Hey Auburn fans! By this point in the summer, I’m sure you all have your Lindy’s, or your Athlon, or have been reading Bill Connelly’s excellent preview series, or have listened to probably too much sports radio. You know which teams should be good, which should be bad, who your sleeper picks are, and what Auburn’s path is to an undefeated season and how Daniel Carlson can win the Heisman.
But college football is a personal experience. Sure, there’s a bigger national narrative for every season, but the memories we carry with us are the ones where we’re personally invested in what’s going on. So this preview series doesn’t really care about stats, or projections, or all that nonsense. This is an attempt to help you connect to each of the teams in the FBS this year. Each week, we will release a conference preview, in whatever order I feel motivated to write them. I’ll probably keep the SEC for last, but then again, do I have that kind of willpower? We’ll see!
Without further ado, here is why you should care about the Sun Belt!
Hey, y’all remember how App State opened 2007? That’s right, that’s when they did the thing where they beat Michigan. Now, do you know who they open with 10 years later, in 2017? They go to UGA. Fingers crossed, y’all.
You probably remember Arkansas State as the team that let Gus Malzahn get a season of head coaching experience. They’ve actually become a pretty fun team in the Sun Belt, even if they can’t beat anyone outside of it. The Red Wolves went 7-1 in conference last year to win the Sun Belt, yet went 0-4 out of conference, including losses to FCS Central Arkansas and that 51-14 beating we gave them in week 2. They have a chance to make their mark this year, though, going to Nebraska and HOSTING Miami in the first two weeks.
The Chanticleers! This is their first season in FBS, and they have a teal colored field. That’s cool, right? Oh, and our old friend Cliff Ellis is their basketball coach.
If I had to guess, I’d say most Auburn fans that like baseball are also Braves fans. Well, the Panthers are now playing their home games at the renovated Turner Field! I don’t want to start a debate about the Braves leaving for Cobb County here, but I’m actually really excited Georgia State pulled this off. Turner Field is an Olympic landmark, and sports should continue to be played there.*
I don’t think I have to tell you we open with Georgia Southern this year. Although the Eagles fell on hard times last year (especially with a surprisingly identity-less offense), they are not to be taken lightly. If they can refocus their offense to take advantage of their triple-option heritage, they might run through our ass like shit through a tin horn.**
This is the Vandals last season in the FBS before they drop down to FCS, so if for some reason you really want to see them play, this could be your last chance when they play at Troy and Georgia State this year. There’s also the fact that they have Paul Petrino as their head coach. While he wasn’t here working with Bobby in 2002, he has worked with his brother at Louisville, Arkansas, and the Falcons.
While this is their last year in the Sun Belt, I *believe* they will remain as an Independent in the future. Anyways, they play Arkansas on September 30th if you’re really desperate to scout out the Hogs. That’s all I got here.
Texas State was arguably the worst team in FBS last year. There’s not a lot to talk about here, except maybe that their QB *might* be Damian Williams, a grad transfer from Mississippi State. If you remember, he started the Egg Bowl as a freshman in 2013, where he was pretty bad. Dak Prescott, who had been injured and hadn’t practiced for a month, subbed in during the 4th quarter and led State to a win. That’s literally the best I’ve got for Texas State.
Troy was a ton of fun last year, and is predicted to win the Sun Belt this year. Looks like our friends to the south are growing up! An opener with Boise State is possibly the best Group of 5 game we will see this year, and they go to LSU on September 30th, two weeks before we do. This could be the biggest season in Troy history if things line up for the Trojans, and personally I like to see the smaller schools in Alabama have some success.
The Jags are entertaining, which for a Fun Belt team is about all you can ask for. As Bill C pointed out in his South Alabama preview, they tend to beat pretty good teams and lose to the ones they shouldn’t. Take last year, where they beat an 11 win San Diego State team and Mississippi State, but lost to fairly bad Georgia Southern and ULM teams. What’s that, they open at Ole Miss and then host Oklahoma State?
The Rajun’ Cajuns, aside from having the best team name in the country, share two opponents with the Tigers this year. They go to College Station in week 3, and take on their rival ULM in week 4. The enemy of our enemy is our friend?
Can we call the Warhawks our rivals yet? We’ve played in roughly half of the 22 seasons ULM has been an FBS team, going 10-0 in that span, and we absolutely positively did not go to overtime against them in 2012. I mean, Alabama’s won 10 games in a row against their biggest rival. Auburn plays ULM again this year as the sandwich game between UGA and Bama in November.
*Walt’s note: Their first game there and the Georgia Southern game every other year are likely the only games that stadium will remotely be that filled. They’ve barely had 10k per game at DA DOME and that’s a generous estimate.
**Saban’s words, not mine.