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Sun Belt Preseason Predictions

By Southern Pigskin Staff
SouthernPigskin.com
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Southern Pigskin's official Sun Belt preseason staff projections.

Sun Belt 

1. Appalachian State -- Multiple stars return, including now-healthy corner Latrell Gibbs, to a defense that ranked in the top ten in the country, allowing just 17.8 points per game. Quarterback Taylor Lamb, entering his fourth season as starter, and running back Jalin Moore form one of the top backfield tandems in college football.

2. Troy -- There is great balance both offensively and defensively for the Trojans. Troy has proven playmakers in quarterback Brandon Silvers, running back Jordan Chubb, and at wide receiver, and tied in allowing the fewest sacks in the country. Additionally, the secondary will be one of the best in the Sun Belt. 

3. Arkansas State -- Edge-rusher Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, with 30.5 career sacks and 45.5 career tackles for loss, is one of the nation's most dominant players. Throw in linebacker Kyle Wilson and cornerback Blaise Taylor and the Red Wolves should be fierce on defense. All five offensive line starters must be replaced.

4. Idaho -- The Vandals won seven-of-eight to finish 2016 and are poised to make some noise in their final FBS season. Quarterback Matt Linehan, offensive tackle Jordan Rose, defensive end Aikeem Coleman and linebacker Kaden Elliss are stars. Idaho needs to show improvement in the area of pass defense.

5. Georgia Southern -- New offensive coordinator Bryan Cook likely brings more of an option look from Georgia Tech. Running backs LA Ramsby and Wesley Fields should find running lanes behind offensive linemen Jeremiah Culbreath and Ryan Northrup. The Eagles have to figure out their quarterback situation.

6. Georgia State -- Shawn Elliott, former interim head coach at South Carolina, takes over for Trent Miles. The Panthers bring back most of their secondary from a unit that ranked top ten nationally a season ago and tied with Florida for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed. Expect big things for now-healthy wide receiver Penny Hart, a league-high 1,099 yards in 2015. 

7. South Alabama -- After a year where they beat Mississippi State, San Diego State and advanced to the postseason, the Jaguars are looking for more consistency. Quarterback Dallas Davis has plenty of experience and defensive back Jeremy Reaves is one of the most dynamic talents in the league.

8. Louisiana-- Led by speedy pass-rusher Joe Dillon, seven sacks as a freshman last fall, and a strong defense, the Ragin' Cajuns will look to continue the momentum they developed late last year by winning three-of-four to finish the regular season. The offense has some major retooling to do, especially in the passing game.

9. New Mexico State-- With 3,618 career rushing yards and 30 career total touchdowns, running back Larry Rose III is a great centerpiece to build around. Significance progress has to be made on defense, however, as the Aggies ranked 121st nationally in both scoring defense and total defense a year ago.

10. Louisiana-Monroe-- There are nice pieces offensively like quarterback Garrett Smith, guard Frank Sutton and Alabama-transfer Derrick Gore at running back. The Warhawks were one of college football's worst teams at stopping the run last season, though there is considerable returning experience up front and at linebacker.

11. Texas State-- The Bobcats are turning to former Mississippi State quarterback Damian Williams under center and, with the team's top nine leaders in receiving all back, the passing game certainly has some promise. In addition to improving a defense that slotted 125th nationally, Texas State has to better protect the football.

12. Coastal Carolina-- Moving up after consistent success as an FCS power, the Chanticleers are following in the footsteps of a number of their new conference peers. Depth is generally a concern for programs transitioning up. Impressively, Coastal Carolina won their last seven games at the FCS level.