#24 Louisville
#21 Pittsburgh
12:00 pm, September 26
#5 Florida
Ole Miss
12:00 pm, September 26
#23 Kentucky
#8 Auburn
12:00 pm, September 26
Iowa State
TCU
1:30 pm, September 26
West Virginia
#15 Oklahoma State
3:30 pm, September 26
Mississippi State
#6 LSU
3:30 pm, September 26
#22 Army
#14 Cincinnati
3:30 pm, September 26
Florida State
#12 Miami (FL)
7:30 pm, September 26
#16 Tennessee
South Carolina
7:30 pm, September 26

2020 Sun Belt Football Preview

Check out the CSD preview for the Sun Belt Conference’s 2020 season in this loaded preview featuring in-depth coverage of everything you need to know about all ten teams, projected records based on thousands of computer simulations, the projected all-conference team, awards, and more!

The league has announced that it plans to play the normal eight conference games and that its teams are allowed to play up to four non-conference opponents.

EAST

After picking up Georgia Southern and Appalachian State from the FCS following the last round of G5 conference realignment, the Sun Belt East, won by Appalachian State the past two years, has been a sneaky good division at the G5 level. In fact, last year, over half of the division (Appalachian State, Georgia State, and Coastal Carolina) scored a major upset win against a power-five opponent. App State will be favored again, but a few teams could surprise.

1. Appalachian State

Head Coach: Shawn Clark
2019 Record: 13-1 (7-1 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 10.1 wins, 0.9 losses (7.3 wins, 0.7 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 Charlotte
Sept. 19 at Marshall
Sept. 26 Campbell
Oct. 3 OPEN DATE
Oct. 7 Louisiana
Oct. 14 at Georgia Southern
Oct. 24 Arkansas State
Oct. 31 at ULM
Nov. 7 at Texas State
Nov. 14 Georgia State
Nov. 21 at Coastal Carolina
Nov. 28 Troy

Former offensive line coach Shawn Clark has a high bar to clear. From Mack Brown to Scott Satterfield and Elijah Drinkwitz, Appalachian State has been a G5 coaching star machine, and while the Mountaineers feel due for a dud in the coaching department, Clark filled in well during the bowl game win against UAB. As for his team, the Mountaineers have outright-won or shared four straight conference titles, and they return QB Zac Thomas (2,178 yards, 28 touchdowns, six interceptions, seven rushing touchdowns) from last year’s talented squad. Thomas has struggled with accuracy in the past, but he’s a good leader and can make plays with his feet.

App State does lose perhaps their best player from last year’s team, TB Darrynton Evans, who averaged well over 1,000 yards a year in his short career at the program. The receiving corps is loaded with the top four guys back, including a pair of All-Sun Belt pass-catchers in Thomas Hennigan and Corey Sutton.

The defense is a little more suspicious, as they lose a couple of truly special players in LB Akeem Davis-Gaither and S Desmond Franklin, but the ‘Eers will return one of the best CB duos at the G5 level in Shemar Jean-Charles and Shaun Jolly. With the new coach and some significant losses, a step back may be inevitable, but App State remains the favorites in the Sun Belt and could contend for a New Year’s Six bowl slot thanks to a pretty easy schedule.

2. Georgia Southern

Head Coach: Chad Lunsford
2019 Record: 7-6 (5-3 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 6.9 wins, 4.1 losses (5.0 wins, 3.0 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 Campbell
Sept. 19 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 26 at Louisiana
Oct. 3 at ULM
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 14 Appalachian State
Oct. 24 at Coastal Carolina
Oct. 31 South Alabama
Nov. 7 Troy
Nov. 14 Texas State
Nov. 21 at Army
Nov. 28 at Georgia State

2019 was quite the up-and-down year for Georgia Southern, nearly upsetting eventual national contender Minnesota early in the year, then almost losing to Maine, handing Appalachian State their only loss of the season, and losing their bowl game to Liberty. That is the way it goes sometimes with an option team. The Eagles were one of the most fun teams to watch last year, thanks to a three-headed rushing monster of QB Shai Werts (740 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns), RB Wesley Kennedy (824 yards, 11 touchdowns), and RB JD King (804 yards, eight touchdowns). The three were Georgia Southern’s offense. Werts isn’t much of a passer, not that he was really allowed to try, the top receiver on the year had just 20 catches.

