Sun Belt Football 2018 Predictions

Complete preview of the Sun Belt for 2018.

Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Troy have ranked as the top teams from the Sun Belt in recent years, so it should be no surprise this trio leads the way for the league in 2018. The Red Wolves are the top team and projected champion in the 2018 Sun Belt predictions, with the Trojans and Mountaineers locked into a tight battle atop the East Division. ULM, Louisiana, South Alabama and Georgia State round out the next tier, with Coastal Carolina and Texas State expected to improve after winning a combined five games in 2017. New Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford hopes to build off a promising finish last season.

 

Troy or Appalachian State at the Top of the East Division?

Deciding between Troy or Appalachian State as the winner of the East Division was the toughest call of Athlon's Sun Belt prediction meeting. Both teams enter 2018 with question marks at quarterback, but the rest of the offense is largely in great shape. Appalachian State and Troy led the way in the Sun Belt in scoring defense last year and should remain near the top of the league once again. The Mountaineers host the Trojans on Nov. 24, with the winner of that game likely to win the division. But there's a scheduling note that benefits Troy. The Trojans won't have to play Arkansas State in the regular season, while the Mountaineers catch the Red Wolves on Oct. 9. This is a tossup, but Athlon eventually settled on Troy as the team to beat in the East Division.

 

Arkansas State is the Sun Belt's Clear Favorite in 2018

The Red Wolves are 26-6 over the last four seasons in Sun Belt play, and coach Blake Anderson's team is the program to beat in the conference this year. While uncertainty reigns at the top in the East Division, Arkansas State holds a commanding edge in the West. Anderson's high-powered offense is led by quarterback Justice Hansen and a receiving corps projected to be the best in the conference. Arkansas State's biggest concerns for 2018 rest on defense. Standout end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, linebacker Kyle Wilson and cornerback Blaise Taylor have expired their eligibility from a defense that allowed only 25.8 points a game in 2017. There's enough talent to keep this unit from slipping too far in the Sun Belt, but Anderson's defense will need new standouts to emerge at every level.

 

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Intrigue in the state of Louisiana

Arkansas State's biggest challenger in the Sun Belt's West Division will come from the state of Louisiana. ULM edged Louisiana for the No. 2 spot in Athlon's predictions, but both teams are projected to be bowl eligible at 6-6. The Warhawks have been on a steady rise under coach Matt Viator and return eight starters from an offense that averaged 33.9 points a game last season. Quarterback Caleb Evans is poised to take another step forward after 287.3 total yards a game last fall, and receiver Marcus Green is one of the nation's top all-purpose threats. Viator's top offseason priority is to fix a defense that allowed 41 points a game in 2017. Louisiana hopes to return to the top of the Sun Belt under new coach Billy Napier. The Ragin' Cajuns have posted three consecutive losing seasons, but there's optimism for improvement. Napier arrives in Lafayette after a successful stint as Arizona State's offensive coordinator, and he's worked under two of the nation's best coaches in Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney. Louisiana has uncertainty at quarterback, but the ground game is strong with sophomore Trey Ragas leading the way, along with three returning starters in the trenches. Similar to rival ULM, Louisiana has major holes on defense. The Ragin' Cajuns gave up 40 points a game in 2017 and return only three starters. Both ULM and Louisiana shouldn't lack for intrigue or points on the scoreboard in 2018. Whichever team can improve its defense the most by the fall is likely to finish second in the West Division.

 

Wild Card Teams in South Alabama, Georgia State and Georgia Southern

Athlon's Sun Belt projections have five teams reaching bowl eligibility, but if there's a sixth team with at least six victories, it's likely to come out of the South Alabama, Georgia State or Georgia Southern trio. New coach Steve Campbell is a standout hire for the Jaguars, as this program looks to take the next step and contend for the Sun Belt title. South Alabama's offense will be a work in progress under new quarterback Cephus Johnson, but the defense should be solid with seven returning starters, along with the addition of a couple of transfers and the return of cornerback Jalen Thompson after missing 2017 due to academics. Georgia State was one of the Sun Belt's biggest surprises last season, finishing 7-5 in coach Shawn Elliott's debut. Penny Hart is one of college football's top receivers, but the Panthers are breaking in a new quarterback and need to find a spark for a rushing attack that ranked 114th nationally in 2017. Georgia State's defense should rank among the best in the Sun Belt, providing Elliott plenty of time to ease the new quarterback into the offense. After performing well as the program's interim coach, Chad Lunsford was promoted to the full-time role at Georgia Southern. Lunsford wasted no time making changes this offseason, and the staff additions should pay dividends. After all, the Eagles are just two years removed from winning nine games in 2015. How fast can new coordinator Bob DeBesse get Georgia Southern's offense back on track after generating just 20.8 points a game last fall? With nine starters back, the defense should be better after giving up over 400 yards a game in 2017. Can Lunsford pick up where he left off at the end of the 2017? Or will the Eagles need another year or two before contending for a bowl game?

 

Sun Belt 2018 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. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

Sun Belt Football 2018 Predictions
         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected Sun Belt Record Projected Overall Record
1 Troy 6-2 8-5
2 Appalachian State 5-3 8-4
3 Georgia State 4-4 5-7
4 Georgia Southern 3-5 4-8
5 Coastal Carolina 2-6 3-9
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected Sun Belt Record Projected Overall Record
1 Arkansas State 6-2 9-4
2 ULM 5-3 6-6
3 Louisiana 4-4 6-6
4 South Alabama 4-4 5-7
5 Texas State 1-7 3-9
         
Sun Belt Championship
 Arkansas State over Troy 

 

 

Sun Belt 2018 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven 

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Justice Hansen

QB, Ark. State

Justice Hansen

QB, Ark. State

Justice Hansen

QB, Ark. State

Defensive POY

Clifton Duck

CB, App. State

Hunter Reese

LB, Troy

Joe Dillon

DL, Louisiana

Coach of the Year

Neal Brown

Troy

Neal Brown

Troy

Blake Anderson

Ark. State

Coach on Hot Seat

Everett Withers

Texas State

Everett Withers

Texas State

Everett Withers

Texas State

Top Freshman

Cephus Johnson

QB, S. Alabama

Cephus Johnson

QB, S. Alabama

Cephus Johnson

QB, S. Alabama

Top Newcomer

Traveon Samuel

WR, Troy

Kirk Merritt

WR, Ark. State

Traveon Samuel

WR, Troy

Sleeper Team ULM ULM Louisiana

Key Position

to Watch

Troy/App. State

QBs

Troy/App. State

QBs

Ark. State

LBs

Best Coordinator Hire

Bob DeBesse

OC, Ga. Southern

Rob Sale

OC, Louisiana

Marvin Sanders

DC, CCU

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Louisiana Louisiana Coastal Carolina
Coach on the Rise

Neal Brown

HC, Troy

Neal Brown

HC, Troy

Neal Brown

HC, Troy

Must-See Game

Troy at

Appalachian State

Troy at

Appalachian State

Troy at

Appalachian State

Breakout Player

Caleb Evans

QB, ULM

Caleb Evans

QB, ULM

Justin McInnis

WR, Ark. State

Comeback Player

Jalen Thompson

CB, S. Alabama

Josh Thomas

S, App. State

Ishmael Davis

DL, Texas State

 

Podcast: Athlon's Editors Discuss 2018 Conference Predictions

Event Date: 
Monday, June 4, 2018 - 02:40

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