Like it or not, Sun Belt teams are judged more on their performance outside of the conference than inside. For proof, look no farther that the final USA Today 1-128 NCAA Re-Rankings of the 2015 season. The new organization's top rated team wasn't the undefeated conference champion (Arkansas State, ranked 48th) but the winners of bowl games (Georgia Southern, 41st and Appalachian State, 37th).
A-State defeated Appalachian State (who defeated Georgia Southern), yet the Mountaineers' win against Ohio held more value, at least according to USA Today. (FULL DISCLOSURE: This vexes me. This vexes me very much.)
So yeah, out-of-conference is important to the ambitions of Sun Belt programs.
As usual, the Sun Belt OOC is heavy on road trips against higher-resourced opponents. But there are fewer brutal west coast jaunts. There are more games that, well, look winnable. The dye is cast for inclusion in the New Years Day Bowl discussion, should one or more Sun Belt teams chose to seize the moment.
|SBC Program||OOC P5||OOC Peer||FCS|
|Georgia Southern||Georgia Tech||Western Michigan||Savannah St. (H)|
|Appalachian St.||Tennessee||Old Dominion (H)|
|Arkansas State||Auburn||Toledo (H)||Central Arkansas (H)|
|Louisiana||Georgia||Boise St. (H)||McNeese (H)|
|Troy||Clemson||Southern Miss||Austin Peay (H)|
|ULM||Oklahoma||New Mexico||Southern (H)|
|Texas State||Arkansas||Ohio||Incarnate Word (H)|
|Georgia State||Wisconsin||Ball State (H)||UT Martin (H)|
|South Alabama||Mississippi St.||San Diego St. (H)||Nicholls St. (H)|
|Idaho||Washington||UNLV||Montana St. (H)|
|New Mexico St.||Kentucky||UTEP|
|Texas A&M||New Mexico (H)|
Notes and Uninformed Opinions
- The weakest team on the schedule, according to 2015 Saragin ratings? Savannah State, ranked 247th out of 254 college football programs. (Don't blow it, Georgia Southern).
- Of the Sun Belt's 17 P5 match-ups, ten (59%) are against the SEC.
- The lowest ranked SEC opponent, according to ESPN's preseason FPI rankings: Kentucky (54th)
- The highest ranked FBS opponent, according to FPI: LSU (1st)
- The lowest ranked P5 opponent, according to FPI: Kentucky
- The lowest ranked FBS opponent: Massachusetts (125th)
- The highest ranked G5 opponent: Boise St. (35th)
- According to ESPN FPI, the Sun Belt plays the top ranked P5 and G5 program in 2016
- This year there is only one in-state P5 versus Sun Belt game, Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech.
- Idaho takes on both of Washington's P5 programs. Paul Petrino must really enjoy the American northwest.
- The Sun Belt takes on some nice peer programs this year, including Air Force, San Diego State, Boise State, Houston and Toledo.
- Collectively, the Sun Belt plays two fewer P5 program than it did in 2015. But then again, it also plays one fewer OOC game in general, now that ULM has scheduled 4 instead of five OOCs.