College football

2017 Preview:
Sun Belt Conference

Predicted order of finish

 1 Appalachian State
 2 Arkansas State
 3 Troy
 4 Georgia Southern
 5 Coastal Carolina
 6 Idaho
 7 Louisiana
 8 South Alabama
 9 Louisiana Monroe
10 Georgia State
11 Texas State
12 New Mexico State

#12: Appalachian State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Appalachian State has collected 20 victories in its first three seasons as a member of the Sun Belt and is showing no signs of slowing down heading into 2017. The Mountaineers easily lead the league in returning production and QB Taylor Lamb will be the vorite the conference player of the year. Add in the fact that the Mountaineers avoid both Troy and Arkansas State and it's hard to envision Appalachian State losing a conference game. The Mountaineers punished opponents for 250.9 rushing yards per game last fall, and the one-two punch of Jalin Moore and Terrance Upshaw is among the best in the Group of 5 ranks. Coach Scott Satterfield's defense led the Sun Belt by limiting opponents to 17.8 points per game last season. This unit will be strong once again, as Appalachian State features the league's top linebacker and secondary groups for 2017.

#46: Arkansas State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
If Arkansas State has any postseason aspirations, the RedWolves will need to see OT Jamal Fontenot, Jr. and the rest of the offensive line step it up. The entire front five has to be replaced, but there are options ready to give it a go. The 302-pound Fontenot will likely try taking over for First Team All-Sun Belt blocker Jemar Clark at left tackle, while a slew of new guys will try filling in right away. Can JUCO transfers, recruits, and a few backups from last year get it done?

Troy QB Brandon Silvers will need to have another breakout season if the Trojans are to have another successful campaign. The Trojans are loaded on offense after leading the league in scoring (33.7 ppg) in 2016. Quarterback Brandon Silvers ranks as the Sun Belt's top quarterback, and there is no shortage of talent at receiver or running back. Replacing three starters on the offensive line and filling a couple of voids in the front seven on defense are Brown's biggest concerns this offseason.

#63: Georgia Southern | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Can GSU rebound after falling off last eason after going 14-2 in their first two seasons in the Sun Belt after moving up from FCS? Despite returning 12 starters and a core of talent capable of contending for the Sun Belt title, Georgia Southern regressed to 5-7 and 4-4 in league play. The Eagles strayed too far away from the option attack on offense and regressed in points and yards per play allowed on defense. A win over Troy in the regular season finale may have saved Summers' job, which only illustrates the pressure this coaching staff is under for 2017. While the first year was a struggle, Summers took some steps to ensure improvement this fall. New play-caller Bryan Cook is well-versed in the option attack and is expected to get the offense back on track. But the Eagles have uncertainty at quarterback, as the battle between Seth Shuman and Shai Werts will continue into the fall. On defense, only four starters are back, with the front seven undergoing significant turnover. In addition to the personnel concerns, Georgia Southern faces a tough schedule in 2017. The Eagles play Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy - the projected top three teams - and a swing game at Louisiana. Georgia Southern still has enough talent to rebound back into a bowl game. However, a tough schedule limits the margin for error in Summers' second season.

#66: Coastal Carolina | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
New to the conference and the top tier of college football, the Chanticleers are 50-15 under head coach Joe Moglia and they will enter the Sun Belt with a winning culture. Coastal will have to adjust to a higher level of competition, but with three very winnable non-conference games it should be a relatively smooth transition year. The Chanticleers went 10-2 at the FCS level last year but lost a handful of key players from that squad, including running back De'Angelo Henderson and linebacker Alex Scearce. With the transition from the FBC to the FBS level and just eight returning starters, Coastal Carolina is a wild card. The Chanticleers were hit hard by injuries at quarterback last season, but Syracuse transfer Austin Wilson could bring some stability to the position this fall. Boston College transfer Marcus Outlow should team with Osharmar Abercrombie to form an effective one-two punch on the ground for new coordinator Jamey Chadwell. The defense must be retooled with losses at each level, but there is a solid foundation in place after giving up only 19.3 points per game in 2016. Coastal Carolina is in good hands with Moglia leading the way, and the future looks bright for this program at the FBS level.

