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2017 Sun Belt S&P+ Projections: App State is the early favorite to win the Sun Belt

Could this be the year App State wins the Sun Belt outright?

Miami v Appalachian State
Taylor Lamb and Appalachian State are the clear team to beat in the Sun Belt.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

SB Nation’s very own Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) released his highly regarded advanced statistics projections for the 2017 season.

With only seven months until Labor Day Weekend, we figured it was a perfect time to take a look at where everyone in the Sun Belt stands going into the fall.

2017 Sun Belt S&P+ Projections

Team Rank Recruiting Impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
Team Rank Recruiting Impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
Appalachian State 62 112 22 80 2.7
Troy 79 94 57 104 -3.3
Arkansas State 83 99 82 68 -5.5
Georgia Southern 98 95 113 46 -9
South Alabama 108 111 104 103 -11.3
Louisiana-Lafayette 112 116 111 95 -12
Georgia State 113 113 105 120 -12.4
Coastal Carolina 114 130 108 87 -12.5
Idaho 119 125 106 125 -14
Louisiana-Monroe 121 108 123 111 -15.3
New Mexico State 124 127 112 129 -15.9
Texas State 129 101 129 115 -22.3

Contenders

Appalachian State has collected 20 victories in its first three seasons as a member of the Sun Belt and is showing no signs of slowing down heading into 2017. The Mountaineers easily lead the league in returning production and QB Taylor Lamb will be the vorite the conference player of the year. Add in the fact that the Mountaineers avoid both Troy and Arkansas State and it’s hard to envision Appalachian State losing a conference game.

Troy will be App State’s biggest competition this season and it’s a real shame we do not get to see the two square off this fall. Neal Brown and his staff have made their biggest contribution on the recruiting trail as the Trojans’ five year recruiting impact is already tops in the league after just three classes. If Lamb isn’t the Sun Belt’s best QB, then Brandon Silvers is in this Air Raid attack. The schedule has not been released yet, but circle your calendar on the date Troy heads to Jonesboro to take on Arkansas State.

Arkansas State claimed another Sun Belt title in 2016 and they were able to retain Blake Anderson for a fourth season in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves should be right there with Troy for all of 2017 as their current roster may be the most talented in the conference. The Red Wolves are the kings of the Sun Belt until someone knocks them off.

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Middle of the Pack

Things really fell off for Georgia Southern last season after going 14-2 in their first two seasons in the Sun Belt after moving up from FCS. Tyson Summers is likely on the hot seat after going 5-7 last season. After all, he was nearly fired after his first season.

The hope for GSU is that the upset win over Troy in the season finale will give them some momentum going into 2017. With not much production there, Summers and his staff have their hands full in Statesboro.

After storming out of the gates and collecting huge wins against Mississippi State and Sand Diego State, South Alabama struggled down the stretch and squeaked their way into the Arizona Bowl. The recruiting has not been great under Joey Jones as he’s transitioned this program into FBS and that probably has a lot to due with the Jaguars’ mixed success. But ranking fourth in returning Sun Belt production, another postseason appearance could be in the cards for USA.

For a good amount of time, Mark Hudspeth was considered the best coaching prospect in the Sun Belt and it was only a matter of time before he was the CEO of a Power Five program. However, that offer never came and Coach Hud is entering his 7th season at Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Cajuns bounced back last year after a disappointing 2015, but limited production and lower level recruiting is not a good sign moving forward. Swing games against Georgia Southern and South Alabama will determine if 2017 is a success for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

The hire of South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has the folks at Georgia State excited as the Panthers will move into Turner Field as their permanent home to start 2017. The Panthers are coming off a solid recruiting class and they are fifth in the league in returning production. A bowl game is not out of the question.

New conference member Coastal Carolina appearing in this group is a testament to how weak the bottom of the league is. The Chanticleers are 50-15 under head coach Joe Moglia and they’ll enter the Sun Belt with a winning culture. Coastal will have to adjust to a higher level of competition, but with three very winnable non-conference games it should be a relatively smooth transition year.


Texas State v Arkansas
Even after pulling in the conference’s best class, the Bobcats aren’t out of the gutter yet.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Bottom Feeders

Idaho is coming off their first bowl victory since 2009 but this will be short lived as the Vandals are headed back to FCS after this season. The Sun Belt will surely miss the Kibbie Dome and the other Petrino. The numbers are not kind to Idaho this season and they could be headed for a losing season.

It was an impressive recruiting class pulled in by Matt Viator’s staff, but Louisiana-Monroe still has a lot of climbing to do. The Warhawks are going to be depending on a lot of JUCOs and young talent as the program is coming off three consecutive losing seasons. If ULM can figure out a way to win close games this fall, they could inch their way towards bowl eligibility.

Behind productive senior QB Tyler Rogers and stud RB Larry Rose, New Mexico State still failed to collect more than three wins. Now enter Doug Martin’s fifth season, the Aggies only have 10 victories and the future certainly does not look bright. This is arguably the worst recruiting program in the league and that has reared its ugly head too many times. It’s hard to envision New Mexico State climbing out of the bottom.

Everett Withers did some great things on the recruiting trail at Texas State with the 2017 recruiting class but it’s likely to be another rough year. Expect the Bobcats to put that top notch class to work early as Texas State still has a season full of speed bumps ahead. The future is bright in San Marcos, you just may not see the results in 2017.