In the interest of not bombarding you with 3000+ words of Sun Belt Fun (Belt), we've split our prognostications into two parts focusing on the western and eastern halves of the conference. Because, ya know, those divisions are coming anyway. First we start with everyone west of the Mississippi.
Arkansas State Red Wolves(9-3, 8-0)
Jeremy: Man, I just put together a spring practice preview on these Red Wolves, and I'm jazzed for 2016. The Monster Defense is back, with the addition of even more weapons (Dee Liner, for example). Meanwhile, fans in Jonesboro aren't worried about replacing the great Fredi Knighten thanks to a trio of talent behind center (Hansen, Tabary and Pearson). And new OC Buster Faulkner has so much speed with which to implement is fast-paced offense. With Toledo and Utah St. both in recovery mode, going 3-1 in out-of-conferece play isn't unreasonable. No Mountaineers helps, too. Buy!
Will: The depth and speed on the Red Wolves' roster is incredible, and some highly athletic transfers at receiver could easily allay any concerns about the loss of JD McKissic and Tres Houston. Warren Wand and Johnston White should also count as a reload rather than a rebuild post-Michael Gordon. A defense with plenty of returning experience should only get better as well. But who the hell is going to play quarterback? Push.
TK: If Arkansas State can replace their playmakers, then it could be a cautious buy. If the Red Wolves can navigate the non-conference slate better than before, then buying would be easier. Push
Haisten: The Red Wolves were world beaters against Sun Belt competition but did not play well out of conference. They could easily begin 2016 0-3 against the likes of Toledo, Auburn and Utah State. ASU avoids App State but adds Georgia Southern, and both UL and Troy could be dangerous. I see a slight dropoff. Sell.
Idaho Vandals (4-8, 3-5)
Jeremy: Bill Connelly of SBNation thinks the Vandals could have some upsets in them. And there's something troubling about Paul Petrino electing to stay in Moscow rather than bail for a position at Louisville. What does Paul know that we don't? Still, it's just hard to like Idaho's chances, even if it does play a relatively soft OOC and gets to avoid Arkansas State. Man, I could be so wrong, but I'm going to have to Sell!
Will: Might want to sit down for this one, Vandal fans: I'm buying your team. They'll need to find a ground game post-Elijhaa Penny, but the trio of Matt Linehan, Callen Hightower, and Trent Cowan could be one of the nastiest aerial attacks in the conference. On defense, a fairly stout secondary should be able to stem the bleeding from a less convincing front seven. Add one man special teams wrecking ball Austin Rehkow and a schedule with only 3 opponents on the right side of the 100 mark in S/P+ projections, and there's a lot of potential in Moscow.
TK: The schedule sets up very nicely for the Vandals. No Arkansas State and no Georgia Southern. The only Sun Belt game I see Idaho being a complete underdog in is their trip to App State. Despite their questionable future in FBS, Matt Linehan is too good to only get four wins again. Buy Buy Buy
Haisten: Idaho and NMSU are in a strange position as lame ducks for the next two seasons. You have to wonder if motivation will be an issue, and it's not like they were tearing things up before. Perhaps the Sun Belt snubs will spur defiance and push them to heights unseen, but I don't see it. Sell
Louisiana Ragin Cajuns(4-8, 3-5)
Haisten: Mark Hudspeth is one of the Sun Belt's top coaches and consistently pulls together one of the Sun Belt's top teams. One down year doesn't make a trend and I see an Elijah McGuire-led resurgence in Cajun Country. Buy
Jeremy: If Mark Hudspeth knows anything, it's muscles. And coaching. Listen, not only do the Cajuns get Elijah McGuire back, but I think ULL figures out the QB position, too. (Who knew that Terrance Broadway would be missed so badly?) Despite the embarrassing budget problems in Louisiana, the Cajuns are well-funded and enjoy some of the best facilities in the Sun Belt. ULL will be back rather than rebuilding, so I'm going to Buy!
Will: Is it possible to do anything but buy a Mark Hudspeth coached team with plenty of athleticism and Elijah McGuire still on the roster? Actually, yes. There are too many questions at QB, WR, and OL to fully get on board with this offense, and last year's underachieving pass rush despite all the front seven's size and athleticism still doesn't make much sense. There's enough returning experience on defense to likely prevent any further regression, but there are enough question marks to give UL a Push.
