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The Sun Belt Conserved Its Energy for 2016

NFL Scouting Combine invites to the Sun Belt declined from four in 2015 to just one in 2016. But upon further inspection, it appears that the Sun Belt is saving it up for a huge season.

Larry Rose III is just one star returning to the Sun Belt in 2016.
Larry Rose III is just one star returning to the Sun Belt in 2016.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, hearty congratulations are in order to Ronald Blair, Appalachian State defensive end and the lone Sun Belt invitee to the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. Well done. Blair, the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, finished second in the conference for sacks (7.5) in 2015 while leading one of the nation's stingiest defenses.

Ronald Blair is a fine Sun Belt representative, but what does it tell us about the relationship between the conference and the NFL when South Carolina State has two more Combine invitees that the entire SBC? Has the Sun Belt really fallen behind the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in terms of NFL-caliber talent?

I admit, I freaked out after reading the Combine Invitee list:

I found myself staring blankly into space, my monocle lying unpolished alongside my crystal snifter of 100-year-old brandy. How could this be? Yes, it wasn't the Sun Belt's best year, but is it really this barren of pro talent? I've watched enough conference games to know that this Combine cannot possibly represent the quality of Sun Belt Heat.

And then it hit me, like the crown of a football helmet.

The best talent in the Sun Belt is still building a resume.

Take a look at the conference's offensive and defensive statistic leaders in 2015. Of the top six  signal callers (Taylor Lamb, Nick Arbuckle, Brandon Silvers, Matt Linehan and Fredi Knighten), only Knighten and Arbuckle were seniors. Eight out of the top ten sack leaders return, including leading sacker Ja'Von Rolland-Jones. The SBC's top three RBs of will also return in 2016, as will its leading interceptor (Latrell Gibbs), TD scorer (Matt Breida), and wide receiver (Penny Hart).

Sun Belt talent is just hitting its stride.

Yeah it sucks that Sun Belt Class of 2015 isn't receiving its notoriety from the NFL. How this will reflect on SBC prospects for the NFL Draft Day is anybody's guess. But the conference's brightest talent is still in service to the Sun Belt. Look for #SunBeltHeat to return to the NFL Scouting Combine in 2017.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article listed Georgia State QB Nick Arbuckle as returning to to the program. Arbuckle was a senior. Underdog Dynasty deeply regrets this error, and the person responsible has been sent to Uranus.