The season is complete and this year we have co-champions as both Appalachian State and Troy finished with identical 7-1 league records in the last season without a conference championship game.
This week, the league offices in New Orleans released their all-conference teams and awards for the 2017 season. Like always, there are some we disagree with but that is okay.
Here are our hot takes on this year’s 2017 Sun Belt all-stars.
Quarterback: Justice Hansen (Arkansas State)
Running Back: Jalin Moore (Appalachian State)
Running Back: Aaron Duckworth (Idaho)
Wide Receiver: Ike Lewis (Appalachian State)
Wide Receiver: Penny Hart (Georgia State)
Wide Receiver: Jaleel Scott (New Mexico State)
Tight End: Blake Mack (Arkansas State)
Tackle: Beau Nunn (Appalachian State)
Guard: Colby Gossett (Appalachian State)
Tackle: Victor Johnson (Appalachian State)
Tackle: Lanard Bonner (Arkansas State)
Tackle: Steven Rowzee (Troy)
Adam Luckett: I hate that there is no center included and that we have four tackles on the first-team. Without a doubt, Justice Hansen was the top quarterback in the league and he deserves to be there. I don’t like that New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III was left off the first team. Rose only ran for 807 yards but he did contribute 474 receiving yards.
Adopted Aggie: The first team really turned out to be what everyone expected in my opinion. I think the only real surprise was Jaleel Scott who had a breakout season after coming off the bench this season and not doing much last year. Larry Rose III would have made it on the list but NMSU went against the run for most of the season. I’m most impressed with Aaron Duckworth who ran for over 1,000 yards behind a new offensive line. He deserves the first-team award.
Martin Ferguson: Quarterback Justice Hansen was a no-brainer here as is tight end Blake Mack. Looking at the makeup of teams, it’s hard not to notice that Troy doesn't place a single skill player after returning basically their whole potent offense from last year. Lanard Bonner played up this year, was the solid anchor on the Arkansas State offensive line and showed how important that Kansas junior college connection is.
Defensive End: Tee Sims (Appalachian State)
Defensive End: Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (Arkansas State)
Defensive End: Aikeem Coleman (Idaho)
Defensive End: Cedric Wilcots II (New Mexico State)
Linebacker: Hunter Reese (Troy)
Linebacker: Eric Boggs (Appalachian State)
Linebacker: Tony Lashley (Idaho)
Linebacker: Dalton Herrington (New Mexico State)
Cornerback: Clifton Duck (Appalachian State)
Cornerback: Blaise Taylor (Arkansas State)
Cornerback: Blace Brown (Troy)
Safety: Jeremy Reaves (South Alabama)
AL: Once again, interior linemen matter. The fact that there are no defensive tackles on this list is ludicrous. Guys like UL-Lafayette’s Kevon Perry and Troy’s Jamal Stadom deserve to be on the first-team. I don’t love that we only have one safety represented, but each linebacker listed earned that spot.
AA: The defensive list turned out to be what I think a lot of people really expected. Ja’Von Rolland-Jones was a monster and Aikeem Coleman was solid. The linebacker group sticks out the most to me. I really respect the talent at linebacker throughout the conference and think that it might be one of the deepest positions in the Group of FIve, although that may be a pretty bold claim.
MF: Definitely a solid linebacker corps here no question, but the importance of the rush end in the Sun Belt has maybe taken some of the spotlight from the fireplugs in the middle. Ja’Von Rolland-Jones sits one sack from being the all-time NCAA career leader as the Red Wolves head to Montgomery for the Camellia Bowl. Jeremy Reaves can hold that spot down for a lot of FBS teams.
Player of the Year: Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (Arkansas State)
AL: The senior from Texas brings home the trophy again and I have no issue with it. Rolland-Jones recorded 13 sacks and now has 26 sacks in his last two seasons. He’s been dynamite rushing the passer and will be heading to an NFL stadium near you come next fall.
AA: No surprise here. The kid can play and did so despite everyone keying in on him all year. Well deserved.
MF: Rolland-Jones has been one of those rare defensive players that can swing the momentum of the game in one play, that's a rarity. He has had a consistent four-year career and that is also tough to do. ASU fans can also start to tone down the home office hates the Red Wolves talk as they take the POY back-to-back for the second time.
Offensive Player of the Year: Justice Hansen (Arkansas State)
AL: This was a close race for me between Hansen and Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb. Lamb had a higher rating, but the Red Wolves threw the ball at a higher clip than the Mountaineers and Hansen had better numbers. The former Oklahoma transfer completed 63.7% of his passes and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt and that gives him the edge even though he tossed 15 interceptions.
AA: I have a little bit of an argument for Tyler Rogers since he was second in the nation in pass yards per game and threw for 3,825 yards this season. Sure, he threw 16 interceptions but he was a big reason why the Aggies went 6-6. Hansen is a great player, don’t get me wrong, but I think this was a preseason pick that they just didn’t feel like changing.
MF: Hansen’s game is far from perfect as the 15 interceptions belie, but he is also a player that can throw a long ball for a quick strike better than anyone else in the league. He benefitted from head coach Blake Anderson taking the reins of the offense over as Anderson realized that the strength of this team would be the passing game.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jeremy Reaves (South Alabama)
AL: The senior safety might be the best NFL prospect in the Sun Belt this season and I would have given him consideration for the overall player of the year honors. The Florida native had over 100 tackles, forced three fumbles and came away with three interceptions. In a bad year in Mobile, he was the highlight.
AA: Reaves was injured early in the NMSU-USA game so I didn’t see him play much, but I can tell you he’s a good player just from the little bit I’ve seen. He was the leader on the Jaguar defense and stood out like a sore thumb. Well deserved.
MF: Jeremy Reaves is one of my favorite Sun Belt players not from Arkansas State. He is a big game player and came up with the interception to seal the upset over Arkansas State along with putting marks in every possible statistical category along the way.
Newcomer of the Year: Ron LaForce (New Mexico State)
AL: The junior college transfer stepped in immediately and made a huge impact for the NMSU defense. In a league full of transfers, LaForce was the best as he had nearly 100 tackles and three interceptions.
AA: LaForce was a beast this year. He seemed to always be around the ball and put big hits on receivers coming into his area all the time. He made some huge plays and got Player of the Week honors early in the season in his coming out party versus New Mexico. LaForce finished with 98 tackles and three interceptions and is worthy of the Newcomer of the year.
MF: To get that kind of production out of a first year player is huge. LaForce always seemed to do best in big game situations, as he had double digit tackles against Arkansas, Arkansas State, Troy, and Louisiana.
Freshman of the Year: Marcus Jones (Troy)
AL: When you start at corner for the best defense in the league and record three kickoff return touchdowns to go along with two interceptions, that wins you rookie of the year honors.
AA: No matter what team you’re on, if you are a freshman and you start, you are a good player. Especially if that team wins 10 games and the league title.
MF: Jones sealed the deal with a spectacular 100-yard interception return on ESPN2 against Arkansas State in the season finale.
Coach of the Year: Neal Brown (Troy)
AL: Troy beat LSU in Death Valley and brought home a conference crown. This was an easy decision, but Shawn Elliott getting Georgia State back to the postseason should not be undersold.
AA: Pretty easy choice. He beat an SEC team and won the conference title. No other coach could compete with a resume like that. I’m honestly really surprised he’s staying at Troy. That makes me respect him a lot because coaches now-a-days don’t have much loyalty.
MF: Neal Brown has won 20 games in two years at Troy along with 13 conference games and now a title. If he doesn't get snatched up this year, next year could easily be his last in Troy, that's a good sign for the Trojan program.