The offensive line returns three starters, and the defensive line might be the most talented group in the Sun Belt. The Eagles return a pair of studs in the pass rush in edge rusher Raymond Johnson III and C.J. Wright, however, the secondary will struggle following the departure of their brilliant pair of corners, Kindle Vildor and Monquavion Brinson. All in all, the gap between Georgia Southern and Appalachian State for 1-2 in the East will probably widen this year, but if there is a bowl season, I’d bet on Georgia Southern making it, also, they’ll be fun to watch again, so at least there’s that.

3. Troy

Head Coach: Chip Lindsey
2019 Record: 5-7 (3-5 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 5.8 wins, 6.2 losses (3.9 wins, 4.1 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 19 at Middle Tennessee
Sept. 26 at BYU
Oct. 3 at South Alabama
Oct. 8 Texas State
Oct. 17 Eastern Kentucky
Oct. 24 Georgia State
Oct. 31 at Arkansas State
Nov. 7 at Georgia Southern
Nov. 14 Coastal Carolina
Nov. 21 Middle Tennessee
Nov. 28 at Appalachian State
Dec. 5 ULM

Troy will look to rebound after missing a bowl for the first time in four years, and they will have to do so without long-time QB Kaleb Barker (3.628 yards, 30 touchdowns). It’s a big hole, but outside of a couple of question marks on the offensive line, if they can fill it, this could be the best offense in the Sun Belt. 2019 backup Gunnar Watson only threw 22 passes last year, and he’s getting a challenge from Vanderbilt transfer Jacob Free and a JUCO transfer, Parker McNeil. Whoever the quarterback is will be blessed with the best receiving corps in the conference. Everyone is back from last year’s group, including vertical threat/return man Reggie Todd and 2019 leader Kaylor Geiger Sr. (77 catches, 873 yards, five touchdowns).

The offense also brings back their top running back from last year’s team, DK Billingsley (899 yards, ten touchdowns), along with the top back from the 2018 team, BJ Smith (1,186 yards, 13 touchdowns in 2018) who missed last year due to injury. The offense should be excellent as long as they find a serviceable QB, but the defense is a different story. The secondary is extraordinarily young and is apt to get burnt frequently. The Trojans do boast a pair of excellent linebackers in Carlton Martial (126 tackles, 18.5 TFL) and KJ Robertson, but losing your one playmaker (Will Sunderland) from an already weak back four hurts. It’s hard to get a read on this team, one with some obvious strengths (WR, RB, LB) and big weaknesses (QB, CB, S). A bowl game berth feels like a tossup.

4. Georgia State

Head Coach: Shawn Elliott
2019 Record: 7-6 (4-4 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 3.9 wins, 6.1 losses (3.3 wins, 4.7 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 OPEN DATE
Sept. 19 Louisiana
Sept. 26 at Charlotte
Oct. 3 East Carolina
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 15 at Arkansas State
Oct. 24 at Troy
Oct. 29 Coastal Carolina
Nov. 7 ULM
Nov. 14 at Appalachian State
Nov. 21 at South Alabama
Nov. 28 Georgia Southern

Georgia State made waves in 2019, upsetting Tennesse 38-30 in Knoxville in a win that put the program on the map. The two keys to that game, however, QB Dan Ellington and stud RB Tra Barnett, are both gone. A pair of backups at running back, Destin Coates and Seth Paige, showed flashes last year and could step up into the hole Barnett left. The QB situation is a different story, though. 2019 backup Cornelious Brown was not good in limited playing time, and incoming freshman Mikele Colasurdo was ruled out for the year due to long-term effects from a heart problem after contracting COVID-19 (There’s one for the “young people will be fine” crowd). If Brown or perhaps Vanderbilt transfer Jamil Muhammad can step up, there is talent around them. The receiving corps has some names, including Cornelius McCoy Jr. (70 catches, 757 yards, five touchdowns), and four starters return on the line. The defense struggled last year but should be a lot more experienced, bringing back nine starters and adding in transfers from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. As long as the Panthers can sort out the QB spot, this could be an above .500 team again, but that’s a big if.

