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Three Things We Learned From Week Eight Sun Belt Conference Football

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The Mountaineers and Red Wolves took down their hated rivals, ULM and NMSU are in serious trouble, and Idaho's resurgence continues.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

1. Appalachian State vs. Arkansas State will probably decide the Sun Belt title

The #FunBelt had two featured midweek matchups on national tv to help determine the conference title race, and the result was two TKOs. In the Tuesday night game on ESPN2, the Arkansas State Red Wolves knocked out the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns by halftime with a stout rushing attack led by Warren Wand, Michael Gordon, and Fredi Knighten.

However, Arkansas State coasted in the 2nd half with conservative playcalling, and Louisiana mounted a furious comeback attempt to cut the final score to 37-27. Although taking their foot off the gas may speak to some inconsistency on the part of the Red Wolves, they're still the class of the western end of the Sun Belt.

On Thursday night, Appalachian State used smothering defense to knock out Georgia Southern's triple option attack and run away with a cathartic 31-13 beatdown in Boone. ASU showed they had a ton of weapons to work with as RB Marcus Cox outclassed his Eagle counterpart in Matt Brieda and QB Taylor Lamb hooked up with WR Simms McElfresh and others to wear down GSU's secondary.

Ever since their convincing loss at a Clemson team that's now been established as a national title contender, the Mountaineers have taken no prisoners, outscoring opponents 267-43 in their past five games. The de facto conference title matchup is now set for Thursday, November 5th on ESPNU, as the Red Wolves storm into Boone.

Arkansas State has the easier back end of their schedule as Appalachian State still has to face Louisiana Lafayette and the Red Wolves' toughest opponent outside of the Mountaineers looks to be the possibly resurgent Texas State Bobcats. However, Appalachian's dominant performances have to make them the odds on favorite for the conference title right now.

2. Doug Martin probably won't join Todd Berry in the unemployment line, but...

We already mentioned that ULM Warhawks head coach Todd Berry could be in danger of losing his job, a sentiment possibly reinforced by a less than convincing vote of confidence from Warhawks athletic director Brian Wickstrom last Monday.

Losing to Idaho by two touchdowns isn't going to sit well with any ULM fans still paying attention, no matter how much injuries have hurt the Warhawks or how improved the Vandals may be. Monroe has tasted the rush that comes with beating Arkansas and taking Baylor and Auburn to the wire, and backsliding behind one of the traditional doormats of the Sun Belt could be the final straw for Wickstrom and company.

Meanwhile in Las Cruces, New Mexico State Aggies head coach Doug Martin has already received a vote of confidence from NMSU AD Mario Moccia after his team hit rock bottom in a shocking 52-7 blowout loss at home to a Troy Trojans team that previously hadn't shown any signs of life. Moccia cited stability in wanting to keep Martin through next year (emphasis mine):

"Doug Martin is our head coach," NMSU athletics director Mario Moccia said on Sunday. "No changes are going to be made. Doug Martin is going to be our coach next year."

[...]

"We have for many years changed head coaches way too frequently," Moccia said. "Last night's loss, the biggest thing, was it was a shock. All of us thought that we would have a much better showing against a team that looked very similar to us. It was disappointing and embarrassing that we didn't have the fight we had in previous games."

Moccia also pointed to injuries to quarterback Tyler Rogers, wide receiver Teldrick Morgan and linebacker Rodney Butler, each of whom did not play on Saturday.

"I am not going to minimize that the game changes dramatically when your quarterback goes out and people would say that we didn't win with (Rogers), but we were competitive in scoring points," Moccia said. "A team that is as fragile as we are mentally and as thin as we are physically, it's difficult to sustain major losses offensively."

Unlike Wickstrom's wait and see approach with Todd Berry at ULM, that's a pretty strong vote of confidence. However, the fact that Moccia's seen fit to come out with a statement of support shows just how bad things have gotten for an Aggie team that looked like it would have a high-powered offense to compete with other teams in the low end of the Sun Belt.

If NMSU finishes 0-12, it may be worth revisiting Moccia's statement at the end of the year and see whether it still holds true.

3. Sit down for this: Idaho could make a bowl game.

No, really. After the aforementioned convincing win over ULM, the Idaho Vandals have resurrected their season and now sit at 3-4 (2-2 Sun Belt). Dezmon Epps is averaging over 120 receiving yards per game, Elijhaa Penny has become a more consistent threat in the running game, and Matt Linehan, although still turnover prone, has helped more than he's hurt the offense.

The back end of the Vandals' schedule is no picnic, with two winnable matchups coming on the road at New Mexico State and South Alabama. A road trip to Auburn and a home game with Appalachian State are probably out of reach. However, if they win those two road games against the Aggies and Jaguars and pick off Texas State in the Kibbie Dome in the regular season finale, Idaho will be sitting pretty at 6-6.

Even though a 6-6 record probably wouldn't be enough to get a bowl invite with all four of the Sun Belt's bowl ties being located east of the Mississippi River, there's always the off chance they could find an at-large bowl bid out west. And even if they don't make a bowl game, the simple act of being bowl eligible would be a massive step forward for Paul Petrino's program.