angelo Henderson and linebacker Alex Scearce. With the transition to the FBS level and just eight returning starters, Coastal Carolina is one of the tougher teams to predict in the Sun Belt this preseason. The Chanticleers were hit hard by injuries at quarterback last season, but Syracuse transfer Austin Wilson could bring some stability to the position this fall. Boston College transfer Marcus Outlow should team with Osharmar Abercrombie to form an effective one-two punch on the ground for new coordinator Jamey Chadwell. The defense must be retooled with losses at each level, but there’s a solid foundation in place after giving up only 19.3 points per game in 2016. Coastal Carolina is in good hands with Moglia leading the way, and the future looks bright for this program at the FBS level. 

 

Sun Belt 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL

Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.   3.  3. 
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5.  5.  5.  5.   5.  5. 

 

Sun Belt Football 2017 Predictions

         
Rank Team   Projected Sun Belt Record Projected Overall Record
1 Appalachian State 7-1 9-3
2 Troy 7-1 9-3
3 Arkansas State 6-2 7-5
4 South Alabama 5-3 6-6
5 Idaho 4-4 6-6
6 Louisiana 4-4 5-7
7 Georgia Southern 4-4 5-7
8 ULM 4-4 4-8
9 Georgia State 2-6 3-9
10 Coastal Carolina 2-6 4-8
11 New Mexico State 2-6 3-9
12 Texas State 1-7 2-10

 

Sun Belt 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Jalin Moore

RB, App. State

Larry Rose

RB, NMSU

Brandon Silvers

QB, Troy

Defensive POY

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

Neal Brown

Troy

Neal Brown

Troy

Scott Satterfield

Appalachian State

Coach on Hot Seat

Tyson Summers

Georgia Southern

Tyson Summers

Georgia Southern

Tyson Summers

Georgia Southern

Top Freshman

Demetrice Lofton

DL, Ga. Southern

Bryce Roberts

TE, NMSU

Kieston Roach

DB, Texas State

Top Newcomer

Damian Williams

QB, Texas State

Damian Williams

QB, Texas State

Damian Williams

QB, Texas State

Sleeper Team ULM ULM South Alabama

Key Position

to Watch

Troy OL Troy OL Troy OL
Best Coordinator Hire

Jamey Chadwell

OC, Coastal Carolina

Jamey Chadwell

OC, Coastal Carolina

Jamey Chadwell

OC, Coastal Carolina

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Georgia Southern South Alabama Coastal Carolina
Coach on the Rise

Neal Brown

HC, Troy

Neal Brown

HC, Troy

Scott Satterfield

Appalachian State

Must-See Game

Troy at 

Arkansas State

Troy at 

Arkansas State

Akron at

Troy

Breakout Player

Damian Williams

QB, Texas State

Jordan Davis

QB, Louisiana

Dallas Davis

QB, South Alabama

Comeback Player

Penny Hart

WR, Georgia State

Larry Rose

RB, NMSU

Larry Rose

RB, NMSU

 

Event Date: 
Saturday, June 3, 2017 - 00:52

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