Here's a healthy heaping of #FunBelt speculation with Arkansas State writer Charles Blouin-Gascon, Georgia Southern writer Haisten Willis, and Texas State writer Will Butler. Today we'll look at the Sun Belt teams located in the heart of the southeast and head west tomorrow.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
Haisten: BUY. Sadly, I think I'd be buying if App State came to the trading floor. Scott Satterfield looked like a bust his first year and a half in charge, leading the faithful to wonder if Jerry Moore should've remained on the sidelines. Moore's schadenfreude was severely diminished during the winning streak at the end of last year though, and if that momentum continues the Mountaineers could do some damage in 2015.
CBG: BUY. The bad news for other Sun Belt teams, and an A-State writer like myself, is that the Mountaineers will be bowl eligible this upcoming season. and could be crushing plenty of people's dreams--Marcus Cox is back and is still just a junior. Despite a loss against LIberty, App State's transition to the Sun Belt has worked out fine. They have great fans and for what it's worth are probably as big a name as there is in #FunBelt.
Will: BUY. I don't know what the hell got in the water in Boone, but their run during the latter half of last season was nothing short of impressive, and the vast majority of players that spurred that run are coming back. The schedule sets up nicely, and barring an absolute collapse the worst I see them going is 6-6. But they could easily crest 10 wins. They also have name recognition, great fans and facilities, and a decent recruiting base to keep them buoyant long term.
Haisten: PUSH. Tough to say. Certainly I expect the Eagles to do well (you know, being a fanboi and all). However, if this is truly a (pretend) stock exchange they must not be cheap at the moment. The top two quarterbacks and running backs return, as does head coach Willie Fritz for at least one more season. Two strong recruiting classes also bode well for the future, but it goes without saying that 8-0 is tough to achieve in any conference, let alone repeat. My call? Hold.
CBG: SELL. If we accept the premise that this is the stock exchange, then we must sell Georgia Southern because it would be so surprising to see the Eagles soar so high again. They triple-optioned teams to death this past season and a (not so) small part of me shudders at the thought that in a less fortunate universe, A-State might have had to defend and tackle Southern. But in the long term, Willie Fritz may leave for greener pastures and when you're on top, there's no telling how far down the hill that ball makes it once it gets rolling.
Will: SELL. It's hard to count out Willie Fritz as he's a coaching sumbitch, both Breida and Ellison are back, and the schedule in 2015 is still pretty easy. However, two tough OOC games and road trip to Boone looms large. I think they might take a dip to 8-4 in the short term (maybe ULM gets an upset in Monroe?), and it's hard to see Fritz not getting picked up by a P5 program and GSU taking a dip longer term. There's also the matter of them exchanging Idaho and NMSU for Arkansas State and ULL in future schedules.
Will: BUY. Yes, I'm buying Georgia State, because they showed improvement towards the end of the season and the college football analyst in me agrees with Bill Connelly in that there's nowhere to go but up, at least on paper. Then again, this is Georgia State we're talking about, so they'll probably somehow manage to lose 15 games despite only playing 12 and I'll look like an idiot.
Haisten: BUY. Exactly Will. While my feelings about Georgia State are no secret, their stock price is approaching Wolf of Wall Street penny stock scam territory. Getting stock in Georgia State is about as easy as finding a seat in the Georgia Dome on game days naamsayin'. In all seriousness, there really is nowhere to go but up after 1-23.
CBG: BUY. By the same logic that I am selling Southern, then you should buy the Panthers' stock. The road up the hill will likely be very difficult, but anything will feel like a cakewalk to the legion of Georgia State fans after an 1-23 "run". The second reason why I'm buying Georgia State stock? The Georgia Dome on game day reminds me of the last 10 years of the Montreal Expos' existence.
Haisten: Buy Buy Buy. Troy is the lock of the week, or the season, or the millennium or whatever. Even though Neal Brown is the nation's second-youngest head coach at 34, looking at his resume it's almost surprising he didn't get a head coaching gig earlier. Starting at age 27, he's been an offensive coordinator at three schools, including Troy, and performed very well at each stop. He only needs to win four games to improve over last year and talented quarterback Brandon Silvers should perform much better as a sophomore.
CBG: BUY. I will agree with my colleague Haisten and say that the odds that Troy improves in the short (and long) term are high. Neal Brown will have to replace a legend, but he looks young enough still to maybe not quite understand the magnitude of the task ahead. The cupboard isn't bare by any stretch and if the beginning of a new era isn't the definition of "BUY," then I don't know what is.
Will: PUSH. They did improve towards the back end of last season, and there is some young talent for Neal Brown to work with at some positions. But the secondary's suspect, the wide receivers don't do much, and the special teams are lackluster. Not to mention the schedule doesn't help them with only two really winnable games coming at home barring an upset. Neal Brown may do some great things at Troy, but you might want to wait a year before buying.
Haisten: BUY. In the short run this could be the best buy on the board. USA became a sort of refugee camp for UAB's stranded players after landing the Blazers' former OC. And no offense to Brandon Bridge, who certainly looked the part of a dominant college quarterback, he was one of the streakiest signal callers I've ever seen on a football field. Bridge's absence might ease last year's issues with dropped passes as well.
CBG: BUY. I buy that the arrival of many UAB players will help in the short term and respect the Jaguars' willingness to
get paid have a schedule worthy of the name. South Alabama was riding high in the middle of last season, but managed only a 1-5 finish to be the average the Sun Belt needed. Are there any conspiracy theorists out there? Quarterback Brandon Bridge was one of the streakiest signal callers, as per Haisten. Should we blame USA's finish on this native of Mississauga, CANADA?
Will: SELL. The influx of talent from UAB will certainly be a boost, but they have to find a quarterback, replace their top running back and receiver, and four out of their five leading tacklers. The schedule is an absolute meat grinder in 2015, and they certainly aren't taking it easy on future non-con schedules. They could certainly get back to 6-6 with the talent influx from Birmingham in the short term, but if you keep swinging for the fences with your scheduling in the long term, you're more than likely going to strike out.