Last year, the Sun Belt staged its first conference championship game with Appalachian State dispatching Louisiana-Lafayette 30-19. The Mountaineers had tie for the title the two previous seasons. Appalachian State is 34-6 in Sun Belt games since entering the conference in 2014.
This season, Appalachian State begins a new era as head coach Scott Satterfeld exits for Louisville, and North Carolina State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz takes the reins. Despite the change at the top, the Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com have the Boone Boys edging out Georgia Southern for the East division title, and then knocking off Arkansas State for another Sun Belt crown.
Mark your calendar for the Halloween clash between the Eagles and Appalachian State, as that could very well be a de facto playoff championship game for the division.
Troy is picked to finish 3rd under first-year head coach Chip Lindsay who spent the previous two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Auburn. The well-traveled Lindsey was Troy's QB coach in 2010, then returned to high school coaching the next two seasons. He was an Auburn offensive assistant in 2013, the OC at Southern Miss for 2014-2015, and the OC at Arizona State in 2016.
Former Troy head coach Neal Brown, whose teams won 10 or more games in each of the last 3 seasons, was plucked as Dana Holgorsen's successor at West Virginia.
Coastal Carolina gets the 4th-place nod in the East as Joe Moglia stepped down in January and handed the reins back over to Jamey Chadwell who went 3-9 as the interim head coach in 2017.
The West looks to be a 3-way battle between Arkansas State and the two Louisiana schools, with each going 5-3 in conference play and 1-1 against each other. The RedHawks advance to the conference championship under further Sun Belt tie-breaking procedures.
Arkansas State won or shared the league title 4 times between 2012 and 2016.
Texas State is picked to finish 4th in the West with a 1-win improvement in Jake Spavital's first season. The West Virginia offensive coordinator gets his first head coaching job, replacing Everett Withers who was fired on November 18, a day after losing by just 5 points to heavily-favored Troy, 12-7. Unfortunately, one close call against a much better team doesn't save you when you are 7-28 after nearly 3 full seasons, and just 2-21 in the Sun Belt. Chris Woods was the interim coach for the season finale at home vs. Arkansas State which the Bobcats also lost.
A year ago, the Sun Belt entered the season ranked as the weakest of all conferences with the East coming in last among all divisions and the west ranked 17th out of 20 (including the Independents). This year, the conference is ranked 7th, trailing only the Big 5 (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC, SEC), and the Independents. The East division ranks 11th and the West division ranks 16th.
*-Tie-breakers: Arkansas State, UL-L and UL-M go 1-1 vs. each other; Arkansas State wins division in accordance with further Sun Belt tie-breaking procedures; UL-L beats UL-M.
*-Championship: Appalachian State over Arkansas State
First-place votes in parentheses
1. Appalachian State (7) - 46 pts
2. Troy (1) - 39 pts
3. Georgia Southern (2) - 35 pts
4. Coastal Carolina - 17 pts
5. Georgia State - 13 pts
1. Louisiana (6) - 46 pts
2. Arkansas State (3) - 42 pts
3. ULM - 27 pts
4. South Alabama (1) - 19 pts
5. Texas State - 16 pts
Predicted Champion: Appalachian State