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Sun Belt prepares to kick off season
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Georgia Southern wide receiver Zach Walker, top, makes a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone during an Aug. 15 scrimmage at Paulson Stadium. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    It’s a new era for the Sun Belt Conference with first-year members Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho and New Mexico State, and it’s a new world for the Mountaineers and Eagles, who are playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision for the first time this week.
    But some things never change when it comes to season openers. Texas State coach Dennis Franchione probably said it best on Monday on the Sun Belt coaches teleconference.
    “First games are always unique creatures of their own,” Franchione said. “You meet the enemy sometimes on the first day and it’s more you than anything else.”
    First-year Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz agrees. He’ll lead the Eagles into Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday in Raleigh, N.C., to take on the N.C. State Wolfpack at 12:30 p.m.
    “You’ve got to do a great job with sideline adjustments in the first game,” Fritz said, probably more so than you have to do the rest of the year.”
    For Fritz, coaching an FBS team for the first time, size is unsurprisingly the biggest concern, though it’s not the only one.
    “They've got outstanding size and we’re not a real big team,” Fritz said. “Probably every team we play this year is going to be a little bigger than what we are. But we think we match up well with them as far as the speed aspect is concerned. In the first game of the season, there’s always a lot of what-ifs or uncertainties of what they’re going to be doing. We heard they're going to be changing defenses. They're probably going to be running a 4-2-5. They've got a new quarterback they're very high on and they'll probably change their offense to fit his strengths.”

Kicking off the season
    Georgia State will be the first FBS team to play in 2014, hosting Abilene Christian on Wednesday at 7 p.m., in the Georgia Dome on ESPNU.
    The Panthers (0-12 in 2013) are looking to snap a 16-game losing streak. That said, they finished the season with competitive losses against Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and South Alabama.
    “It gave all the young guys who are returning a sense of confidence that they can compete at this level, and now they have some experience under their belts,” head coach Trent Miles said. “Now they’re going out not just to prove that we can compete, but prove we can win.”

More weekday action
    Before the college football season is in full swing on Saturday, two more Sun Belt teams will have a game under their belts. UL Monroe plays host to Wake Forest on Thursday at 7 p.m., on ESPNU, and Cal Poly visits New Mexico State at 8 p.m.

A long time coming
    Appalachian State will open 2014 the same way it opened 2007 -- a visit to the Big House to play the Michigan Wolverines. The Mountaineers, then in the FCS, won 34-32.
    Michigan will likely have that game on its mind, but that makes no difference to second-year ASU head coach Scott Satterfield.
    “Obviously Michigan is one of the most storied programs in the country. They’re always going to be picked toward the top,” he said about the game, which will air on ESPN2 at 10 a.m. “We’re picked as a big-time underdog again. An underdog can win, but I don’t think ‘07 has anything to do with it being a tougher game. It’s always going to be a tough game.”

Around the Belt
    Everyone else in the Sun Belt is in action on Saturday except South Alabama. Troy visits UAB at noon, Arkansas State plays host to Montana State at 7 p.m., Idaho visits Florida at 7 p.m., UL-L hosts Southern University at 7 p.m., and Texas State plays host to Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 7 p.m.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.