Sun Belt Seeks Strong Encore to Super ‘16 Staff

August 22, 2017 at 10:57 am.

Sep 17, 2016; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; Troy Trojans quarterback Brandon Silvers (12) looks to throw in the first quarter against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Photo Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 17, 2016; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; Troy Trojans quarterback Brandon Silvers (12) looks to throw in the first quarter against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Photo Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

By Paul Borden

After placing a league-record six teams in bowl games (winning four), the Sun Belt Conference has a tough act to follow in 2017.

The league should be able to fill its allotted five postseason spots, but a lot of things are going to have to fall favorably for a sixth team to earn an invitation.

The usual suspects look to lead the way. Appalachian State and Arkansas State shared the league title a year ago at 7-1. Each has gone 20-4 in Sun Belt play over the past three seasons. With a 6-2 league record, Troy finished a game behind those two in a bounce-back season in 2016 and has the weapons to get at least a share of its first title since 2010.

Appalachian State not only returns 13 starters — including quarterback Taylor Lamb, 1,400-yard rusher Jalin Moore and big-play receiver Shaedon Meadors — the Mountaineers have a favorable schedule that, after the opener at Georgia, could see them as favorites in each of their remaining games. They don’t play either of the other two toughest challengers, Troy and Arkansas State, which should smooth the way to a conference championship.

Like Appalachian State, Troy returns a veteran quarterback in Brandon Silvers, a 1,200-yard rusher in Jordan Chunn and a top receiver in Emanuel Thompson. But the Trojans have schedule challenges in road games at Boise State and LSU in non-conference play and at Arkansas State in the league.

Arkansas State returns the Sun Belt Player of the Year — end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones — and starting quarterback Justice Hansen, but the Red Wolves have to completely rebuild their offensive front. They play Nebraska and Miami in their first two games, but getting Troy at home in the finale is a nice break late.

The mix of teams looking to fill those fourth and fifth bowl slots includes a Georgia Southern team looking to bounce back from an off-year in 2016. After going 14-2 in their first two years in the Sun Belt, the Eagles fell to 2-6 in the conference last fall. An experienced offensive line and getting back to basics on offense should help get things right.

South Alabama notched a couple of huge wins (Mississippi State, San Diego State) last year, but more consistency is needed. The Jaguars also lost to Louisiana-Monroe and barely got by FCS foe Nicholls State and New Mexico State.

Idaho won a surprising nine games last year and returns veteran quarterback Matt Linehan. Along with New Mexico State, the Vandals will be playing their final season in the Sun Belt. The Aggies need running back Larry Rose III to stay healthy to have a chance of moving up.

The fortunes of Coastal Carolina will be interesting to watch. The Chanticleers not only introduce a unique nickname to the league but also have some talent at the skill positions on offense to pull off a surprise or two.

Most Valuable Player: Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, DE, Arkansas State

Offensive Player of the Year: Brandon Silvers, QB, Troy

Defensive Player of the Year: Eric Boggs, LB, Appalachian State

Newcomer of the Year: Derrick Gore, RB, Louisiana-Monroe


1. Appalachian State: The Mountaineers are looking at another double-digit win season and bowl trip.

2. Troy: Trojans could run the table in the Sun Belt (maybe we’ll need a coin flip for title) behind a talented offense.

3. Arkansas State: Red Wolves will be lurking in the conference race if they can survive September again.

4. Georgia Southern: A win over Arkansas State in SBC opener could propel a comeback season for the Eagles.

5. South Alabama: Surviving September could get the Jags pointed toward a third bowl trip in the last four years.

6. Idaho: Matching the nine wins of last season doesn’t seem likely; .500 is not out of the question.

7. Louisiana: The Cajuns need a couple of good breaks to make it to the postseason this time around.

8. Georgia State: First-year coach Shawn Elliott is going to need a little more time to get the Panthers into contention.

9. New Mexico State: Getting Rose back is a plus, but this isn’t basketball; one man can only do so much.

10. Coastal Carolina: Coastal Carolina won’t be an easy out as an FBS newcomer, but anything more than four wins is a bonus.

11. Louisiana-Monroe: A backbreaking early schedule makes it difficult for the Warhawks to exceed the 4-win total of 2016.

12. Texas State: The Bobcats might add to the two-win total of 2016. Three wins this season? Four?


Most Accurate Passer: Brandon Silvers, Troy

Strongest Arm: Matt Linehan, Idaho

Best Scrambler: Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State

Coolest in Clutch: Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State

Toughest to Bring Down: Jordan Chunn, Troy

Best Hands: Shaedon Meadors, Appalachian State

Most Dangerous Deep Threat: Penny Hart, Georgia State

Best Pass Blocker: Jordan Rose, Idaho

Best Pass Rusher: Ja’Von Rolland-Jones Arkansas State

Best Cover Corner: Clifton Duck, Appalachian State

Special Teams Demon: Deonta Moore, South Alabama

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