#68: Idaho | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Idaho is coming off their first bowl victory since 2009 but this will be short lived as the Vandals are not as loaded in their final season at the top tier. How well is the secondary this season? A disaster last season, the pass defense was a nightmare in shootout after shootout, allowing 300 yards or more six times and giving away more than eight yards per throw. Can the Vandals cut down on turnovers? The Vandals aren't good enough to lose the turnover battle. In 2015, they were -6 on the year. In 2014, -11, -8 in 2013. -17 in 2012 and -7 in 2011. 2010 was the last time the Vandals finished the year on the plus side, until 2016. Idaho was a whopping -11, with the defense making up for a slew of problems with 28 takeaways – 13 more than in 2015 – winning the margin week after week after starting the season -4 in the first three games. Now, Vandals, do it again. And will the leader on offense step it up even more? QB Matt Linehan, Sr. has shown steady progression after being thrown to the wolves as a freshman. He threw for a ton of yards, but he also gave up 18 picks. Two years ago, he threw for 16 touchdowns, but he also gave up 11 interceptions. And he had ten picks last season, but he also threw for close to 3,200 yards and 19 scores, and connected on 62% of his throws. With a slew of new receivers to deal with, he will have to make everyone around him better if Idaho is going to go out a winner.

#74: Louisiana | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Ragin' Cajuns return 12 starters for 2017. Coach Mark Hudspeth needs to identify a new starting quarterback after the departure of Anthony Jennings, while standout running back Elijah McGuire expired his eligibility following the 2016 season. Hudspeth's team is strong up front on both sides of the ball but will only go as far as the new backfield tandem on offense performs. Additionally, the schedule isn't in Louisiana's favor. The Ragin' Cajuns play Appalachian State and Arkansas State and take on South Alabama and Idaho in key swing games on the road.

#81: South Alabama | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Jaguars have won at least six games in three out of the last four seasons and are led by one of the Sun Belt's top coaches in Joey Jones. South Alabama went 2-6 in league play last year but earned a trip to the Arizona Bowl thanks to non-conference victories over Mississippi State and San Diego State. The Jaguars had some bad luck last fall with a minus-two turnover margin and five losses by 10 points or less. With quarterback Dallas Davis returning, along with a defense poised to take a step forward, South Alabama should push for another bowl trip.

#114: Louisiana Monroe | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
ULM has improved at recruiting, but Louisiana-Monroe still has a lot of climbing to do. The Warhawks are going to be depending on a lot of JUCOs and young talent as the program is coming off three consecutive losing seasons. If ULM can figure out a way to win close games this fall, they could inch their way towards bowl eligibility.

#119: Georgia State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The hiring of South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has the folks at Georgia State excited as the Panthers will move into Turner Field as their permanent home to start 2017. The Panthers are coming off a solid recruiting class and they are fifth in the league in returning production. But there are still a lot of question marks all around and a winning season may be another season off.

#121: Texas State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Everett Withers did some great things on the recruiting trail at Texas State with the 2017 recruiting class but it is likely to be another rough year. Expect the Bobcats to put that top notch class to work early as Texas State still has a season full of speed bumps ahead. The future is bright in San Marcos, you just may not see the results in 2017.

#126: New Mexico State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Behind productive senior QB Tyler Rogers and stud RB Larry Rose, New Mexico State still failed to collect more than three wins. Now enter Doug Martin's fifth season, the Aggies only have 10 victories and the future certainly does not look bright. This is arguably the worst recruiting program in the league and that has reared its ugly head too many times. It is hard to envision New Mexico State climbing out of the bottom.

2017 Preseason Ranking

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