TK: The storm clouds are mostly passed over as the NCAA investigations is over and sanctions handed down. The biggest problems going forward are the scholarship reductions. This is the time for Hudspeth to show his moxie as head coach now that he's faced some adversity. If stability can come to the quarterback position, then a bowl game is very possible for the Cajuns. Buy
ULM Warhawks (2-11, 1-7)
TK: This is not an easy rebuild job for Matt Viator. It'll take more than one season for the Warhawks to build any team up, not much different from Trent Miles at Georgia State in 2014. But still, winning two games is an improvement. Buy
Haisten: Hard to say anything but buy with a one-win team but I'm not sure Viator is the answer at head coach. A successful run at McNeese State doesn't sell me because the situation there is so much different than at ULM. Viator inherits a depleted roster and a low budget, which isn't helped by the state's ongoing money problems. He's got his work cut out for him. Push
Jeremy: Years of enduring the lowest budget in the FBS has not treated the Warhawks kindly. Clearly, Todd Berry should have bailed on ULM after 2012, when the glow of beating Arkansas was still warm. Now it's up to Matt Viator to squeeze diamonds out of coal in Monroe, and honestly he seems like a guy who can do it. Just not this year. The Warhawks have few threats on the roster (though, surprisingly, they didn't recruit badly). Let's let Viator do his thing without the weight of expectations. Push!
Will: It's tough to imagine that their injury luck could get any worse than last year, and they still have a decent receiving corps to lean on in Ajalen Holley, Marcus Green, and Tyler Cain if they can all stay healthy. They'd better, since a pitiful defense loses their only real playmakers, and there's still no real ground game in sight yet. It'd be easy to say there really is nowhere to go but up, but this team is in bad shape. I don't have the heart to say they'll go 0-fer, but don't be shocked if Southern beats them in regulation as well as halftime. Push.
New Mexico State Aggies (3-9, 3-5)
Haisten: Same situation here as with Idaho but NMSU appears to be better off as an institution and as a football team. You've got a great talent in running back Larry Rose III and a proven defensive mind in Frank Spaziani. The Aggies actually move the ball pretty well but struggled on defense, losing four high-scoring games by less than 10 points last season. If Spaziani makes an impact it should be easy to do better than three wins. Buy
Will: Before you make your latest NMSU/AggieVision football wisecrack consider the following: Southern Miss grad transfer Tyler Matthews at QB with decent options at receiver if they stay healthy, Larry Rose III at RB, and Frank Spaziani might be the one defensive coordinator that can fix that unit. Buy the hell out of this team.
TK: If the Aggies don't make hay in the non-conference versus New Mexico and UTEP, then it's hard to see this team get more than three wins, even with their improvements. Push
Jeremy: True Confession: I'm scared of Larry Rose III. Like, he might be in my closet, I don't know. The dude has the first-class wheels to carve up conference records, and he still has two years of eligibility left. If the Aggies can find some weapons to surround Rose 3, and add some playmakers on defense, then New Mexico could spoil some seasons this year. I know nothing about Southern Miss transfer Tyler Mathews, but if he can find better uses for WR Tyrain Taylor, then maybe I'll be wrong to Push!
Texas State Bobcats (3-9, 2-6)
Will: It's hard not to believe in Coach Withers and his ability to get the players to play with passion and tenacity, especially after last year's collapse that was marred by a lack of drive and focus. You'd have to imagine Tyler Jones (or Eddie Printz?) and the largely unproven but talented running backs will have something to offer. That said, the lack of depth at OL after a tumultuous spring, a ton of question marks at WR/TE, and a defense that was one of the worst in FBS last season give pause. But if said defense can play with something resembling a pulse and get more than three interceptions, Texas State may just be worth buying.
Jeremy: I invested a great deal of positive collateral in the Bobcats at the start of 2015, and I was rewarded with zero dividends! You were my sleeper, Texas State! But bouncing Dennis Franchione was a great first step to returning to the conference's adult table. Everett Withers isn't exactly a mind-blowing hire, but the dude wins. Plus, Withers inherits an offense that ranks a surprising 53rd in the nation last year. But it was the 123rd ranked defense that murdered the Bobcats in 2015. That's got to get better, right? Right? Right! Like a fool, I'm gonna Buy!
TK: Withers will have the offensive firepower to make games interesting, but the defense is likely gonna be taken to the woodshed a few times. The Bobcats are likely a year away from seeing a bowl game unless Withers is better than we thought. Push
Haisten: Everett Withers was an enormous breath of fresh air for this program, though it'll take a few seasons for that to fully manifest itself. Texas State may not be great in 2016 but I can find four wins on the schedule in the form of Idaho, NMSU, Incarnate Word and ULM. Buy