The Sun Belt falls back to 10 teams in 2018 as Idaho steps down to the FCS and New Mexico State moves into the independent category.
Nonetheless, the conference splits into two divisions and will feature its first championship game on Saturday, December 1, pitting the winners of the East and West divisions against each other at the home site of the divisional champion with the best conference winning percentage.
The East Division will hold Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Troy. The West Division will have Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama and Texas State.
Appalachian State (9-4, 7-1) and Troy (11-2, 7-1) split the 2017 Sun Belt crown, just as the computer's preseason forecast said they would do. And each finished the season with convincing bowl victories as Appalachian State blanked Toledo 34-0 in the Dollar General Bowl at Mobile, while Troy crushed North Texas 50-30 in the New Orleans Bowl.
Since entering the conference in 2014, the Mountaineers are 27-5 in Sun Belt games and 2017 marked the 2nd straight year that the Boone, North Carolina school has shared the title. Troy had not won or shared the Sun Belt title since 2010 when it ended a 5-year run of dominating the conference.
Arkansas State (7-5, 6-2) finished a game out of first in 2017 after having won or shared the title in 5 of the previous 6 seasons.
All three of those schools will be major players in the conference in 2018, but look for Louisiana-Monroe to invade the party. The computer ultimately projects Appalachian State to host the championship game and edge the Warhawks for the title.
Louisiana-Monroe's only finish at the top of the conference came in 2005 when it shared the honors with Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Sun Belt is ranked weakest of all conferences in 2018 with the East coming in last among all divisions and the west ranked 17th out of 20 (including the Independents).
Coastal Carolina has Joe Moglia back as head football coach in 2018 after he took a medical sabbatical during the 2017 season to fight an allergic reaction in his lungs. Jamey Chadwell served as interim head coach as the Chanticleers went 3-9 in their inaugural season in the FBS and the Sun Belt conference. In spite of Moglia's return, the computer has Coastal ranked 4th-worst in the nation and saddles the Chanticleers with a 1-11 projection (0-8, Sun Belt).
Louisiana-Lafayette hired Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier as its new head coach on December 15, replacing Mark Hudspeth. The 38-year-old Napier is a former Furman quarterback who has also held assistant coaching positions at Alabama and Clemson. Hudspeth was fired on Sunday after a 5-7 season. He was 51-38 in 7 seasons, including 4-1 in the only bowl games the school has played in. However, NCAA sanctions for academic fraud and payments to players forced the school to vacate 22 victories from 2011-2014, including wins in the 2011 and 2013 New Orleans bowls.
Georgia Southern removed the interim tag from Chad Lunsford's title on November 27 after the Eagles had earned consecutive wins of 52-0 over South Alabama and 34-24 over Louisiana-Lafayette, but they followed that up with a season-ending loss at Coastal Carolina. Georgia Southern finished 2-10 with Lunsford going 2-4. Lunsford had taken over after Tyson Summers was fired on October 22 after an 0-6 start on the heels of a 5-7 campaign in 2016.
*-Tie-breakers: Georgia State beats Georgia Southern