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Three Things we learned about the Sun Belt in Week Three

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Non-conference games could’ve gone better, but conference play could shake out in some surprising ways

New Mexico State v Kentucky
The Aggies swarm the Wildcats last weekend. How real a threat could they be in conference play?
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Sun Belt is getting better, but let’s not get carried away

The Sun Belt went 3-8 this week, with two of those wins coming in conference play. Week Three saw losses against the Mountain West, SEC, ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12, so while the first couple of weeks put the #FunBelt back in the headlines, there’s still a long way to go before the conference can finally see a team in the Top 25.

The Belt’s lone non-conference win this week came against Conference USA, which is having its own problems. Which is actually the second thing we learned—

Troy and New Mexico State are better than expected

In this space last week, we pointed out how Neal Brown is making his mark, as the Trojans took Clemson to the wire. This week, they faced off against what was by all accounts a Southern Miss team that had returned to glory, and would challenge for, if not win outright, the C-USA crown. Troy didn’t blink, winning 37-31 and keeping the Eagles scoreless in the fourth quarter.

Troy is going to be a terrifying team headed into conference play, and you should absolutely try and find one of their games online, and then the same for whatever other team hires Neal Brown away in a couple years, provided he can keep up this level of consistency. If so, Brown isn’t just making his mark, this could be the new normal in Troy.

New Mexico State, meanwhile, remains without the talents of Larry Rose III, and still went toe-to-toe with an SEC team for three quarters. Granted, that team was Kentucky, but it’s the principle of the thing.

If there’s one consistent issue with the top-echelon of Group-of-Five teams, it’s running out of gas late in big games, and NMSU did indeed fall off late against Kentucky, thundering away at the Wildcats for three quarters before going scoreless in the 4th. This will not be a problem in conference play, and the Aggies play at Troy next week, in a game that warranted a “meh” in the preseason, but now could possibly be one of the best conference match-ups of the year.

Beware the Sleeping Giants

Both Arkansas State and Georgia State sit at 0-3, but this is by no means indicative of their talent or drive. The Red Wolves have losses to Toledo, Auburn, and Utah State, all of whom have proven themselves better than preseason expectations. Heck, Toledo is 3-0 after a win against Fresno State this week.

The Panthers, meanwhile, played Ball State close in week one, predictably got slapped by Air Force in week two, but then recovered this week to give #9 Wisconsin a run for their money, all the way down the line. The Badgers led by a meager three points headed into the fourth quarter, and QB Conner Manning showed them up all day, throwing for 269 yards against a team that clearly does not read Underdogdynasty.com. In the end the Panthers fell, too, but conference play is going to be a dogfight, and the Power Five might have to deal with these teams again come bowl season.