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Sun Belt starting to get interesting
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Summer is a time for reckless speculation when it comes to college football and - for Sun Belt schools whose summers are especially long and oppressive - there is no shortage of time spent obsessing over how things will play out once the fall arrives.


It has taken nearly two months, but the first cool nights have finally arrived in the Sun Belt just as the race for the top of the conference standings is starting to really pick up the pace.


As for the preseason projections, it’s a mixed bag. The general idea of how things would play out in the conference seems to be going along with the script, but there are just enough curve balls thrown in already that it is anyone’s guess how the second half of the season will play out.


Here are some of the conference's biggest talking points as the season reaches its halfway mark:



Trouble for Troy

While the Troy Trojans still control their own destiny in the East Division, their season has taken a drastic turn over the last two weeks.


During an otherwise uneventful steamrolling of Georgia State on Oct. 4, Troy starting quarterback Kaleb Barker went down with what was later found to be a season-ending ACL tear. The Trojans and air-raid savant head coach Neal Brown were hopeful that backup Sawyer Smith could step right in, but Smith was shaky and the rest of the Trojans looked even worse as they were upset by first-year FBS program Liberty over the weekend.


“We had a bad game on the road and maybe our worst game in four years,” Brown said. “We gave up three drives of over 75 yards and, offensively, we couldn’t get out of our own way. There just aren’t a lot of positives to take away.”


If there is a silver lining, it’s that Troy is now able to reassess itself during a bye week. The rest will be welcomed by regular starters and the extra time before conference play resumes will be vital for getting Smith and the Trojan offense back on track.



Red Wolves regroup

While Troy’s role as a conference title hopeful is suffering due to injury, Arkansas State’s presumed shot at another Sun Belt championship is fading of its own volition.


The Red Wolves were picked to cruise to the top spot in the West, but have been beaten up by the East, losing to Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in consecutive weeks to begin its conference schedule.


Arkansas State still controls its destiny as the rest of its division hasn’t fared any better against the East, but a season finale with Troy would be a high hurdle to clear if it’s a necessary win for ASU to make the conference title game and the Wolves’ offense has shown enough flaws over the last two weeks to cause plenty of concern even against divisional rivals that didn’t appear to be threats at the beginning of the season.


Dark horse shining bright

Three teams were the trendy picks to win the Sun Belt in 2018. Troy and Arkansas State are dealing with issues while Appalachian State is steaming right along.

But another contender now has to be acknowledged.


Georgia Southern entered the season with even the most optimistic predictions simply thinking that the Eagles could attain bowl eligibility. But at the halfway post of the regular season, the Eagles are already just one win from qualifying for the postseason and - more importantly - the owners of a gaudy 3-0 mark in Sun Belt play.


The Eagles found themselves as big favorites in a midweek road game at Texas State last week, only to find themselves in a dogfight. Georgia Southern’s option offense never got on track, but the defense held tough, stifling the Bobcats throughout the night and denying a late two-point conversion attempt to slip away with a 15-13 victory.


“We need to focus on getting the little things right,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of the little things because they can grow into big problems.”


Georgia Southern will take a step out of the Sun Belt this weekend as they embark on another long road trip to New Mexico State. The Eagles hope to return to Statesboro as a bowl-eligible team, but the real drama lies just a bit farther down the road as an East Division showdown between the Eagles and Appalachian State is quickly approaching.