This Week in the Sun Belt
The Sun Belt has five, count 'em, five games against other G5 conferences this week. It's a chance to make a statement one way or the other about the strength of the league this year. Yesterday, we did a piece on the importance of out-of-conference games as they pertain to College Football Playoff money.
The bad news is, four of the five games are on the road and, in four of the five teams, the Sun Belt school is the underdog. But hey, let's go play.
APPALACHIAN STATE (1-2) at AKRON (2-1) (+6) 2:30, American Sports Network/ESPN3---The much hyped game against Miami turned out to be a clunker as the Mountaineers were out of it early. Meanwhile, fans may not have noticed, but the Zips hung 63 on Marshall last week as 17 point road dogs. Terry Bowden's club had a blocked punt and a fumble return both for touchdowns in a 31 point second quarter. RB Marcus Cox is questionable for the game. Jalin Moore will get the carries if Cox can't go. This is a big one for the Mountaineers...and for the league.
CENTRAL ARKANSAS (2-1) at ARKANSAS STATE (0-3)--It's taken three weeks, but it looks like a quarterback has finally stepped up for the Red Wolves. Sophomore transfer Justice Hansen led a second half comeback for Arkansas State last week in their loss to Utah State and completed 18-26 passes for 277 yards. It remains to be seen if that fixes the offense, but the defense is a concern as well. The Red Wolves haven't been able to get off the field on third down, although they were a little better last week. You know that old saying, "it's not about the opponent, it's about us?" It applies this week for Arkansas State as they begin a four game homestand.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN (3-0) at WESTERN MICHIGAN (3-0) (-7) 6pm ESPN3--The boys from Statesboro surprised WMU a year ago, winning as a home underdog. The Broncos already have two Power 5 skins on the wall this year, winning at Northwestern and Illinois. The Eagles have been solid defensively in their three wins but surprisingly, the offense hasn't rolled with that option game as they have the past two years. This would be a really good week to get that untracked. The game features two of the three youngest head coaches in the FBS. New GS head coach Tyson Summers is 36. His counterpart, P. J. Fleck is 35.
*NEW MEXICO STATE (1-2, 0-0) at TROY (2-1, 0-0))(-20) 6pm, ESPN 3--You have to hand it to the Aggies. They scored 22 points the opening week (UTEP), 32 the second (UNM) and 42 last week (Kentucky). And, they've done it without pre-season Offensive Player of the Year Larry Rose. Impressive. Rose will probably play this weekend for the first time. But don't expect NMSU to score 52 against a Troy team that, so far at least, has played the best football in the league. If anyone thought their performance against Clemson was an aberration, that was squelched after a road win over a very good Southern Miss team. The Aggies have scored, but haven't stopped anyone, allowing nearly 300 yards per game rushing. Troy RB Jordan Chunn is licking his chops It's the SBC opener for both.
NICHOLLS (1-1) at SOUTH ALABAMA (1-2) 6pm, ESPN3--After turning a lot of heads with the Colonels' near-stunner of Georgia, Tim Rebowe's club won its conference opener against Incarnate Word last week. Now it's on to Mobile for their second game against an FBS opponent. Nicholls runs a similar offense to the Cajuns and that could help the Jags. But you can bet Rebowe has been on the phone this week with the Cajuns' staff as well. Dallas Davis will certainly challenge the Colonels' defense. But after seeing what the Cajuns' running game was able to accomplish last week, don't be surprised if Nicholls has some success there.
#6 HOUSTON (3-0) at TEXAS STATE (1-1) (+34) 6pm, ESPNU--There should be a good crowd at Bobcat Stadium Saturday for the Texas State home opener, the first chance for fans to see new coach Everett Withers in action. The Bobcats got nothing done offensively last week against Arkansas after scoring more than 50 against a solid Ohio team. Speaking of solid, Houston is coming to town. Texas State will play with some passion...but this is a close game only if Houston decides to nap through it.
LOUISIANA (2-1) at TULANE (1-2) (-5) 7pm, ESPN3--The Cajuns rolled up 252 yards against South Alabama on the ground last week. Don't expect that kind of output against this Tulane defense, which likes to put on pressure and swarm to the football. This puts more onus on Anthony Jennings and the Cajuns' passing game, but the graduate transfer has been up to the task so far. Tulane's spread option offense is something the Cajuns have not seen since Mark Hudspeth came to Acadiana. Everyone knows it difficult to prepare for it in just a few days. How well the Cajuns defense responds will have everything to do with who wins this game.
IDAHO (1-2) at UNLV (1-2) (-14') 8 pm Mountain West Network--Granted the Vandals have played two Pac-12 opponents, but this team, which had some explosiveness last year, has scored just 40 points in three games, and that includes FCS opponent Montana State. To be fair, QB Matt Linehan hasn't been completely healthy. UNLV, meanwhile, put up 21 points in each of their two losses: at UCLA and at Central Michigan. This wraps up a three game road swing for the Vandals.
For UL Monroe and Georgia State, it's a week off. GSU travels to App State to open SBC play, while the Warhawks head to Auburn.