Sun Belt Football 2019 Predictions

Complete preview of the Sun Belt for 2019

The Sun Belt enters the 2019 season with a clear division between the contenders and the rest of the league. In Athlon’s 2019 Sun Belt predictions – Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Louisiana, Troy and Georgia Southern – are a step ahead of the rest of the league. All five teams are projected to reach bowl eligibility.

 

In the East, a tight battle is projected between Appalachian State and Troy. The Mountaineers claimed the Sun Belt title last season and are Athlon’s pick to win it in 2019. New coach Eli Drinkwitz inherits the league’s top quarterback (Zac Thomas), a deep group of running backs and one of the Sun Belt’s best offensive lines. New defensive play-caller Ted Roof has a few holes to fill up front and at cornerback, but Appalachian State’s defense shouldn’t fall too far from last year’s performance. The Mountaineers have to play at Louisiana but miss Arkansas State in crossover play and catch Georgia Southern at home. The Nov. 29 showdown at Troy is likely to decide the East title. Similar to Drinkwitz, new coach Chip Lindsey is stepping into a favorable situation at Troy. The Trojans return 12 starters, including running back B.J. Smith and linebacker Carlton Martial. Kaleb Barker is entrenched as the starter after Sawyer Smith left as a transfer following spring practice.

 

Georgia Southern was the Sun Belt’s biggest surprise and one of the nation’s most improved teams last fall. In coach Chad Lunsford’s first year, the Eagles went 10-3 and defeated Sun Belt champ Appalachian State 34-14 in late October. Lunsford’s team brings back 12 starters and enough of a foundation to contend for the league title. However, the Eagles are likely to regress in turnover margin (plus-22 last year) and have to navigate a tough schedule.

 

Georgia State regressed from 7-5 in coach Shawn Elliott’s debut to 2-10 last fall. The Panthers played a handful of young players, so some improvement is expected in 2019. Standout receiver Penny Hart must be replaced, but quarterback Dan Ellington should help this offense take a step forward on the stat sheet. Jamey Chadwell is a solid hire for Coastal Carolina, and 12 starters are back from a team that went 5-7 in 2018. The Chanticleers must get better against the run and find stability at quarterback to challenge for a bowl.  

 

Similar to the East Division, the West features a close battle at the top. Louisiana – the reigning West division champs – will be pushed by Arkansas State again for a trip to the conference title game. The Ragin’ Cajuns are trending up under coach Billy Napier, led by a standout ground game and line to anchor an offense that averaged 31.9 points a game in 2018. Napier’s team needs to improve on defense and get Levi Lewis or Jai’ave Magalei settled into the starting quarterback job. The Ragin’ Cajuns host Troy and Appalachian State but have to play in Jonesboro on Oct. 17 – a game that’s likely to decide the West Division.

 

The homefield advantage in the Louisiana-Arkansas State game was the deciding factor in Athlon’s West Division picks. The Red Wolves have to replace All-Sun Belt quarterback Justice Hansen, but a strong supporting cast will help new starter Logan Bonner ease into the lineup. Arkansas State’s defense should rank near the top of the Sun Belt, especially with the league’s top line in place.

 

ULM has made progress under coach Matt Viator, and the return of quarterback Caleb Evans should allow this team to push for six wins. An experienced roster could help new coach Jake Spavital get off to a fast start at Texas State. Junior college transfer (and former Montana starter) Gresch Jensen will help right away at quarterback. South Alabama is in rebuild mode under coach Steve Campbell. The Jaguars return only nine starters and enter 2019 with uncertainty at quarterback.

 

Sun Belt 2019 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

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Best DL

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Best LB

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Best DB

Units

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Sun Belt Football 2019 Predictions
       
East Division
Rank   Projected Sun Belt Record Projected Overall Record
1 Appalachian State 6-2 9-4
2 Troy 6-2 8-4
3 Georgia Southern 5-3 7-5
4 Georgia State 2-6 3-9
5 Coastal Carolina 1-7 3-9
       
West Division
Rank   Projected Sun Belt Record Projected Overall Record
1 Arkansas State 6-2 8-5
2 Louisiana 5-3 7-5
3 ULM 4-4 5-7
4 Texas State 3-5 4-8
5 South Alabama 2-6 3-9
       
Sun Belt Championship
Appalachian State over Arkansas State

 

SUN BELT 2019 SUPERLATIVES AND SEASON PREDICTIONS

 

Offensive POY

Pick by Steven Lassan: Zac Thomas, QB, Appalachian State

Pick by Mitch Light: Zac Thomas, QB, Appalachian State

Pick by Mark Ross: Zac Thomas, QB, Appalachian State

 

Defensive POY

Pick by Steven Lassan: Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern

Pick by Mitch Light: Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern

Pick by Mark Ross: William Bradley-King, DL, Arkansas State

 

Coach of the Year

Pick by Steven Lassan: Eli Drinkwitz, Appalachian State

Pick by Mitch Light: Chip Lindsey, Troy

Pick by Mark Ross: Eli Drinkwitz, Appalachian State

 

Top Freshman

Pick by Steven Lassan: Kendall Wilkerson, DL, Louisiana

Pick by Mitch Light: Sam Pinckney, WR, Georgia State

Pick by Mark Ross: Kendall Wilkerson, DL, Louisiana

 

Top Newcomer

Pick by Steven Lassan: Gresch Jensen, QB, Texas State

Pick by Mitch Light: Khalil McClain, WR, Troy

Pick by Mark Ross: Gresch Jensen, QB, Texas State

 

Sleeper Team

Pick by Steven Lassan: ULM

Pick by Mitch Light: ULM

Pick by Mark Ross: ULM

 

Key Position to Watch

Pick by Steven Lassan: Arkansas State QB

Pick by Mitch Light: Troy WR

Pick by Mark Ross: Arkansas State QB

 

Best Coordinator Hire

Pick by Steven Lassan: Bob Stitt, OC, Texas State

Pick by Mitch Light: Bob Stitt, OC, Texas State

Pick by Mark Ross: Ted Roof, DC, Appalachian State

 

Hardest Team to Evaluate

Pick by Steven Lassan: Troy

Pick by Mitch Light: Troy

Pick by Mark Ross: Coastal Carolina

 

Coach on the Rise

Pick by Steven Lassan: Billy Napier, HC, Louisiana

Pick by Mitch Light: Billy Napier, HC, Louisiana

Pick by Mark Ross: Blake Anderson, HC, Arkansas State

 

Must-See Game

Pick by Steven Lassan: Appalachian State at Troy

Pick by Mitch Light: Appalachian State at Troy

Pick by Mark Ross: Louisiana at Arkansas State

 

Breakout Player

Pick by Steven Lassan: Chauncey Manac, LB, Louisiana

Pick by Mitch Light: Logan Bonner, QB, Arkansas State

Pick by Mark Ross: William Bradley-King, DL, Arkansas State

 

Comeback Player

Pick by Steven Lassan: Dahu Green, WR, Arkansas State

Pick by Mitch Light: Xavier Brown, WR, ULM

Pick by Mark Ross: Joe Dillon, LB, Louisiana

 

 

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(Photo of Zac Thomas courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics)

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