5. Coastal Carolina

Head Coach: Jamey Chadwell
2019 Record: 5-7 (2-6 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 4.8 wins, 6.2 losses (2.7 wins, 5.3 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 at Kansas
Sept. 19 Campbell
Sept. 26 OPEN DATE
Oct. 3 Arkansas State
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 17 at Louisiana
Oct. 24 Georgia Southern
Oct. 29 at Georgia State
Nov. 7 South Alabama
Nov. 14 at Troy
Nov. 21 Appalachian State
Nov. 28 at Texas State
Dec. 5 Liberty

Seconds away from bowl eligibility and a win over a power five team? Not a bad start to your first season as the (official) head coach, Mr. Jamey Chadwell. Now the Chants need to follow it up. Stud RB CJ Marable could be the best weapon in the conference. He racked up 14 touchdowns between the rushing and receiving game last year, and the speedy Marable also served as an excellent return man for the Chants. The slow-paced rushing attack of CCU might not be the most fun to watch, but that will likely be the route Chadwell goes again in 2020, as the quarterback situation still looks dreary. Rushing threat Bryce Carpenter and Fred Payton split snaps last year. I prefer Carpenter thanks to his talent in the run game and Payton’s “let it fly” turnover-producing attitude, but neither will light your world on fire. The defense is still extraordinarily young, and they lose their best playmaker in Chandler Kryst (five INTs). The Chants were probably lucky to win five games last year, and with an inexperienced defense, a tough QB situation, and one fewer game on the schedule, I think that’s a good goal for 2020 as well.

WEST

After one of the best seasons in program history, Louisiana will see if lightning can in fact strike twice. The Ragin’ Cajuns will face a tough test from perennial West contender Arkansas State, but not anyone else, lopsided divisions have placed the conference’s bottom three teams all in the West.

1. Louisiana

Head Coach: Billy Napier
2019 Record: 11-3 (7-1 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 8.5 wins, 2.5 losses (6.7 wins, 1.3 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 at Iowa State
Sept. 19 at Georgia State
Sept. 26 Georgia Southern
Oct. 3 OPEN DATE
Oct. 7 at Appalachian State
Oct. 17 Coastal Carolina
Oct. 23 at UAB
Oct. 31 at Texas State
Nov. 5 Arkansas State
Nov. 14 South Alabama
Nov. 21 Central Arkansas
Nov. 28 at ULM

Billy Napier is a coaching star. The former Clemson OC has taken a once-great ULL program that was on their way down when he took over and taken them to back-to-back Sun Belt West titles, including perhaps the best season in school history last year. Many of the key pieces return from that team, including one of the best 1-2 punches in the country at halfback with Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas (combined 1,967 yards, 27 touchdowns). QB Levi Lewis (3,050 yards, 26 touchdowns) also returns. Lewis had a tendency to make bad throws and get bailed out by bad Sun Belt DB play in 2019, his four-interception number probably should’ve been higher, but he’s a talented QB nonetheless. If he can tighten up his risk-taking a little, he could be one of the better QBs in the conference,

Lewis will lose his top playmaker from last year’s team, WR Ja’Marcus Bradley, along with a couple of pieces from what was maybe the best offensive line in the G5, but this offense should contend for best in the conference despite the losses thanks mostly to the duo at halfback. On defense, they struggle in size on the line and lose leading tackler Jacques Bourdeaux from the linebacking corps, but get seven starters back in all, including what should be a very good secondary by Sun Belt standards. The holes in run defense along with the fact that ULL will have to travel to Boone to play Appalachian State in the regular season (and thus likely the title game as well) make me lean App State as the Sun Belt favorite in 2020, but ULL is a very close #2, and a clear favorite in the West.

