A huge congratulations to Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, slayers of the MAC and deliverers of #SunBeltHeat! The Eagles went into the GoDaddy Bowl an eight-point underdog and crushed the Champs of the MAC. And the Mountaineers overcame a scrappy Ohio squad to capture the Camellia Bowl. Overall, the Sun Belt went 2-2 in Bowl play, which is pretty damn awesome.
Especially considering how horrendously the SBC performed out-of-conference.
I don't mean to ruin Christmas, but it is my duty to inform you that Sun Belt Football did not have a very good 2015. In fact, it was terrible; a black hole from which no light or meaningful regular season victories escaped.
According to Sagarin Conference Rankings, the Sun Belt ranked a depressing 19th in the nation, right between the MAC East and CUSA West (meaning the total of the SBC was about as strong as the MAC and CUSA's weakest divisions). This mark, somehow, is worse than last year's ranking, which saw the Sun Belt at 18th.
It wasn't all terrible. According to ESPN FPI, only one Sun Belt program (New Mexico State) fell to the bottom ten of college football (by comparison, CUSA has four). Georgia Southern and Appalachian State served as the conference's highest ranked members, at 58th and 59th respectively (followed by Arkansas State 75th, and Troy 95th).
Still, you don't have to rely on fancy rankings to know the Sun Belt is struggling. The football was so bad, the conference commissioner didn't even bother to present the championship trophy. Who can blame him? Just look at what happened to Sun Belt teams outside of the conference schedule – and scream! Too scared, coward? I'll break it down for you.
The Sun Belt Went A Horrendous 13-34 in Out of Conference Play
Relax, I did the math. That's a .382 winning percentage. But at least those wins were quality wins, right? NO!?
Nine of Thirteen Wins Came At The Expense of FCS Programs
Are you kidding me? 69% of the Sun Belt's OOC wins are FCS?!? Check out the names the Sun Belt carved into the victory oak tree this year: Wofford, Prairie View, Howard, Northwestern State, Missouri State, Gardner-Webb, Citadel, Nicholls State and Charleston Southern. On the bright side, the Sun Belt only endured one loss to the FCS (thanks, Georgia State).
The Remaining Four Wins Were Against Unsexy Peer-Opponents
South Alabama traveled all the way to the West Coast to punish 10-3 San Diego State, ringing in the Sun Belt's best OOC win by far. And Georgia Southern beat 7-5 Western Michigan in Statesboro. Appalachian State was good enough to beat 2-10 Wyoming and 5-7 Old Dominion, who rank 115th and 119th respectively in ESPN FPI. And that's it.
The Sun Belt Laid A Big Salmonella Egg Versus the Power Five
It's easy to argue that the Sun Belt plays the toughest OOC in college football. The Belt takes on exceedingly difficult programs, and to expect a significant number of wins is a little unrealistic. That said, the conference played 18 P5 opponents and lost to every one of them. Troy and Arkansas State even hosted P5 programs and failed to scratch out a W. Sure, A-State nearly beat Missouri and Georgia Southern almost beat Georgia, but not even moms care about almosts and nearlys.
CORRECTION: Georgia State beat Ball State, too. Yay!
Only One Sun Belt Program Has A Winning OOC Record in 2015
Congrats, Appalachian State. You're the Sun Belt OOC powerhouse owning a sterling 3-1 record. Georgia Southern put up a .500 record. Six programs managed a single OOC win, and two (Georgia State and New Mexico State) chalked up a zero. In this Strength of Schedule world, this ain't cutting it.
But There's Hope, Right? Tell Me There's Hope!
There's hope. Hell, there's always hope. Barring any winter defections, next season will be the Sun Belt's third consecutive season of stability. New coaches for ULM, Georgia Southern and Texas State will infuse more energy into the conference. Aside from Willie Fritz, the core coaching talent in the Belt remains intact. Meanwhile, the conference's second-tier programs – South Alabama, Georgia State and Troy – are showing significant improvement.
Truthfully, the success of the Sun Belt lies with the leadership presented by its leading members. Until the rest of the conference builds or regains strength, it's on Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State to deliver signature wins to the Sun Belt. Let us hope that 2016 presents those opportunities, and that the Sun Belt pours on the Heat.