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The Strength of the Sun Belt Conference

By Emory Hunt
SouthernPigskin.com
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One conference that you never hear much about nationally is one that gives a lot of other conferences fits each time they line up, and that’s the Sun Belt Conference.

College Football loves to place its programs into categories, especially in the FBS. You have the ‘Power 5’ conferences, the ‘Group of 5’ programs, one conference loves to call itself the ‘Power 6’.  But one conference that you never hear much about nationally is one that gives a lot of other conferences fits each time they line up, and that’s the Sun Belt Conference.

Continuity is king in college football and when you look at the 12 programs that make up the SBC, 7 have had their head coaches in place for a minimum of 4 years.  That allows a coach the ability to implement his system, recruit the players to fit said system, develop said talent and change the culture of the program as well.  All of which leads to sustained success.  In 2016, six SBC squads made it to bowl games, going 4-2 in those contests. 

This season, the conference adds Coastal Carolina, who is coming off 5 straight seasons of 8 or more wins in the FCS. The Chanticleers went 10-2 last season and was ineligible for the FCS Playoffs as they were transitioning up to the FBS level.  They are strong enough to hit the ground running and compete for the Sun Belt title this season.  Speaking of competing, that’s something that the SBC does very well in out-of-conference games.  Last season, SBC teams went 22-23 in out-of-conference contests with upsets over Southern Miss, Mississippi State, Old Dominion and Ohio University. 

Because of the competitive and wide-open play of the teams in the SBC, many on a national scale have called it as the ‘Fun Belt’ conference.  Fun comes from excitement and that excitement comes from having outstanding players, and the SBC has no shortage of those that keep fans glued to the television.  New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III is one of the most explosive backs in college football. Appalachian State CB Clifton Duck is one of the nation’s better corners. His teammate RB Jalin Moore is the reigning SBC Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,402 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and scoring 10 rushing touchdowns.  Arkansas State’s DE Ja’Von Rolland-Jones finished 2016 with 20.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks, both of which led the conference. This year he teams up with former 5-star recruit and Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle Dee Liner, giving the Red Wolves one of the stronger defensive fronts in college football.

Teams from the SBC are constantly fighting for respect on a national level, which is why games in Week Zero through Week 4 are of the utmost importance to them. This is usually the non-conference part of the schedule where you will see matchups like Appalachian State vs Georgia, Arkansas State vs Nebraska, South Alabama vs Ole Miss and New Mexico State vs Arizona State just to name a few. Which means, there could be one, or multiple teams entering opening weekend that’ll forget to put on their SPF and end up getting burned on by teams from the Sun Belt.

Emory Hunt - Emory Hunt, "The Czar of the Playbook", is a former UL Ragin' Cajun running back nw covering the Sun Belt for Southern Pigskin. His other work can be found at FootballGameplan.com. Twitter: @FBallGameplan