2. Arkansas State

Head Coach: Blake Anderson
2019 Record: 8-5 (5-3 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 6.7 wins, 5.3 losses (5.1 wins, 2.9 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 5 at Memphis
Sept. 12 at Kansas State
Sept. 19 Central Arkansas
Sept. 26 Tulsa
Oct. 3 at Coastal Carolina
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 15 Georgia State
Oct. 24 at Appalachian State
Oct. 31 Troy
Nov. 5 at Louisiana
Nov. 14 ULM
Nov. 21 at Texas State
Nov. 28 South Alabama

This team won’t have any trouble putting points up on the board. The problem? The other team won’t either. QB Layne Hatcher (66%, 2,946 yards in ten games) is back after an excellent freshman season, although he will get a challenge from the man he replaced, Logan Bonner, who was injured last year with a thumb injury. The Red Wolves do lose their top playmaker, WR Omar Bayless (1,653 yards, 17 touchdowns), however, Jonathan Adams Jr. (851, five) will step up nicely into the #1 receiver role. The line wasn’t great last year but should be much improved as they age into the experience.

On defense, however, the Red Wolves take a hit to an already suspect group. The top three tacklers (and six of the top nine) are gone from one of the worst defenses in the nation, including a bevy of out-transfers highlighted by star pass rusher William Bradley-King. This will be a high-variance year thanks to the lopsided talent gap between the offense and the defense, but there is enough talent that the program should go bowling for a 10th (!) straight year, assuming we have anything resembling a normal bowl season.

3. South Alabama

Head Coach: Steve Campbell
2019 Record: 2-10 (1-7 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 3.0 wins, 8.0 losses (2.7 wins, 5.3 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 3 at Southern Miss
Sept. 12 Tulane
Sept. 19 OPEN DATE
Sept. 26 UAB
Oct. 3 Troy
Oct. 10 OPEN DATE
Oct. 17 Texas State
Oct. 22 ULM
Oct. 31 at Georgia Southern
Nov. 7 at Coastal Carolina
Nov. 14 at Louisiana
Nov. 21 Georgia State
Nov. 28 at Arkansas State

Alright, this is still probably a bottom five or ten team in the country, but you can start to see some potential with this South Alabama team, can’t you? At least if you squint? The schedule isn’t bad, as they get some of their most winnable games at home, and they bring back QB Desmond Trotter, who took over late last year as a freshman and threw eight touchdowns to just two interceptions. Six of the top seven wideouts are back, along with four of five on the offensive line. They lose their RB, Tra Minter, but anchored by NFL prospect Jacob Shoemaker, the line will probably propel even a replacement-level RB to a good year.

The defense is exciting, as seven of the top eight tacklers are back from one of the more improved Ds in the country. The linebacking duo of Riley Cole (nine TFL) and excellent coverage back AJ DeShazor is excellent, not to mention the team’s leading tackler, LB Nick Mobley (91). I’ve really talked myself into South Alabama looking at this team, and I think they’ll improve on last year’s two-win total despite fewer games and no FCS opponent.

4. ULM

Head Coach: Matt Viator
2019 Record: 5-7 (4-4 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 3.3 wins, 8.7 losses (1.9 wins, 6.1 losses)

Schedule

Sept. 5 OPEN DATE
Sept. 12 at Army
Sept. 19 Texas State
Sept. 26 UTEP
Oct. 3 Georgia Southern
Oct. 10 at Liberty
Oct. 17 OPEN DATE
Oct. 22 at South Alabama
Oct. 31 Appalachian State
Nov. 7 at Georgia State
Nov. 14 at Arkansas State
Nov. 21 Louisiana Tech (in Shreveport)
Nov. 28 Louisiana
Dec. 5 at Troy

After a 2019 season that was heartbreakingly close to bowl-worthy, the WarHawks now stare down the barrel of a rebuild. QB Caleb Evans, one of the best players in program history, is gone, along with his offensive coordinator, the top two receivers, and four starting lineman. Yikes. ULM does return one of the best backs in the conference in Josh Johnson (1,298 yards), but with little around him, it will be a tough hill to climb to get close to 2019’s five wins. JUCO Jeremy Hunt should be the man at QB, but the WarHawks may favor sophomore Colby Suits thanks to his longer tenure with the team. Suits struggled in limited dropbacks last year, but with limited spring practices, teams may be tempted to stick with players that know the system.

The offense is going to be bad, but there are signs of life on defense. CB Corey Straughter is one of the best corners in the country, he had almost as many PBUs/Interceptions (11) as he had catches allowed (12), a nearly unheard of statistic. Edge rusher Ty Shelby is a utility man that can play anywhere on the field. ULM will lose top tackler Cortez Sisco from a front seven that already really struggled against the run, but the pieces are there to potentially improve there too. 2020 will be a step back for ULM, but Johnson and Straughter are two of the best players at the G5 level, so chances to surprise someone are there.

5. Texas State

Head Coach: Jake Spavital
2019 Record: 3-9 (2-6 Sun Belt)
Average Projected 2020 Record: 1.7 wins, 10.3 losses (1.3 wins, 6.7 losses Sun Belt)

Schedule

Sept. 5 SMU
Sept. 12 UTSA
Sept. 19 at ULM
Sept. 26 at Boston College
Oct. 3 OPEN DATE
Oct. 8 at Troy
Oct. 17 at South Alabama
Oct. 24 at BYU
Oct. 31 Louisiana
Nov. 7 Appalachian State
Nov. 14 at Georgia Southern
Nov. 21 Arkansas State
Nov. 28 Coastal Carolina

Texas State will lose much of their talent from a team that went 3-9 last year, leading the Bobcats to take on a waterfall of transfers to try and save this season from complete disaster. QB Tyler Vitt was bad last year (although actually improved a lot in the back half of the year), he’ll have to beat out Memphis transfer Brady McBride to keep his job. Whoever ends up at QB will be throwing to a receiving corps that loses its #1 pass-catcher, Hutch White, although brings back almost everyone else. Jah’Marae Shread is a speedy slot threat that can burn Sun Belt corners with ease, look for him to step up if the Bobcats want anything close to a decent year.

Three starters are gone up front, and the defense isn’t much better, with much of the back seven gone, including excellent LBs Bryan London and Frankie Griffin. Khambrail Winters, an undersized but firey corner, returns, but the other three starters from the secondary are gone. Unless a few of the bevy of P5 transfers really overdeliver, this will be another rebuilding year in what has been almost a decade of them for Texas State.

Sun Belt Title Game Pick: Appalachian State over Louisiana

All-Sun Belt Team

QB – Zac Thomas, Appalachian State
RB – Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
RB – Josh Johnson, ULM
WR – Kaylon Geiger, Troy
WR – Jonathan Adams, Arkansas State
TE – Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
C – Noah Hannon, Appalachian State
OL – Cooper Hodges, Appalachian State
OL – Baer Hunter, Appalachian State
OL – O’Cyrus Torrence, Louisiana
OL – Max Mitchell, Louisiana

DL – Raymond Johnson III, Georgia Southern
DL – Demetrius Taylor, Appalachian State
DL – Zi’Yon Hill, Louisiana
DL – Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina
LB – Carlton Martial, Troy
LB – AJ Deshazor, South Alabama
LB – Joe Dillon, Louisiana
DB – Corey Straughter, ULM
DB – Shaun Jolly, Appalachian State
DB – Shemar Jean-Charles, Appalachian State
DB – Percy Butler, Louisiana

Most Appearances by Team:

Appalachian State – 7
Louisiana – 6
Troy – 2
ULM – 2
Coastal Carolina – 2
Arkansas State – 1
Georgia Southern – 1
South Alabama – 1

Offensive Player of the Year: Zac Thomas, QB, Appalachian State
Defensive Player of the Year: Corey Straughter, CB, ULM
Coach of the Year: Shawn Clark, Appalachian State
Coach on the Hot Seat: Jake Spavital, Texas State
Top Freshman: Reginal Johnson, WR, Louisiana
Top Newcomer: Brady McBride, QB, Texas State
Comeback Player: Forrest Merrill, DL, Arkansas State
Sleeper Team: South Alabama
Game To Watch: Lousiana @ Appalachian State (October 7th)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *