2016-07-26 13:52

Remark by Pete: Yes, he is doing it again! Jack6 is writing about College Football, and will guide us through the upcoming season. You can find his posts in the "Block of Granite" section. Enjoy reading, and many many thanks to Jack6 for doing this again!

Hello out there.

I had written a longer chapter about the last few months and some issues around college football, most prominent the issue about sexual assaults, about money in college football and the hypocrisy of the NCAA, the universities and the coaches.

But I came to the conclusion that I'm far from able to present you all the facts and figures to give you a complete picture.
I have an opinion on those topics and I could state that one of cause, but that would only result in a quite depressing article so I skip that all.

I much rather start simply with this preview of the first conference and leave those explosive topic to the US-press.

I hope the ongoing discussions will change things, but my personal view on this is, it will take years, if not decades, to change the system.

Let's start with the first, probably weakest, conference.

Sun Belt Conference

The Sun Belt is still one of the weakest Conferences in the country and they are still not really stable.
The conference itself does have quite a lot members, but not all do support football, which leave the conference with 11 teams for this season.
For the future there will be drop outs and new members, like Idaho leaving probably 2018 to downgrade to FCS-level on their own decision, Coastal Carolina will join 2017 to make the jump from FCS-level to FBS-level and Texas-Arlington might support Football in the near future.

So the conference is 1 team short for a 2 division setup and a regular championship game (conference are allowed to play a championship game regardless of their size since this season, so it might happen that the conference will field a championship game in the near future regardless the amount of teams and eventually existing divisions) and this might stay that way or not, depended on the future developments.
Since the Big 12 has announced to add at least 2 more members in the future, those conferences losing teams to the Big12 will very likely have a look into the SBC and as well to other conferences to fill the gaps.
No information is available so far, but as we learned in the past, this might happen fast, especially during off season.

The teams are:
Appalachian State University Mountaineers
Arkansas State University Red Wolves
Georgia Southern University Eagles
Georgia State University Panthers
University of Idaho Vandals
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
University of Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks
New Mexico State University Aggies
University of South Alabama Jaguars
Texas State University Bobcats
Troy University Trojans

Now let's get a bit into the details:

In the past I did a roundup per team and I already started with those again, but found them after 3 prewritten conference previews ready to post a bit boring.
It was almost the same for all teams, with some differences based on situations.

I decided to try it this season a bit different, but the changes are not that much.

My way-too-early-TIP for this season is:
Appalachian State Mountaineers
Arkansas State Red Wolves
Georgia Southern Eagles
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
South Alabama Jaguars
Troy Trojans
Georgia State Panthers
Idaho Vandals
Texas State Bobcats
New Mexico State Aggies
Louisiana Monroe Warhawks

Why that?

The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks did axe their coach Todd Berry after a 2-11 season and hired Matt Viator.
He is coming from McNeese State, where he served as HC since 2006 and won several conference titles and games.
In his first season he will face an uphill battle.
The non-conference games are beside a FCS game against Southern against quite good teams and they will play against every strong team inside the conference and almost every mid-level team.
Unlucky them they miss New Mexico State this season.
Look out for the late games in November and December, we might see some surprises, especially against rival Louisiana-Lafayette.
At the end they will likely lose too many game, hence my bottom of the conference pick.

As second worst team I see the New Mexico State Aggies.
I have the feeling we will see a coaching change here fast, if that team does not get it right quickly.
Doug Martin is in his 4th season and has so far 7 wins in 3 seasons.
Not the kind of success you are looking for when you hire a new coach.
Last seasons 3 wins were the highest win rate he had since becoming the Aggies new coach, but I'm sure the AD wants at least 6 or 7 for this season.
The non-conference schedule will likely add zero wins to their record this season, playing too many good teams.
Weakest team could be UTEP (CUSA).
So those expected wins have to come from inside the conference, right?
Bad luck they miss the Warhawks and the Panthers, two games they might have won.
I see them winning against Texas State at home and ULL, but that's probably that for this season.
We might see an explosion of strength, which happens sometimes, but I doubt it.
At the end they will have a slightly better record than the Warhawks.

