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Sun Belt Weekend Primer

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Previewing all the Sun Belt games for week five.

Wyoming at Appalachian State – 3:30 PM

Things could get ugly this weekend at Kidd Brewer Stadium, when Wyoming comes to town. The Cowboys are ranked 95th, nationally, in total defense, and 105th in scoring defense. They haven’t faired much better on the other side of the ball, coming in at 78th in total offense, and 113th in points per game. Markus Cox is poised to have a big day, with Taylor Lamb, perhaps, handing the ball off more often than usual on account of the nasty weather. Don’t be surprised if Terrence Upshaw sees a lot of touches, as well, especially if the Mountaineers jump out to an early lead, as I suspect they will.
Prediction: 44-14 Appalachian State

Liberty at Georgia State – 3:30 PM

Turnovers will be the name of the game if Georgia State wants to walk away from this one with a win. So far this year, only eight teams, in the entire country, have given the ball away more than the Panthers’ ten turnovers. The offense is capable of carrying this team past Liberty, as long as it can avoid shooting itself in the foot, particularly in the red zone, or deep in its own territory. Look for Nick Arbuckle to put up big numbers, as usual, with Penny Hart and Robert Davis both getting a lot of looks. What this game really comes down to, however, is if Georgia State is going to beat Liberty or if Georgia State is going to beat Georgia State, as we’ve seen them do so many times before.
Prediction: 35-34 Georgia State

South Alabama at Troy – 7:00 PM

What constitutes a “true” rivalry? South Alabama-Troy doesn’t have the history of some of college football’s great rivalries, but the disdain between the two fan bases is there, and even though they have only played three times, the 2013 matchup was as exciting a football game as you will find. I think this game will come down to big plays; for the Jaguars, creating them, for the Trojans, limiting their opponents. South Alabama has 15 plays of 30+ yards, so far this season, most in the Sun Belt and sixth in the country. Troy has only given up 13 plays of more than 20 yards, third best in the conference. If South Alabama can break off a few explosive, momentum swinging plays, the Jaguars could very well even the series on Saturday. My head says South Alabama’s defense could cost it the game, but my heart is tugging me towards the underdog.
Prediction: 41-38 South Alabama

Idaho at Arkansas State – 7:00 PM

Arkansas State comes into its conference opener as heavy favorites at home against Idaho. The Vandals are coming off a 24-point loss to Georgia Southern in their conference opener. Idaho played the Eagles close for the first half, but was dominated when the teams came out after half time. I expect a similar situation this week. Idaho could keep it close for a while, but, ultimately, the Red Wolves will run away with it in the second half.
Prediction: 37-17 Arkansas State

Georgia Southern at Louisiana Monroe – 7:00 PM

This should be the game of the week in the Sun Belt. The outcome could be a defining moment of each of these teams 2015 season. The Eagles will go into Malone stadium 1-0 in the Sun Belt, following their big road win at Idaho, last week. The Warhawks are opening conference play this weekend, yet to play a game that really tells us very much about this team. I think we generally know what Georgia Southern is, but ULM is a bit of a question mark. If the Warhawks defense plays physical up front, they have the talent to give Matt Breida and the Eagles offense some problems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Breida will still get his, but he will have to work for it. It really comes down to how well Louisiana-Monroe can move the ball, and whether or not it capitalizes on any opportunities it creates, or is given. I expect home field advantage to be a factor, but when it’s all said and done, the Eagles will remain unbeaten in the Sun Belt.
Prediction: 28-24 Georgia Southern

Louisiana at Louisiana Tech – 7:00 PM

Personally, I thought the Ragin’ Cajuns were going to be a major player in this year’s race for the Sun Belt title, but last week’s performance has me reevaluating that. Yet to play a Sun Belt game, there’s still plenty of time to right the ship, and it’s not even that I expected them to beat Akron, just to keep it closer than they did. So far, the results have gone about as you would expect them as far as wins and losses, although some games have certainly been better than others. Realistically, Louisiana probably doesn’t have a great chance of beating the Bulldogs this year, especially on the road. The focus should be on next week’s Sun Belt opener against Texas State.
Prediction: 31-21 Louisiana Tech

New Mexico State at New Mexico – 8:00 PM

These two schools have been going at it on the gridiron since before New Mexico was even an actual state. This will be the 106th meeting of the Rio Grande Rivalry, which the Lobos lead with a 69-31-5 record. The Aggies last victory was in 2011, which saw them get a 42-28 win, on the road. I think this game will be closer than people think, but the NMSU just doesn’t quite have the firepower to win this one, in Albuquerque, extending their losing streak in the series to four.
Prediction: 35-28 New Mexico

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP