The Sun Belt split itself up into east and west divisions last season, allowing the league to put on a conference championship game that can increase revenue and notoriety for itself.
The title game went off without a hitch, but there were rumblings amongst fans about how the divisions weren’t evenly matched. The East produced three double-digit winners while the West didn’t see a team do better than 8-5. And in cross-league play, it was the East that held a 13-7 advantage - make that 14-7 if Appalachian State’s title game win over Louisiana is included.
But the tide changed a bit in the first full week of league play. Three conference games to date have been East-West matchups, and it’s the West that can currently boast a 3-0 mark.
Two more cross-league matchups are on tap this week as Georgia Southern visits South Alabama on Thursday night and Arkansas State has a date with Georgia State in Atlanta on Saturday.
Those are the only conference clashes this week, but the fire is about to heat up for everyone. The five-team divisions make the margin of error tight for any team with hopes of making the championship game.
CHAMPS STILL ON TOP
Appalachian State began its Sun Belt slate with a 56-37 victory over Coastal Carolina. The Mountaineers are also the only team in the Belt still sporting a perfect overall mark for the season, thanks in large part to an upset win over North Carolina.
App entered the season as the supposed team to beat and its offense has looked every bit the part, but the other side of the ball has been much less App-like. Usually a dominant force, the Mountaineer defense has been leaky, averaging 36.3 points allowed per game in three contests against FBS competition.
The Mountaineers remain odds on favorites, but this time around might hinge more on their offense’s ability to outscore teams each week.
SCOREBOARD ON FIRE
Arkansas State and Troy provided what was easily the most entertaining matchup of the first full week of Sun Belt action. The teams combined to score 31 points in each of the first two quarters. Troy was the first on the board in the second half, but Arkansas State soon reclaimed the lead. The Trojans pulled within a field goal on two other occasions, but the Red Wolves escaped with the road win.
The loss is a big early blow for Troy.
The Trojans were neck and neck with Appalachian State last season, with App only pulling out the division on the final day of the season. The two were picked to finish at the top of the East once again this fall and a loss in the Sun Belt opener has created an uphill battle for the Trojans.
Coastal Carolina wasn’t able to pull of an upset against Appalachian State, but the Chanticleers have to be feeling good about their postseason prospects in 2019. Last season, the Chanticleers were one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time, only to drop its final four games to finish at 5-7.
There were plenty of concerns in the offseason as head coach Joe Moglia stepped down and a slew of CCU players entered the transfer portal, but Coastal has come out swinging. The Chanticleers notched a surprising - if not pretty - 12-7 win over Kansas to get the program’s first win over a P5 school before absolutely unloading on Massachusetts in a runaway 62-28 win.
Coastal is already halfway to bowl eligibility and enjoys a bye this week before hosting Georgia State Oct. 12 in a game where it will be favored.