With the Texas State Bobcats I was maybe a chicken.
Dennis Franchione left after a bad 2015 season (3-9 record) for retirement and Everett Withers was hired from James Madison (FCS) where he was HC for 2014 and 2015.
He was also interims HC for North Carolina in 2011 and had a quite OK season there, despite the NCAA investigations but was let go when current UNC coach Larry Fedora was hired.
So he has something to prove here.
Texas State has all the potential to be an at least quite successful program, if coached in a good way.
That means, they could become an SBC powerhouse, so Withers needs to get that potential going.
I'm sure he will have some time to adjust, but expectations will rise fast.
It won't help playing only 1 FCS team and only very good teams for the rest.
That 1 win does help a bit, but not much.
Lucky them they miss Georgia Southern inside the conference, along with South Alabama, but with the current program status, every team is a potential dooms bringer.
On top of that they have also basically no real home game against potential bottom teams.
Eventually Idaho and Troy are bad enough to fall under that category, but beside that ...
Best games would have been against ULM and NMS, both on the road.
So, either this team come out stronger than expected and will win not only a few games, but several ones, or they will win almost none and fans and players have to look for 2017.
My pick is they will finish almost last or last, but since I expect them to come up better than the Warhawks and the Aggies, I chickened and picked them 9th.

The Idaho Vandals are one of those teams I don't really like, with no particular reason why.
But I do like their decision to downgrade to FCS on their own in nearer future, becoming the first and so far only team in NCAA history to make that step voluntarily.
All other teams who done this were forced to do so by the NCAA.
It's unlikely the Vandals will become a powerhouse in the FBS in the near future, maybe they can restore some pride in the FCS.
The question is now, whether the Vandals will more or less skip the remaining seasons in the FBS by just playing a little bit, or will they play hard and tough like a long time ago and will try to go out in a blaze of glory?
My guess is, they will weasel themselves through the season and we all will be happen when they will be FCS soon.
I'm not questioning their willingness to play, I question the execution of that will on the field.
At least is Paul Petrino (Brother of Bobby Petrino) still at the helm and did even win some games last season.
The non-conference games do look again dooming, playing only 1 FCS teams and lots of better teams from the PAC and MWC.
They could win 2 games, might end up with just 1.
Inside the conference will they not face Arkansas State and Georgia Southern, which means they have one of the easiest schedule of all.
I'm not sure if this will help them, but for sure it's better than playing against those top teams, so ....
I expect them to finish at mid-level and picked them 8th, because I just think that the Panthers will have a slightly better season than the Vandals.

Not that the Georgia State Panthers will have good time this season.
The Panthers had a nice season last year, compared to the season before.
They added 5 wins on the really bad 2014 season (1-11) and finished (6-7) after a Bowl loss against San Jose State in the Cure Bowl, their first Bowl game ever.
Now the team has to deliver an even better season.
Their HC, Trent Miles, is in his 3rd season and I'm not sure he will be able to push the Panthers for another win or two further. That's where the fun ends.
He was also at that point with his former team Indiana State and was not able to deliver.
Their non-conference schedule is wide spread and because of Ball State (MAC) and Tennessee–Martin (FCS) they will maybe win 2 games here.
Of all SBC teams they will not face Louisiana–Lafayette and New Mexico State, 2 mid-level to low level teams, which means the remaining games will be tough.
Crucial games will be against Southern Alabama and Troy, both on the road, which means the will have a hard time topping those 6 wins total from last season.
Still I think they will win more than the Vandals inside the conference.

Which brings us to the Troy Trojans.
Neal Brown is in his 2nd year and won 4 games last season, which is not as good as it could have been.
Regardless last seasons success was good enough to dream of further improvements.
The almost usual FCS-team on their non-conference schedule will have to deliver a sure win, UMass (Indy) might add another one.
Inside the conference they miss both Louisiana-something-teams, which will give them not the boost they might have hoped for.
Add a bad home/away constellation, playing the tough teams most of the time at home and the easier on the road. That's good if you are a major contender, but bad if you look for an upper mid field spot, where I see Troy.
Put that together I can see them winning 5 to 7 games, but not more.
A total valid scenario is a complete bust this season, or a complete success.
I think they will level the bust games out with some surprising upsets, finishing 6th overall.

Why are the South Alabama Jaguars not listed higher?
Because the other teams will play likely better.
South Alabama lost the last 3 games at season end and therefore missed a bowl game invitation and a positive season.
Joey Jones is now in his 8th season and had the worst season with the teams since 2012, their first inside the FBS.
This season they will try to get better, again.
Their non-conference schedule is nice, but won't help them to get more wins. They play a FCS team and beside that only good teams.
They don't play Appalachian State and Texas State, which means they don't play one of the top teams and one of the potential bad teams inside the conference.
They have the potential, but this has to be translated to the field, which did not happen last season, so why should it happen this season?
Only the players can do this.
If they play better as a unit, they might be able to get some upsets, I for this preview don't see a progress big enough to bring them on contender level.
I expect them to play a bit better than Troy, but better than the Cajuns? No.

Here come the nice Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. I love that name, even when they sucked last season.
The team did crash from the level of bowl playing in New Oleans Bowl in 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons and a winning streak of 9 wins in those all those years to a level of 4 wins in 2015 and of cause no bowl.
It's not hard to imagine that Mark Hudspeth in his 6th season will have to get that team back on track, if he does not like to get fired.
The university will for sure accept a losing season once in a while, but several other team had shown that it's possible to win in this conference for several seasons and the pressure is even higher, if you are the highest paid coach in the SBC with over 1 million $ per season.
Last time they won the conference? 2013 (tied), since then only second places or worse.
I think the hot seat is on and he will have to deliver a great season.
I see them winning in non-conference games against McNeese State (FCS) and Tulane (AAC), the rest will be losses.
The conference games do not see games against Georgia State and Troy, which means they will not play two mid-level teams and will have to play the low level teams and the favorites.
If the Cajuns can come back in 2014 form, they will at least give every favorite something worth a game and they will win the easy games.
I think 6 to 8 wins are possible, but whether that's enough to keep the job, I don't know.
For sure Hudspeth has some friends in the administration, otherwise would that wage not be explainable.
With a tough schedule I don't see them higher than mid-level, but inside that group of teams on top, means 4th.

The reason for the Georgia Southern Eagles to be at 3rd is, they will be a good team under hard times.
This team is a good one, but got hit by some NCAA violations and will lose some of the wins of the past.
The fallout of this is not clear so far, but will for sure effect the first season under new HC Tyson Summers.
Willie Fritz, last seasons coach, went to Tulane to make a miracle happen there and Tulane relevant again on a Football field.
New coach Summers was Colorado States DC last season and will have to deal with the small mess left behind.
Don't expect too many wins from the non-conference games, I expect them only to win the FCS game.
They will face inside the conference both contending teams from Arkansas State and Appalachian State, so if they get through this unbeaten, they deserve the SBC crown.
They also won't face Idaho and Texas State, which means they won't face 2 of the easier teams.
Overall it looks not good for the Eagles.
New coach, NCAA violations, a tough schedule.
I think they will drop a game or 2 against the other 2 contenders. So I picked them 3rd.

The Arkansas State Red Wolves won the conference last season and Blake Anderson is still the HC, which did not happen since a long time (keeping a HC after a conference win).
Now in his 3rd season, he will face a tough season and has still a Bowl game to win.
The team will play 1 FCS for the default win, but they might also win all other non-conference games, which would be unusual.
Inside the conference they do not play Appalachian State and Idaho, which is on one hand good, since they avoid a contender, but on the other hand they miss a game against a lower mid-level or low level team, making the overall schedule a bit tougher than the Mountaineers one (see below).
As compensation they will face Georgia Southern as another contending team at home beginning of October, making it possible to win the conference with a share at least.
A bowl game should be a must. A win there could mean another good bye to the HC.
I picked them second, because they might drop a game during the season.

On the other hand I expect the Appalachian State Mountaineers win big.
Last season were the Mountaineers almost on top of the conference, finishing 2nd behind Arkansas State and getting a Bowl invitation (first ever) to win against Ohio in the Camellia Bowl.
Scott Satterfield, a longtime Assistant on the Mountaineers staff, is now in his 4th year as Headcoach.
He will have to deal with high expectations on his teams, less than the conference title will be hard to swallow after last seasons finish.
They might add 2 wins from the non-conference games, even when they do not play a FCS team, which is unusual for the SBC.
Inside the conference they avoid Arkansas State and South Alabama, which means they will not play against one of the top teams and also not against a mid-level team, giving them very likely a boost on wins.
Most crucial game will be the Georgia Southern game, which is a road game end of October.
If they avoid stupid losses against mid-level teams, they should be able to go undefeated inside the conference and win at least a share of the title.
Some do see them even challenging the Vols or the Hurricans on the non-conference games, but I doubt it.

Overall does the conference promise, as it was also that way in the last few seasons, an open competition and my picks will likely be a bit shuffled at season end.
There are some great games coming from that conference, which is usually a more offense oriented one, which I like.

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