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Previewing the Inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game

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The Big 12 has applied for a waiver to play a championship game with ten teams. Whether or not they pull it off, the Sun Belt has eleven and has no motivation to stay that way.

Whatever the Big 12 does with ten, the Sun Belt is up to eleven, and on the rise.
Whatever the Big 12 does with ten, the Sun Belt is up to eleven, and on the rise.
Todd Bennett/Getty Images

In news outside Underdog Dynasty's purview, the Big 12 has petitioned the NCAA for a championship game with only ten teams. The ACC tried this ten years ago, adding Miami and Virginia Tech, then having to wait a year for the Big East to give up Boston College. While they waited, they applied for a title game with only eleven teams.  They were rejected.

So the Sun Belt, much like the Big 12, is stymied with too few teams, eh?

Hardly.

While the Big 12 hesitates to expand, the Sun Belt has shown no such hesitation. This is the league that just hired Karl Benson as their commissioner, a man who added so many teams to the WAC that it disintegrated... TWICE, the second time proving fatal to WAC football overall.

Despite Benson already being rebuffed by Montana and James Madison (at a minimum), the Sun Belt is headed this direction. With the UAB problem working itself out, and all signs pointing to the Blazers now remaining in C-USA, how long will the Sun Belt really stay at 11?

Recent history would seem to point more toward the Southland Conference than not, as the SLC is a former home to the likes of  Texas State, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe and basketball-only UT-Arlington, along with former SBC members North Texas, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion and UAB.

James Madison University has already rejected the expansion-happy SBC, and few other schools have expressed interest in making that expensive leap to FBS, at least not recently.

But much like the Big 12, it's not a question of how or even if, but when. This is the big-money era with championship games and bigger TV contracts than ever - an era where even the MAC has a neutral site championship game that has averaged 16,000 fans over the past five years. How can the Sun Belt be far behind? With a conference footprint primarily in the deep south, the hottest of hotbeds for college football, they have to be able to do at least as well as the MAC.

With the exception of Georgia Southern, every team that has moved up to FBS has struggled for the first few years as they found their footing. So if the Belt adds another school, or more than one, we can safely assume any new addition will be out of contention for a year or two at best.

Given the current roster, this would likely give us a Sun Belt West with Idaho, New Mexico State, Texas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe; a Sun Belt East with Appalachian State, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, South Alabama and Troy; and centrally located Arkansas State going either east or west, depending on the 12th school. Looking at recent seasons, this is a pretty clear-cut case of a Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns vs. Georgia Southern Eagles in the inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game (presented by Underdog Dynasty?).

Whether the game was held on a neutral site, or in any of the larger stadiums in the conference (the Superdome, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the Georgia Dome), this is a televised game guaranteed to generate a spike in attendance (read: "put asses in seats.") At a minimum it should surpass the numbers the MAC championship game is getting in the scenic family vacation destination of Detroit.

Of course, maybe this is all a pipe dream. Maybe the Big 12 will decide expansion is the way to go after all, and pluck two geographically and academically sensible universities from an unsuspecting conference, despite all the negative public opinion currently surrounding the Big 12.

And that conference will take two from CUSA, who will take two from the Sun Belt, as has happened in every previous round, with commissioner Karl Benson protecting against it by circling the wagons up to eleven. If that's the case, the Sun Belt can function just fine with nine, go through its years schedules, and continue to build public goodwill and put more and more teams in bowl games.

But it's Karl Benson, you know. So whatever number they're at in 2016, or even 2017... the Belt won't stay there for long.