This Week in the Sun Belt – From the Bird’s Nest
Finally, it's time for football.
The ten members of the Sun Belt Conference are all in action this weekend, and two of the games are on tap for Thursday. Five of the schools are playing FCS opponents, three are playing P5 schools, while two are playing fellow members of the G5.
Here's what's on tap this week.
KENNESAW STATE AT GEORGIA STATE (+1) 6:00 ESPN+--For the second year in a row, Georgia State opens its season at home at the former Turner Field. And, for the second straight year, it's against an FCS Opponent. Kennesaw State is ranked #5 in the preseason FCS poll. Last year, things didn't start so well for GSU, falling to Tennessee State. They'd better play well on Thursday to avoid losing to an FCS opponent for a second straight year.
SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA AT ULM (-15') 7:00 ESPN+--There is a lot of anticipation in Monroe as ULM enters year three with Matt Viator. Quarterback Caleb Evans is an electric player and his talents should be evident in game one. SLU is playing its first game under new head coach Frank Scelfo after Ron Roberts left to become the DC at Louisiana. With three tough games coming up, the Warhawks need to get this one.
COASTAL CAROLINA (+29') AT SOUTH CAROLINA 11:00 AM SEC NETWORK--Head Coach Joe Moglia returns to the sidelines for the Chanticleers after a one year absence for health reasons. The schools used to be affiliated, as Coastal was known as USC Coastal Carolina College before the school went independent of the USC system in 1993. (Hence the similarity in nicknames). Obviously the Chants are big underdogs but the spread option is never an easy thing to defend.
TEXAS STATE (+18') AT RUTGERS 11:00 AM BIG TEN NETWORK--After going 4-20 in his first two seasons, the seat is getting warmer for head coach Everett Withers. But in year three, most expect the Bobcats to be better. Whether they're able to turn that into a win over a Big Ten school remains to be seen. Let's see if the 'Cats can be competitive in this one.
APPALACHIAN STATE (+24) AT PENN STATE 2:30 BIG TEN NETWORK--Naturally, every time App State goes up against a Big Ten school, reminders of 2007 pop up. The Mountaineers are a solid enough program to where they won't be sneaking up on anyone. Penn State will challenge in the Big Ten under James Franklin. They won't be an easy mark.
BOISE STATE AT TROY (+10') 5:00 pm ESPNews--The Trojans battled with the Broncos last year in Idaho and they have an opportunity at home. But Troy lost a lot of offensive firepower from last year's eleven win squad and this might be Brian Harsin's best team since taking over for Chris Petersen. Playing at home helps, but the Trojans defense is going to have to play lights out for Troy to have a shot at an upset.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE AT GEORGIA SOUTHERN (-27') 5:00 PM, ESPN+--Chad Lunsford went just 2-4 as the interim coach last year after the firing of Tyson Summers, but the Eagles' administration liked what they saw enough to give him the permanent gig. It's back to the triple option for GS and that will make their fan base happy. The first full season under Lunsford should have no trouble getting off to a good start.
LOUISIANA TECH AT SOUTH ALABAMA (+10) 6:00 PM ESPN+--Steve Campbell takes over as the head coach of the Jaguars after having great success at Central Arkansas. The gregarious Campbell brings a different personality to the Jags and this is a curious game. While Tech has had some success in the last few years, they weren't a juggernaut in CUSA by any stretch. going just 7-6. Tech returns 15 starters, however and they are a favorite for a reason. Still, it's not easy to prepare for a new scheme.
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE AT ARKANSAS STATE (-28') 6:00 PM ESPN+--Is this the year for the Red Wolves? Arkansas State wears the Sun Belt bulls-eye for the first time, and with good reason. State is loaded on offense and they're going to be a lot of fun to watch. There's been some skepticism the last few seasons because of the Red Wolves' struggles in non conference play. But that shouldn't be the case this week.
GRAMBLING STATE AT LOUISIANA (-17) 6:00 PM, ESPN3--The Billy Napier era begins at Louisiana, but without the hype of his predecessor. The soft-spoken Napier has been very matter of fact about his team and how he wants to build it. Both quarterbacks will play in the opener, but expect a heavy dose of Trey Ragas in the backfield. Grambling has to rebuild its offense with the loss of Devante Kincaide, but they've got an All-American linebacker in De'Arius Christmas and he'll be a handful on Saturday.