As we and the rest of the college football junkies wait patiently for the Sun Belt offices in New Orleans to release their complete schedules for the 2017 season, we figured it would be a good time to check out some of the prominent non-con games. Here we’ll try to see where some Power Five upsets could happen for the Sun Belt.
Last year the conference was well represented as South Alabama beat Mississippi State on the road and San Diego State at home. The Sun Belt also had Troy take the eventual national champion to the wire in Death Valley, Appalachian State taking the Vols to overtime on Rocky Top, Georgia State leading in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium, and Texas State putting their best performance together in an overtime road win against Ohio.
For the conference to escape their image of being at the bottom of the G5, they’ll need to make some impact in these non-conference contests. Here we’ll bring up the games where the league will get some attention and where it will be necessary to perform well.
Tennessee State @ Georgia State Thursday, August 31st
This will be our only matchup against an FCS program on the list, but this is a huge step for the Georgia State program. The Panthers are moving into Turner Field and will have the first stadium in program history that is strictly theirs to use. The early renderings look awesome and it’s the start of a new day with Shawn Elliott leaving South Carolina to take over in Atlanta. This stadium is going to give the Panthers some huge recruiting momentum and a solid first performance at home will be a good start for a program that is trying to find itself.
Troy @ Boise State Saturday, September 2nd
The Trojans put up their best performances outside of South Alabama in the non-conference slate last year as they beat Southern Miss on the road and gave Clemson everything they wanted. Now in the 2017 opener, there is a huge opportunity for Neal Brown and Co. to make a statement in year 3. Troy heads to Boise to take on the Broncos on the blue turf in, perhaps, the marquee match-up of the G5 schedule. Both squads spent time in the top 25 last year and the winner could be in the driver’s seat for the New Years Six bid. A victory here and a ton of schools will be trying to get Brown to put on their school’s visor on at the end of the year.
Miami @ Arkansas State Saturday, September 9th
For the second season in a row, The U will be making a road trip to the Sun Belt. The Canes wrecked App State in Boone last year and will look to do more of the following in Jonesboro this September. Arkansas State was brutal in non-conference play last year as they were crushed by Toledo and Auburn as well as dropping games to Utah State and FCS Central Arkansas. They’ll have their hands full with a Miami team that could be a dark horse playoff contender. Much like Brown, a win here would propel Blake Anderson to a Power 5 program.
Oklahoma State @ South Alabama Saturday, September 9th
South Alabama shocked the college football world last fall and they’ll look to do it again when the Pokes roll into Mobile. Oklahoma State will be in the top 10-15 when they make the trip and it will be a great opportunity for Joey Jones and his program to host a team of this caliber at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The heat should still be an issue for the Pokes and if the Jaguars establish Xavier Johnson on the ground they could have a shot in the fourth quarter.
Southern Miss @ Louisiana-Monroe Saturday, September 16th
Matt Viator is entering his second year in Monroe and is coming off a somewhat pleasantly surprising 4-8 season. Expectations are high for the Warhawks after an impressive recruiting class and a bowl game is a real possibility for this program in 2017. With momentum like Viator has created, it is imperative to get a big home win and that opportunity will present itself when Southern Miss comes to town. This was the same USM team that lost to Troy last year and it should be a game that is up for grabs. Both USM head football coach Jay Hopson and Viator will need this win as they try to build their programs in their second seasons on the job.
Wake Forest @ Appalachian State Saturday, September 23rd
The biggest game in Appalachian State history got a little ugly last year as the Canes put it on the Mountaineers in Kidd Brewer Stadium. Now App State will get another crack at an ACC team as the Demon Deacons will roll into Boone, North Carolina. These two programs are located just 86 miles apart and this will be a game the App State fanbase will want badly. Taylor Lamb will easily be the best QB on the field and the Mountaineers will likely be the favorite. This should be a crazy atmosphere at The Rock.
UTSA @ Texas State Saturday, September 23rd
Two Texas schools who just pulled in awesome classes will meet in San Marcos in a contest that could have significant recruiting implications. Frank Wilson did a great job getting the Roadrunners to a bowl in his first year and he cashed in by bringing home the 73rd best recruiting class in America. Meanwhile, it was a rough first season at Texas State for Everett Withers as the Bobcats finished at the bottom of the Sun Belt and may have been the worst team in the FBS. Texas State will be leaning on a lot of freshmen this fall, but having them at home against an in-state school could give the team a lot of momentum. A win here could pay big dividends for the Bobcats and help improve on the nation’s 89th best class they just signed.