Sun Belt conference football in Week Nine proved why us college football writers are always, at best, throwing darts at a wall when endeavoring to prognosticate future football results. Almost immediately after I published this piece of e-toilet paper, Dezmon Epps got himself suspended from Idaho, puncturing my optimistic outlook for the Vandals' potential bowl hopes.
Then ULM showed they had new life with Ajalen Holley back and Todd Berry looked as if he was about to save his job. Doug Martin put together a massive comeback down 30-7 and won an absolutely bonkers overtime thriller over Idaho.
Oh, and the entire Sun Belt conference power structure almost came tumbling down in the course of a few hours.
1. Beware Halloween.
For a while it looked as if Georgia Southern--who kicked their heels up after dismantling sad sack Texas State on national television two nights before--had cast some sort of voodoo spell to get themselves right back in the title race. Halloween craziness was on full display as Appalachian State had to stuff a fake field goal attempt in the third overtime to survive Troy, ULM led ULL by two possessions at halftime in Lafayette before collapsing in the 2nd half, and Georgia State went into the fourth quarter with a 34-27 lead in Jonesboro before giving up the ghost to Arkansas State in the final quarter.
Yet even after all that near chaos, the conference's power structure from last week is still intact. Appalachian State is still on top with Arkansas State posing a threat to their dominance. Georgia Southern waits in the wings for any slip-ups by either team. Louisiana-Lafayette probably won't contend for a conference title, but they're probably just good enough to go bowling. And the rest of the conference after the first four spots is still an unintelligible mess.
If one can glean anything from these results--Halloween weirdness aside--it's that doormats in the conference like Troy, New Mexico State, Georgia State might be getting it together. Perhaps the gap between what we thought was the best and the worst of the Sun Belt isn't as big of a chasm as previously thought. And if that's the case, that near-chaos we saw last Saturday could turn into full blown anarchy. Don't get too comfortable, Mountaineers.
Speaking of which, mark your calendars for Thursday night as Appalachian State and Arkansas State battle it out for the de facto Sun Belt title game. Maybe. We think.
2. This is a thing that can happen in a football game.
3. Texas State and (maybe) South Alabama are in dire straits
Sure, it's a lot to ask any team to go to Statesboro and win on two days' less rest than a vengeful Georgia Southern team. Yes, the Bobcats have been plagued by injuries, and the attrition to the offensive line has really hurt. Yes, they've played two top 20 teams in Florida State and Houston, and Southern Miss is no longer a joke. But Dennis Franchione's squad is running out of valid excuses for what has been a poor 2-5 performance through seven games.
Even with interim defensive coordinator Brad Franchione's attempts to put bandaids over the gaping wound that is the Bobcat defense, they still gave up 500+ yards on the ground to Georgia Southern and looked as if they were moving on molasses trying to tackle Matt Breida. Every team left on their schedule has an impact offensive player that could absolutely torch the Bobcat defense.
Yet even more troubling is that the once formidable Bobcat offense is now a shell of itself. Robert Lowe will probably get his against every team left on the schedule not named Arkansas State, but Tyler Jones is running scared out of the pocket and has lost his accuracy. Ever since the Houston and UL games shook him out of his rhythm, Jones has had zero pocket presence and has been throwing under and behind his already passive receiving corps.
Meanwhile, the offensive playcalling is as painfully predictable and easy to defend as ever. There's a reason Texas State lost three yards and settled for a field goal after Georgia Southern gifted them a fumble at their own 8.
Yet as bad as Texas State has looked, South Alabama still lost to them convincingly. Granted, it was against a very ticked off Bobcat team and in the slop of awful weather that's hit San Marcos lately, but USA looked all out of whack two weeks ago at Bobcat Stadium. One freak output of 31 points at home against Arkansas State aside, the Jags' passing attack with Cody Clements has looked arguably even more out of sync than Texas State's. Their run defense is also still quite vulnerable.
We'll see how they fare against Idaho, but there is a somewhat significant chance USA could finish their season 0-5. After the Vandals come to town, the Jags get a murderous slate of Louisiana-Lafayette, @Georgia State, @Georgia Southern, and at home to Appalachian State.