Appalachian State Mountaineers (10-2, 7-1)
TK: You might know the answer to this one after the first three weeks of the season, playing both Tennessee and Miami in that time. 11 wins isn't impossible, but it's very hard. The good news is that there's no Arkansas State on the slate. Push.
Haisten: I feel about App this year the way I felt about Georgia Southern last year. No reason to think they won't be great, but to say "buy" would mean I think they'll do even better than 11-2. The two P5 non-conference games alone should match last year's loss column, and then there's that Thursday night date against my Eagles. Matching last year's win total will be extremely impressive. Push.
Will: Marcus Cox is back, the defense that made Georgia Southern's rushing attack look impotent returns most of its personnel (sans Ronald Blair, who is admittedly a big loss), and the only real question mark is whether ASU can work with a deep but unproven stable of receivers. Don't be shocked if they take out the Hurricanes AND claim the Sun Belt trophy at the end of the season. Buy.
Jeremy: I'm all in, because it's hard not to invest in a team with so many returning studs. Yes, Ronald Blair's NFL caliber production isn't gong to be easily replaced, but the defense is still stout, Marcus Cox is still dangerous, and the schedule is not only manageable, there is potential for upsets galore. Miami in Boone!? Sign me up. Buy!
Georgia Southern Eagles (8-4, 6-2)
Haisten: A very tough call only because of the new coach. The returning talent and recruiting class are both excellent, but any time GS gets a new HC the fan base has to hold its breath to see what's done with the offense. Tyson Summers says the option is staying, but hired a pass-first guy as co-offensive coordinator, and both of the highest-rated 2016 recruits play wide receiver. More passing isn't bad per se, but there's a bit of uncertainty here for my dollar. Push
Will: The sheer number of weapons they have in the rushing attack is truly breathtaking, the recruiting has been on point recently, and the front seven on GSU's defense still rolls incredibly deep despite the loss of Antwione Williams. That said, a brutal schedule, a new coaching staff, and a worryingly inexperienced secondary all give reasons for pause. They'll still be a title contender, but I'm going to push on their chances of exceeding last year's 8-4 regular season mark.
Jeremy: The Eagles won the SBC title in 2014. The Red Wolves grabbed it in 2015. Neither have played each other. Ever! For Red Wolves fans, this is the marquee match-up of 2016. It's no secret that Georgia Southern is gifted with talent, and Matt Brieda is legit-good. And yeah, that bowl win against Bowling Green was impressive. But you have to wonder how significant is the loss of Willie Fritz to this offense, which relies heavily on his triple option. Last year, the Eagles didn't have a receiver that cracked the Sun Belt's top forty! It's only a matter of time for the competition catches up. Sell!
TK: The big question here is the coaching. Tyson Summers is a D1 FBs head coach for the first time and could be learning on the job. His stable of backs is impressive and alone could propel the Eagles to a winning record. Summers has promised to pass more, but I'll believe it when I see it. A passing team could gives the inexperienced secondary fits. Still, I don't see a massive decline. Push
Georgia State Panthers (6-6, 5-3)
TK: This team is talented, but their trajectory will depend on QB play. The defense isn't quite good enough to shut down some of the power offenses of the Sun Belt. QB play can take them anywhere between nine wins and three wins. Push
Haisten: Trent Miles was hired to turn around a lousy program, and did just that in 2015. That said, new quarterback Conner Manning was fourth string at Utah before transferring and GSU turned in one of the Sun Belt's worst recruiting classes. I'm not sure the talent is there to maintain success. Sell
Will: It could be that Conner Manning could come in and not miss a beat in transitioning from quarterback dynamo Nick Arbuckle. He certainly has the receiving corps to do it. The defense has also improved immensely and returns tons of experience. And yet, there's still no running game, the o-line replaces two starters, and it's incredibly difficult to look past that gaping hole where Arbuckle used to be. I'm gonna have to sell.
Jeremy: Every year, the Panthers create trouble for the Red Wolves. So I've seen the potential. And it was kinda scary seeing Georgia State saunter into Statesboro and handle Georgia Southern. But now Georgia State has to find a way to replace Nick Arbuckle at QB, though whoever steps up gets to toss the rock to the Sun Belt's two leader receivers, Penny Hart and Robert Davis. Those two guys alone make me want to believe in the Panthers. But realistically, not only do the Panthers have a typically tough OOC, but they also face the Sun Belt hit squad of Arkansas State, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. Yeah, no thanks. Sell!
South Alabama Jaguars (5-7, 3-5)
Jeremy: Every year is Joey Jones' year to breakout, and every year the Jags underwhelm. Now QB Cody Clements is gone, but at least Xavier Johnson is back to tote the rock. But how is Jones going to improve the nation's 83rd ranked defense? Man, that 9th rated recruiting class ain't gonna help. I'm gonna have to Sell!
TK: If South Alabama becomes bowl eligible, then Joey Jones should be up for conference coach of the year. Sell
Haisten: The UAB exodus wasn't as big a boost to South Alabama as many thought as the Jaguars went from 6-6 to 5-7. Some of that talent is already gone and for the second straight season USA breaks in a new quarterback. Joey Jones appeared to have his program moving in the right direction but after last season I'm not so sure. Sell
Will: Xavier Johnson is extremely fun to watch, Gerald Everett is one of the best tight ends in the Sun Belt, and their secondary is a competent unit that can contain most Sun Belt opponents. But I'm still not convinced they can stop the run, they're bringing in a new QB, and they could easily start a demoralizing 1-4. Add on a tough late season 4-game road stretch and I'm going to sell.
Troy Trojans (4-8, 3-5)
Haisten: I said buy on this team last year and I was right, barely: First-year coach Neal Brown took his program from 3-9 to 4-8. I'll say Buy again this time. The team looked much better despite only improving by one victory and Brown is bringing in better talent in the meantime. Watch out, rest of the Sun Belt.
Will: Despite my concerns about losing some of their key playmakers, I'm going to buy Troy. They've got plenty of experience coming back, and Neal Brown showed his ability to open up a can on some half-decent Sun Belt defenses last season. Add in 7 games against sub-100 opponents in projected S/P+ and there's definitely some wiggle room for Troy to improve on last year's win total.
Jeremy: You know who's got Sun Belt moxie? Neal Brown. According to at least one source, Troy landed the 2nd strongest recruiting class in 2016. Larry Blakeney was a Sun Belt legend, but towards the end of his multi-decade tenure, the Trojans seemed to forget that you can send coaches out to entice talented football players to campus. Brown has the energy to pull the Trojans out of the abyss, and I believe them to be the scariest team in the Sun Belt. I shall Buy!
TK: Neal Brown knows what he's doing at Troy. His biggest thing is now learning how to win games. Bowl eligibility is a real possibility. Buy