There were only five games in Sun Belt action this week, and none of them involved arguably the two best teams in the conference this season. Arkansas State and Appalachian State were both off this week. And yet, numerous interesting things took place this week.
Don't Look Now, Part One
So, Georgia State allowed South Alabama's Xavier Johnson to return the opening kickoff all the way to the Panther 31 yard line, and the Jaguars turned that into a touchdown. One minute into the second quarter, the Jaguars had outgained Georgia State 107-55 and led 10-0, while Nick Arbuckle and Co. had yet to even cross their own 40 yard line.
The senior quarterback would then come out and orchestrate a six-and-a-half minute touchdown drive, but the Panthers still trailed.
No big deal, because the Panthers then came out and held South Alabama to a measly 97 yards of offense and zero points in the second half. The only Jaguar drive that crossed the Georgia State 40 yard line ended in an interception. Meanwhile, Arbuckle went 13-of-19 for 190 yards and a touchdown while the running game picked its spots.
Suddenly, the Panthers are a home win against a very beatable Troy and a road win against their biggest rival Georgia Southern (like they need more motivation) away from a 6-6 record and a potential bowl birth, less than a year after they had zero wins against FBS opponents. Some turnaround for Trent Miles.
Don't Look Now, Part Two
On October 24th, 2015 the New Mexico State Aggies played on their home field against a Troy Trojan team that had not beaten an FBS opponent in almost a year. The Aggies defense gave up zero points in the second half and the game still went in the books as a 52-7 loss. As if that weren't bad enough, the game also marked their 17th consecutive loss.
Guess what? When the Aggies line up this coming Saturday afternoon against Arkansas State, they will have gone an entire month without a loss. A month!!! Three straight fourth-quarter comebacks have now given the Aggies some momentum and a ton of things to build on next season.
Granted, barring a shocking upset against Arkansas State, they'll probably finish the season 4-8, but if you had told me even a month ago that would happen I would have laughed at you. Larry Rose III has a ridiculous 950 yards from scrimmage in the last four games, and suddenly 2016 is looking a whole lot brighter for this team.
About those bowl bids...
Georgia State needs to beat Troy at home and then Georgia Southern on the road in order to reach a bowl game. This is nowhere near an impossibility, but even an improved Panther team is going to need some help and luck to make that a reality.
Louisiana-Lafayette, after going 36-16 overall and 4-0 in bowl games from 2011-2014, the Cajuns are still a very, very long way from a bowl game this year. Their trek begins with a road game against a well-rested Appalachian State team; for a team whose only wins in the last five weeks have been by a total of eight points over ULM and Georgia State, that seems damn near impossible. We'll worry about this game before we even consider their season finale at home against Troy.
South Alabama only needs one win in order to reach a bowl game, but even that is not very likely. They have to go on the road to play Georgia Southern, and if you thought they struggled to score against the Panthers, well... yeah. And that's probably the easier of their two remaining games, because they end the season at home against Appalachian State.