Two weeks into the college football season, the Sun Belt Conference is already down to just three unbeaten teams. Those small numbers don’t come as much of a surprise as ‘Group of Five’ conferences like the Sun Belt routinely send their teams up against power conference foes through the early weeks of the season.
What is a big surprise are the two teams that remain unbeaten - Georgia Southern, Louisiana and UL Monroe.
Those three teams combined to go 11-25 last season without a single bowl appearance between them. But all three claimed wins over FCS foes in the opening week and - while the Ragin’ Cajuns were off last weekend - ULM outlasted Southern Miss 21-20 while Georgia Southern rolled over Massachusetts in an authoritative 34-13 win.
UL Monroe figured to sport a high-octane offense that would try to compensate for a leaky defense, but the roles were reversed against Southern Miss. The Warhawks earned their first points of the night with a fumble recovery in the Southern Miss end zone. UL Monroe pushed into the lead in the third quarter and its defense came up with its fourth forced turnover of the night to clinch the game in the final 30 seconds of play.
In Statesboro, the Eagles of Georgia Southern continued to show that their 2-10 record in 2017 is something from the distant past. That point was made clear to UMass, which defeated GS 55-20 last season, only to find a staunch defense and a rejuvenated Eagle option offense flying all over the field in Southern’s revenge victory.
“I keep saying that last year is behind us,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “This is a new year and a new team. So this game wasn’t about last year. We ask our guys to have a ‘why’ for their effort in each game. We don’t tell them what the ‘why’ is, so maybe some of them used last year. The important thing is that we played well and won.”
Perfect day for App
Appalachian State nearly pulled a huge upset on opening weekend as it took No. 10 Penn State into overtime before falling. A letdown week wouldn’t have been a huge surprise after such a close call, but the Mountaineers were even sharper in a 45-9 rout of Charlotte.
“It was a great game for us,” Appalachian coach Scott Satterfield said. “Our guys played well and we scored in all phases of the game. When you score on offense, defense and with special teams, it’s usually a good day.”
A great team effort was overshadowed by a sensational individual accomplishment.
Replacing departed four-year starter Taylor Lamb at quarterback, sophomore Zac Thomas went a perfect 14-for-14 through the air for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas also carried the ball eight times for 29 yards and added another touchdown on the ground.
SBC > USA
With the power conferences consistently hogging the majority of publicity, television rights and bowl game access, the ‘Group of Five’ conferences are in a constant struggle to prove themselves as leagues with teams that can consistently stand up to the nation’s best.
So when non-conference games match up G5 schools, teams are playing not just for themselves, but for conference notoriety.
Conference USA features 14 teams to the Sun Belt’s 10. Their schools are generally larger and located in bigger cities, pulling from a deeper alumni base and general population for the support that is needed to keep schools and the conference competitive.
So Sun Belt headquarters in New Orleans had to feel pretty good on Sunday morning when the box scores showed a 3-0 sweep of Sun Belt schools over Conference USA opponents in Week 2. The Sun Belt has gone from just one official bowl tie-in less than a decade ago to five reserved slots this season. And more non-conference weekends like last week will only keep the Sun Belt on the rise.
As a hurricane looms off the Atlantic coast and is slated to make landfall later this week, the threat of wind and rain has plenty of Sun Belt teams checking weather reports as often as game film.
On Monday afternoon, Coastal Carolina found out that its game week schedule was getting a major facelift. The Chanticleers were scheduled to host Campbell on Saturday, but Coastal’s home in Conway, S.C. is just 20 miles inland and lies directly in the line of Hurricane Florence.
Buies Creek, N.C. is home to Campbell and is also likely to receive a direct hit by the storm. In order to get the game in and also get both teams safely back home before the worst of the weather strikes, Campbell will now host a 2 p.m. start on Wednesday afternoon.
Clemson, S.C. could also feel effects of the hurricane and is the destination for Georgia Southern on Saturday as they face the No. 2-ranked Tigers. Communication between the schools is ongoing, but the game is currently scheduled for its original 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
Appalachian State hosts Southern Miss on Saturday and — while safe from most flooding at an elevation of over 3,000 feet — could have to deal with plenty of wind and rain.