Looking at Saturday in the Sun Belt

With the extended week for the Red Wolves I elected to use this Saturday different from the open date. On the open date, I watched very little football, this weekend it was football intense. So here are some Sun Belt observations from the day.

The Sun Belt is even worse than I thought watching box scores.

Georgia State is so desperate to win, they make terrible decisions and bad plays. Georgia State had an extra effort play at the one that resulted in a fumble recovered by South Alabama. Later in the first quarter Georgia State tried to take the lead at the one on fourth and goal rather than tie the game and Arbuckle bounced off a brick wall for a one yard loss giving USA the ball. On the Panthers next to last drive they had made it to the USA 45 and had a first down, Arbuckle tried to back pedal and run out of a blitz rather than throw the ball away and took a drive killing 13 yard sack, they got 17 of the 23 yards they needed on the next two plays but had to punt.

Neither NMSU nor Idaho is very good. Idaho out-gained NMSU by 222 yards and NMSU turned the ball over 4 times to Idaho’s two but it was only a 12 point game. Here’s the thing. It was 20-10 Idaho in the third quarter. NMSU throws a pick. Idaho makes it 23-10. NMSU assembles an 81 yard drive to make it 23-17. NMSU gets the ball back throws a pick setting up a 14 yard TD drive to make it 29-17 (2 pt failed miserably). NMSU throws another pick and Idaho burns the final 6:11 off the clock. Three turnovers and a TD for NMSU in their final four possessions. Main takeaway other than they are both bad, the Kibbie Dome remains a terrible place to play. Dread AState’s trip there and they are off until facing us.

First thing to say about Troy-App, I congratulate Troy for coming back out to play the second half after a consult your rulebook play that was next to last play in the first half. An Appalachian receiver tried to dive for the end zone fumbled, Troy recovered and ran into the end zone trying to turn and head upfield and was tackled for a safety making it 26-14 Mountaineers. App’s most points against an FBS had been 21 against USA. They scored 53 AT Troy and their fewest allowed to an FBS had been 21 to Southern Miss and they held Troy to 14. Appalachian State was plus three on turnovers. The Mountaineers had 7 drives of 50 or more yards and scored on six of them. Troy had a 73 yard opening drive and never put together anything more than 42 yards and that 42 yard drive came with the score 40-14 (other score was a 99 yard kickoff return).
Here's a link to the safety

My very fast analysis of the three teams remaining on our schedule that I saw play. NMSU. Stop the run and dare them to beat in you in the air.
Idaho. Pressure the QB, don’t let the receivers behind you, dare them to run.
App. Last year started 1-6 and won three of the last five. They like to run, pass better than NMSU but what I like (worry) about them is they hustle on D.

Overall play was pretty ragged in those three games.

Thinking ahead to bowl games.

Barring some Hail Mary ruling from the NCAA that the champion is bowl eligible despite otherwise not being bowl eligible and Georgia Southern wins the league (very likely they win it, skeptical of NCAA helping them) the league only has 8 teams that could play in a bowl (App and Ga. Southern out because they are transitional, Idaho out for APR). If there aren't enough bowl eligible teams in FBS (this is possible, I only feel confident of 67 teams right now that would mean another nine have to make it).

Out of those eight Georgia State is 1-6 and is out with another loss, with
Clemson on the schedule, they are out though Georgia Southern should resolve the issue Saturday.

Troy is 1-6 and is probably out before Halloween traveling to USA and Georgia Southern. After that they get Georgia State and Louisiana at home with a trip to Idaho in between.

NMSU is 2-6 and while they won’t go out this week (open date) and they get the next three at home it is unlikely they can sweep Texas State, Louisiana, and ULM and then come to Jonesboro hunting for a bowl shot in the finale.

So realistically that takes us down to five teams fighting for three spots (unless something opens elsewhere).

Three teams stand at 3-3, the three who travel to NMSU.

Texas State has four road games left and their two toughest games remaining are at home (AState and Georgia Southern). Texas State probably has to win three road games unless they can split those home games. Road games are at ULM, NMSU, USA, and Georgia State.

ULM also has four road games left. One is Texas A&M but the others are App, NMSU and Georgia Southern. The home games are Texas State and Louisiana Lafayette.

The Cajuns have three home games. AState on Tuesday, USA and App. They travel to NMSU, ULM and Troy.

I think two of those three are likely to get eligible with the loser of ULM/Texas State on Saturday the most likely to be out.

That takes us to four. The two above, USA and AState. South Alabama is 4-3 after dodging Georgia State. They need two more wins and probably get one hosting Troy. Then they travel to Louisiana and Arkansas State. They come home for Texas State. If they aren’t at six after Texas State they face a mountain. They travel to South Carolina and then host Navy and Navy quite likely needs this game to have a chance to get bowl eligible.

AState is 4-2 traveling to Lafayette Tuesday followed by a trip to Idaho. The Red Wolves then get three of four at home with a road trip to Texas State and USA, App, and NMSU at home.

Right now the most probable outcome will be four bowl eligible teams for the Sun Belt. It is way too early to assume there will be a vacancy for the fourth team though that remains a possibility. If five are eligible, right now I’d expect at least one team left on the outside.

We are still at least two weeks out from having a decent idea of what the bowl picture looks like. I expect to do the first bowl analysis November 2.