After capturing at least a share of four straight Sun Belt conference titles, Appalachian State came up short in 2020 and finished two games behind Coastal Carolina (11-1, 8-0) in the East division. In a year that saw the Chanticleers widely picked to be the last-place team in the division, they surprised everyone and ran the table in the regular season. CCU was poised to host West division champ Louisiana in the conference championship game, but that contest was canceled due to covid issues in the Chanticleers' program. As a result, both were recognized as Sun Belt champs.
This year, Coastal Carolina is projected by the Congrove Computer Rankings to finish 3rd in the East, despite a list of 19 returning starters that includes QB Grayson McCall. For those who slept during the 2020 season, all you missed was an all-everything performance by McCall who ran for 569 yards and 7 scores while passing for 2,488 yards, 26 TD's and just 3 INT's.
Georgia State is picked to win the East, with Appalachian State once again coming in second. The Panthers are forecast to go 9-3 in the regular season with losses at North Carolina, Auburn and cross-divisional foe Louisiana. The loss in Lafayette is expected to be the only conference blemish dealt GSU until the conference championship game produces a second loss to the same team.
Louisiana is a 9.96-point underdog at Texas in the season opener before reeling off 11 straight victories, clinching the West, and then claiming its first outright title.
Louisiana welcomes back 20 starters while Georgia State returns 19 and Appalachian State welcomes back 17.
Three teams in the Sun Belt have a new head coach to start the season - Terry Bowden at ULM, Butch Jones at Arkansas State, and Kane Wommack at South Alabama.
Louisiana-Monroe announced Bowden as its replacement for Matt Viator on December 23. Bowden brings a 25-year career record of 175-114-2 (.605) to the Warhawk's program, including marks of 47-17-1 at Auburn, and 35-52 at Akron. He has Akron's only bowl win in history to his credit, as well as an undefeated season at Auburn (1993). Bowden has served as an offensive analyst at Clemson for the past two seasons.
Blake Anderson resigned as the head coach of the Red Wolves on December 10 to fill the vacancy at Utah State and the Red Wolves moved quickly to introduce Butch Jones two days later. Jones had a career record of 84-54 as head coach of the Vols, Cincinnati and Central Michigan and has a 4-2 record in bowl games. He also has 2 MAC titles and 2 Big East titles. He spent the last three seasons on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama. This would seem to be an "out-of-its-league" pickup for Arkansas State and if Jones performs as expected, a Power 5 school will lure him away within 3-4 years.
Wommack was also announced on December 12 as the new head coach at South Alabama. He spent the previous three seasons as the LB coach at Indiana and added the role of DC for the last two seasons. Prior to that, he was in Mobile as the DC of the Jaguars from 2016-2017. The school fired Steve Campbell on December 6, the day after a 29-0 loss to Troy dropped the Jaguars to 4-7. It was the program's best mark under Campbell who was hired in 2018 to replace the architect of the program, Joey Jones. He leaves with a 9-26 record overall and a 6-18 mark in Sun Belt games. Before taking the job in Mobile, Campbell had zero losing campaigns in 19 seasons as a head coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (won 2007 JUCO national title), Delta State (won 2000 D-2 title), and Central Arkansas (two FCS tournament bids).
|** - Louisiana-Lafayette by 9.13 over Georgia State|